By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong (USPS) won the battle against Tour de France rival Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) but it was Spanish rider José Ivan Gutierrez who won the war in Thursday’s 21.8km time trial.
Armstrong settled for fifth at 29 seconds slower while Ullrich finished 31st at 1:35 back, more than a minute slower than his Tour rival. While the hyped Armstrong-Ullrich showdown somewhat fizzled, Gutierrez chugged to an impressive victory against a quality field in the second stage of the five-day Tour of Murcia in Spain.
“I needed a win like this,” said Gutierrez, a former national road and time trial champion. “I’ve lacked some self-confidence and in the last time trials last year things didn’t go so well. This win gives me confidence, even though I recognize that overall victory will be complicated.”
Gutierrez, the U23 world time trial champion in 1999, covered the undulating course in 25 minutes, 39 seconds (45.777 kph) to move into the overall lead. Coming through second was time trial motor Michael Rich (Gerolsteiner) just three seconds slower while Italian Marco Pinotti (Lampre) was third at 27 seconds slower.
Both Armstrong and Ullrich have been saying all week that Murcia is just part of their buildup toward the season’s top goal at the Tour de France in July. Armstrong won a time trial at his season debut at Algarve two weeks ago, but the Murcia field was much deeper.
“His objective here is nothing more than to test himself and see what his sensations are in the first steps of the season,” said U.S. Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel. “He won the time trial at Algarve, but that was different. His rivals there were essentially his teammates.”
Ullrich’s performance was hard to judge because he admitted before Thursday’s start winning wasn’t in the cards.
“Armstrong is always in good form this time of year. I’m more worried about being in form in July when it matters,” he said. “Now I have no ambition to win (at Murcia). The only thing I need to do is accumulate kilometers to win in July.”
Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) rode well in his season debut to finish 10th at 47 seconds slower, just 19 seconds slower than Armstrong, while Michael Barry (USPS) posted a strong ride to come through 12th at 50 seconds back.
Communidad Valenciana-Kelme stormed through the stage, putting Alejandro Valverde into seventh overall and David Blanco fifth. The pair finished first and third, respectively, in last week’s Tour of Valencia and local boy Valverde said he’s motivated to go for the double.
“It was a good time trial and I put myself in good position to achieve my goal, which no one’s done before, to be the first Murcian racer to win the regional race,” Valverde said. “The time trial was one of the key stages of the race and I’ve overcome it well. I have the advantage that there’s still a summit finish at Collado Bermejo on the penultimate day and the climb is my territory.”
The 26th Vuelta a Murcia continues Friday with the 156km third stage starting and finishing in Yecla. The course opens with three Category 3 climbs in the opening 100km before a flat return to Yecla.
Tour of Murcia (UCI 2.3)
Stage 2, Lorca-Lorca, ITT
1. José Iván Gutierrez (Sp), Illes Balears, 21.8km in25:39 (45.777 kph)
2. Michael Rich (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:03
3. Marco Pinotti (I), Lampre, at 0:27
4. Torsten Schmidt (G), Gerolsteiner, at 0:28
5. Lance Armstrong (USA), USPS, at 0:29
10. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:47
11. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:48
12. Michael Barry (Can), USPS, at 0:50
31. Jan Ullrich (G), T-Mobile, at 1:35
Overall after two stages
1. Gutierrez 4:46:30
2. Armstrong, at 0:29
3. Ruben Plaza (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:35
4. Hector Guerra (Sp), Relax-Bodysol, at 0:37
5. David Blanco (Sp), CV-Kelme, at 0:38
7. Valverde, at 0:47
8. Mayo, at 0:48
9. Barry, at 0:50
74. Ullrich, at 9:10
Ullrich responds to Armstrong’s words
Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile) defended his team following comments by Armstrongin last week’s L’Equipe when the Texan said the German team “hasa lot of chiefs but not enough Indians.”
“At T-Mobile we have the best conditions possible, because we’re thebest team in the world, something nobody can deny,” Ullrich told the Spanishdaily Sport. “We need to be united for the big objectives of theseason to achieve the maximum output. T-Mobile is a balanced team and wecan fight for victories on all fronts.”
Ullrich rolled through Wednesday’s opening stage at Murcia more thanseven minutes behind the leader. Ullrich insisted he’s not in bad shapedespite being 5kg over his peak racing weight.
“That’s not important. I am very satisfied with my winter preparation,”he said. “The physical sensations are very good. Everything is going aswe have planned.”
Rudy Pevenage, Ullrich’s confidante and former sport director at Telekomand Bianchi, said his pupil is right on track for a run at the 2004 Tour.
“This time last year Jan didn’t know if his knee could stand the hardwork needed to race in the Tour,” Pevenage said. “Now it’s not a problemand he’s making the optimum work to arrive at his best form in July.”
Concerning Armstrong’s win at the Algarve time trial last month, Ullrichsaid he wasn’t surprised or alarmed.
“Armstrong is always in good form this time of year. I’m more worriedabout being in form in July when it matters,” he said. “I’m not going totalk about any confrontation with Lance. Now I have no ambition to win(at Murcia). The only thing I need to do is accumulate kilometers to winin July. I have the chance to win (the Tour) for the second time of mylife. I am eager.”
Hamilton ‘excited’ for Paris-Nice debut
Tyler Hamilton makes his debut this weekend in his new Phonak colorsat the Paris-Nice opening time trial Sunday.
Fourth overall and winner of a stage in last year’s Tour de France,Hamilton made the switch to the Swiss team with the idea of being the soleand absolute leader for the Tour. The team received good news last weekwith its official bid to race the 2004 Tour.
In an interview published on the team’s web site, Hamilton said he’snot looking for much in his first race since August.
“Well it’s my first race and I have not raced in such long time andI’m not really expecting a lot. I’m just excited,” Hamilton said. “Thefirst race is always a bit difficult but I’m very excited to be there withthe team. … I have been a long time in the altitude of Colorado and thatwas very good for my fitness. I’m very happy with my training. I sure havenot reached the top level yet but I’m on a good way. I did a lot of basetraining but the peak is still far away.”
McGee ‘inundated’ after drugs outburst
Aussie rider Brad McGee said he’s been “inundated” following his anti-dopingrant he posted on his webpage last week. McGee – winner of last year’sTour prologue – vented about allegations of doping and the assumption thatall riders must be doped.
“When I wrote my story on the issue of drugs I never expected the responseI have received,” he said. “For me, it was a story I needed to get offmy chest. The whole issue is very frustrating. But I have to say I am verythankful for the wonderful support I have received from so many. Obviouslyit is a subject that has been discussed over and over again in ‘the bunch.’I just love our sport and that’s the primary reason I wrote what I did.It looks as though I might have to renege on the offer of staying withme, though. I have had at least 500 offers on that one. They say be carefulwhat you write! Speak to you all soon.”
Beloki sidelined for six more weeks
Spain’s three-time Tour de France podium finisher Joseba Beloki isset to be out for six weeks because of a painful right Achilles tendonhis team sporting director told AFP.
The 30-year-old former ONCE team leader was meant to line-up for hisdebut for his new French outfit La Boulangere in the Tour of Murcia againstfive-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong and five-time runner-upJan Ullrich on Wednesday.
However, the Spaniard had to cancel his engagement on Tuesday becauseof the Achilles tendon problem and the team’s sporting director Jean-ReneBernaudeau told AFP that the problem could be related to the fracturedleg he suffered in last year’s Tour de France.
“He is suffering from a large muscular deficit on the leg that he brokein the Tour de France,” said Bernaudeau. “He will have to cut down hisworkload for the six weeks.”
Bernaudeau said that despite his enforced absence it would not affecthis main objectives this season of the Tour de France and the Tour of Spain.
“He will be off for a long time but that won’t compromise at all histargets for the campaign because on his return he will be at a good enoughfitness level.”
Bernaudeau insisted there was nothing more seriously wrong with hisexpensive signing, despite him also being a late withdrawal from the Etoilede Besseges race in early February.
“He is in very good health and impatient to start racing again,” hesaid.
Kiwis stand by Ulmer decision
Cycling officials are standing by their decision not to allow Olympiccyclist Sarah Ulmer to compete in the men’s teams pursuit in this week’snational championships in Manukau, wire services reported in New Zealand.
The Waikato Centre asked if the Cambridge-based Ulmer could race inthe 4000m event but officials would not permit it saying it was againstthe rules. Bike NZ’s sports development officer Geoff Campbell said thequestion was asked a few weeks ago and was raised again yesterday.
“We said ‘no’ at the time because it is strictly a male only event,”he said. “For some reason it has come up again.”
As there is no women’s teams pursuit, only an individual pursuit, Ulmerwanted to use the event to train for next week’s World Cup event in Mexico.
Ulmer said she wasn’t too worried about the refusal.
“It would have been great to have been able to race in it because itwould have been quite specific training for me which would have been idealfor a world cup event I have got coming up in Mexico,” she said. “But Iappreciate that it is a guy’s event and I am obviously not a guy. It isnot too big a deal from my perspective. You can’t make rules for one personand not for others.”
Rebellin scouts MSR course
Italian rider Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) scouted the final sectionsof the Milan-San Remo course on Wednesday.
“I climbed the Cipressa and Poggio pretty fast and I had good sensations,”Rebellin told the AFP. “I am sure that for the best preparation it’s goodto know a little bit of the course.”
Rebellin will race Paris-Nice next week instead of Tirreno-Adriaticoin his first major objective of the season before the Primavera.
“I’ve trained hard over the off-season and I’d like to a stage,” hesaid.
Indurain to ride charity race in South Africa
Five-time Tour de France champion Miguel Indurain is set to participatein a charity race March 14 in Cape Town, South Africa. The event featuresan elite peloton of 150 and is also expected to draw 35,000 riders andraises money for the Laureus Sport Foundation. Also racing is two-timeTour winner Laurent Fignon.