By Andrew Hood
No one really expected Alexandre Vinokourov (Liberty Seguros) to forfeit his leader’s jersey in Thursday’s challenging climbing stage in the Vuelta a Castilla y León.
While Marco Fertonani was chasing the second straight stage win for Illes Balears, 29 seconds ahead of Manuel Beltrán (Discovery Channel), Vinokourov shot away from the lead group of favorites to actually extend his lead with just one stage to go.
“I felt good and I made my work relaxed. I was on the wheel all day and I attacked in the final kilometer,” Vinokourov said. “I feel that I am good looking ahead to the Tour. Today was a day to see how my legs were and I believe that my condition is good. I am content after the test I made in the high mountains.”
Fertonani hung on to win ahead of Beltrán after both were away in an early break. Horrendous conditions, with snow, dense fog and rain, made for a tough day in the saddle during the 149km stage, which ended atop the 14km climb up the steep Puerto de Navacerrada in the mountains northwest of Madrid.
Vinokourov came through third at 1:22 and expanded his lead over second-place Luis León Sanchéz to 14 seconds with just one day left in the five-day race across northern Spain. Early jabs by Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) were vaporized by Vinokourov’s charge in the steep, final 2km of the climb.
If Vinokourov hangs on to win, it will be his first victory of the 2006 season and his first for his new Liberty Seguros sponsor.
1. Marco Fertonani (I), Illes-Balears-Caisse d’Epargne, 148.9km in 4:10:59
2. Manuel Beltran (Sp), Discovery Channel, at 0:29
3. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), at 1:22
4. Luis Leon Sanchez (Sp), same time
5. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), at 1:36
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Liberty Seguros, 12:43:27
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (Sp), at 0:14
3. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), at 0:19
4. Michele Scarponi (I), at 1:00
5. Egoi Martinez (Sp), at 1:01
Cunego notches win, jersey
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) surged into the overall lead after winning Thursday’s third stage at the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali in Italy.
An early breakaway featuring Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic) was neutralized by the Liquigas team of overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali to bring the group together coming in for the finishing three circuits.
Cunego shot ahead to win the bunch sprint in front of Luca Mazzanti (Panaria-Navigare) and Massimo Giunti (Tenax), marking the first win in 2006 for Cunego. The former world No. 1 moves two seconds ahead of Nibali and 11 ahead of Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto).
The race continues Friday with the 184km stage from Carpi to Emilia, featuring another finishing circuit ideal for a field sprint.
Van Emden takes over in Normandie
Dutch rider Jos Van Emden (Rabobank) won Thursday’s stage at the Tour de Normandie in France and surged into the overall lead.
Van Emden won the 201km race from Elbeuf-sur-Seine to Flers in 4 hours, 59.05 seconds, finishing two seconds ahead of Dane Kristoffer Nielsen and four seconds in front of another group led by Jacob Rasmussen.
Van Emden takes the leader’s jersey away from overnight leader Charles Bradley Huff (TIAA-CREF), who held the lead since winning the first stage.
The race continues Friday with a split stage, a 74km road stage in the morning followed by a 64km road stage in the afternoon.
1. Jos Van Emden (Ned), Rabobank, 201km in 4:59:05
2. Kristoffer Nielsen (Den), at 0:02
3. Jacob Rasmussen (Den), at 0:04
4. Tom Stamsnijder (Ned), same time
5. Kai Reus (Ned), s.t.
1. Jos Van Emden (Ned), Rabobank, 14:29:48
2. Kai Reus (Ned), at 0.33
3. Jacob Rasmussen (Den), at 0:13
4. Tom Stamsnijder (Ned), at 0:14
5. Alexander Khatuntsev (Rus), at 0:16
Mancebo to debut this weekend
Spanish rider Francisco Mancebo will make his debut in Ag2r colors in this weekend’s Criterium International.
The 30-year-old rider from Madrid will also race in the GP Miguel Indurain, the Ardennes Classics, the Tour de Romandie, the Vuelta a Cataluyna and the Dauphiné Libéré ahead of July’s Tour de France.
Last year, Mancebo was the top Spanish rider with fourth place overall and will be fighting to move up at least one spot onto the final podium.
Kloden on the mend
Germany’s former Tour de France runner-up Andreas Kloden is confident he will be back training soon after undergoing a successful shoulder operation on Wednesday, AFP reported.
T-Mobile rider Kloden, 30, crashed on wet roads near his Swiss home on Tuesday, injuring his shoulder in the process.
“The shoulder operation went well. I will be able to train again soon,” Kloden told the T-Mobile team website.
Team doctor Carsten Temme was delighted with the operation and confident that Kloden would be able to reach peak fitness ahead of this year’s Tour de France, beginning on July 1.
“We think Andreas can start intensive road training again in April. If he heals well then there will be enough time for him to prepare properly for the Tour de France,” Temma said.
Kloden said compatriot and teammate Jan Ullrich had been in touch to offer his support.
“Jan has been in touch from his training camp in Tuscany and that gives me a lift,” said Kloden. — Agence France Presse
Quick Step for upcoming races
Here are the lineups for Quick Step-Innergetic for upcoming races:
E3 PRIJS HARELBEKE, March 25: Tom Boonen, Wilfried Cretskens, Steven De Jongh, Kevin Hulsmans, Servais Knaven, Matteo Tosatto, Bram Tankink and Kevin Van Impe
BRABANTSE PIJL, March 26: Serge Baguet, Ad Engels, Nick Nuyens, Sebastien Rosseler, Bram Tankink, Jurgen Van De Walle, Cedric Vasseur and Geert Verheyen