Thursday’s EuroFile: Eki’ tops in Holland; Giunti celebrates too early; Where’s Mario?

Russian warrior Viatcheslav Ekimov (U.S. Postal Service) surged to victory and into the overall lead after winning Thursday's 23km time trial in the fourth stage of the 43rd Tour of Holland. Ekimov, the reigning Olympic time trial champion, nipped Postal Service teammate Victor Hugo Peña by eight seconds in the race against the clock. Peña and Ekimov were both part of Postal's victorious team time trial victory in last month's Tour de France. The stage victory is Ekimov's first win since the 2001 season. The 37-year-old Russian walked away from cycling at the end of that season, but quickly

By Andrew Hood

Photo: AFP

Russian warrior Viatcheslav Ekimov (U.S. Postal Service) surged to victory and into the overall lead after winning Thursday’s 23km time trial in the fourth stage of the 43rd Tour of Holland.

Ekimov, the reigning Olympic time trial champion, nipped Postal Service teammate Victor Hugo Peña by eight seconds in the race against the clock. Peña and Ekimov were both part of Postal’s victorious team time trial victory in last month’s Tour de France.

The stage victory is Ekimov’s first win since the 2001 season. The 37-year-old Russian walked away from cycling at the end of that season, but quickly found the life of an ex-cyclist too boring and came back in good enough shape to be named to Postal’s 2002 Tour team

Ekimov was back again for Lance Armstrong’s fifth Tour victory in July and revealed he’s still capable of winning with Thursday’s big ride. With Peña sitting in second overall, Postal has two options for final victory with two difficult rolling stages through the Limburg region remaining in the Dutch tour.

In the morning road sector, an 86km run from Coevorden to Denekamp, German Erik Zabel (Telekom) won a sprint after finishing second behind Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) two days running.

Petacchi was part of a 16-man break that went away midway through the stage, but they were brought back to set up the mass gallop. Zabel nipped Robbie McEwen to snag the victory. Petacchi finished 18th to retain the leader’s jersey after the morning stage.

The Holland tour continues Friday with 195km fifth stage from Kleve, Germany, to Sittard-Geleen.

43rd Tour of Holland (UCI 2.1), Stage 3, Coevorden to Denekamp, 86km
1. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom 1 hour, 52 minutes, 2 seconds (46.05 kph)
2. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Lotto-Domo
3. Bradley McGee (Aus),
4. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step
5. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Bianchi — all same timeStage 4, Nordhorn, Germany, to Denekamp, ITT, 23km
1. Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), USPS 27 minutes, 25 seconds (50.74 kph)
2. Victor Hugo Peña (Col), USPS +0:08
3. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Fassa Bortolo +0:09
4. Marc Wauters (B), Rabobank +0:19
5. Laslo Bodrogi (Hun), Quick Step +0:30Overall standings after four stages
1. Ekimov 10 hours, 49 minutes, 9 seconds
2. Peña +0:08
3. Cancellara +0:09
4. Wauters +0:19
5. Sergei Gontchar (Ukr), De Nardi-Colpack +0:34

Giunti loses Bernocchi after early celebration
Domina Vacanze’s Massimo Giunti lost the 85th Coppa Bernocchi on Thursday after celebrating his “victory” a little too early at the finish line, allowing Sergio Barbero (Lampre) to shoot by to grab the win.

Barbero and Giunti were part of a 12-man breakaway that tore away from the main bunch with about 50km to go in the 199km race. Giunti got the consolation prize of being the most consistent rider over the three-day “Trittico Lombardo.”

85th Coppa Bernocchi, 199km
1. Sergio Barbero (I), Lampre 4 hours, 49 minutes, 11 seconds (41.36 kph)
2. Massimo Giunti (I), Domina Vacanze
3. Sergej Matveyev (Ukr), Panaria
4. Ruslan Ivanov (Mod), Alessio
5. Sergiy Adyeyev (Ukr), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago – all same timeFinal standings “Trittico Lombardo”
1. Giunti – 23 points
2. Danilo Di Luca (I), Saeco – 15
3. Andrea Ferrigato (I), Alessio — 12

Vogondy wins, Rous still driving Limousin
Nicolas Vogondy ( won the 172.2km third stage of the Tour of Limousin while race leader Didier Rous (Boulangere) finished safely in the main bunch to remain in the driver’s seat.

An 11-man break peeled away from the peloton just 10km into the stage. With none a threat to Rous’ leadership, Boulangere was content to let them go without getting too far away.

Vogondy, the 2002 French champion, attacked out of the bunch in the late kilometers and edged compatriots Cédric Coutouly and Frédéric Bessy to claim the victory.

The race concludes Friday with the 178km fourth stage from Brive to Limoges.

36th Tour of Limousin (UCI 2.3), Stage 3, Aubusson to Vassiviere, 172.2km
1. Nicolas Vogondy (F), 4 hours, 15 minutes, 42 seconds
2. Cedric Coutouly (F), French team
3. Frederic Bessy (F), Cofidis — all same time
4. Freddy Bichot (F), Barloworld +0:02
5. Sebastian Hinault (F), Credit Agricole +0:23
Overall standings after three stages
1. Didier Rous (F), Boulangere 13 hours, 2 seconds
2. Massimiliano Lelli (I), Cofidis +0:43
3. Laurent Lefevre (F), Jean Delatour +0:45
4. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole +1:30
5. Dimitry Fofonov (Kaz), Cofidis — same time

Strong field expected for Vuelta
Defending champion Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo) heads an all-star list of contenders as Vuelta a España officials released a preliminary start list for the season’s final grand tour.

Other former champions include Roberto Heras (USPS), Alex Zülle (Phonak) and Angel Casero (Bianchi) while Jan Ullrich, a 1999 Vuelta winner, announced Sunday he will not be racing the Vuelta.

Other big names likely to contend include Oscar Sevilla (Kelme), David Millar (Cofidis), Francisco Mancebo (, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE), Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank), Francesco Casagrande (Lampre), Carlos Sastre (CSC), José Antonio Pecharromán (Paternina) and Cadel Evans (Telekom).

The Vuelta is also attracting a top field of sprinters, including the possible reappearance of world champion Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze), Erik Zabel (Telekom) and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo).

Joining Leipheimer will be a strong contingent of North Americans, including Bobby Julich (Telekom), Floyd Landis, Michael Barry and George Hincapie (all USPS), Fred Rodriguez (Caldirola) and Italian-American Guido Trenti (Fassa Bortolo).

Starting in Gijón in northern Spain on Sept. 6, the race winds along Spain’s rugged north coast before entering the Pyrenees for three decisive climbing stages, including one day in Andorra. Following a transfer, the course dips south into Andalucia for the Sierra Nevada and the La Pandera climbs before heading north for the final four stages around Madrid and the Sept. 29 finale in downtown Madrid.

Still no Cipo, maybe the Vuelta
The world champion’s jersey has been a rare sight since Mario Cipollini’s departure from the 11th stage of the Giro d’Italia back in May.

Following his Tour de France snub, the 36-year-old Tuscan has rarely been seen in his racing zebra-striped tights.

The Domina Vacanze rider won’t be part of the team’s next two races this week, but Vuelta a España race organizers have Super Mario penciled in as a starter for the Sept. 6 start of the season’s final grand tour.

Domina Vacanze announced its lineup for this weekend’s races and Cipollini is still not set to return. Cipollini has hinted he’d like to race at the Hamilton world championships, in part to pay back the help Paolo Bettini gave him in Zolder.

Domina Vacanze for Giro del Veneto, Saturday: Claudio Astolfi, Massimiliano Gentili, Massimo Giunti, Timothy Jones (Zim), Alexander Kolobnev (Rus), Gian Paolo Mondini and Paolo Valoti.

Domina Vacanze for GP Ouest France Plouay, Sunday: Daniele Bennati, Lorenzo Cardellini, Martin Derganc (Slo), Giovanni Lombardi, Sergio Marinangeli, Alberto Ongarato, Santos Gonzalez (Sp) and Mario Scirea.

Mayo wants to stay with Euskatel, at foreign wages
Tour de France phenom Iban Mayo wants to stay at his Euskaltel-Euskadi team, but only if the Basque Country squad can come close to matching what wealthier foreign teams are offering the Alpe d’Huez stage-winner.

Mayo is deep within contract negotiations for a three-year deal to stay with the orange-clad Euskaltel team, but said he wants a better offer than what’s been offered.

“I want to stay with Euskaltel, but I also want that the team comes close to the same offers from foreign teams,” Mayo told the Spanish daily AS. “The offer should be better.”

Mayo’s comments came as he was receiving a sporting award in Bilboa on Wednesday evening.

Saeco and Rabobank are both reportedly offering Mayo a sweet deal to entice him away from his beloved Basque Country, where Mayo is now a major star. Mayo said he’s anxious to pen a deal soon.

“I don’t have a deadline to say I’m staying or going, but I’d like to end with all this because I’m going a little bit crazy,” said Mayo, who also defended his decision not to race the Vuelta, where he finished fifth overall last year. “The season has been hard, with a lot of kilometers with responsibility and high pressure.”

New Spanish pro team?
While Spanish cycling founders following the pending disappearance of its two top teams – ONCE and – there’s a new pro team in the works, according to reports in AS.

The Spanish amateur team Super Froiz is poised to join the pro ranks if team director Evaristo Portela can pen a deal with Caixa Galicia, a financial arm of the Spanish regional government of Galicia, to step in a title sponsor.

The team’s budget could be as high as 1.5 million euros per year, which would put it on even footing with Spain’s other Division II teams.

The team would have 16 riders among its ranks, including the following amateurs: José Ángel Gómez Marchante, Moisés Leboso, Sergio Domínguez, Carlos Castaño, Gerardo García, Julio Alberto Domínguez, Jesús Manuel Monteagudo and Miguel Martínez (not the Olympic mountain bike champion).

The only glitch is that many of the would-be sponsors are on traditional August vacations. Things are on hold until everyone gets back to work at the end of the month.

Beloki waiting for Saiz
Joseba Beloki, meanwhile, announced he is hopeful ONCE’s sport director Manolo Sáiz will be able to find new sponsors and will wait to see how things shake out in the coming weeks before making a decision about his future.

Beloki said he’d prefer to stay with Sáiz, despite interest from such teams as Phonak in signing the three-time Tour de France podium finisher. Beloki’s comments have raised optimism that at least ONCE will be able to continue with a new name.

Sáiz said in an interview with Spanish EFE radio Beloki’s gesture helps: “It’s good that important racers from the team wait for you because it shows confidence for sponsors who might come. They can see that we can continue with everything we want.”