By Andrew Hood
Spanish rider Jose Manuel Maestre (Relax Fuednlabrada) won the opening stage Tuesday of the 47th Vuelta a Asturias in northern Spain after barely holding on to a long escape.
Joining Maestre were Fabrice Salanson (La Boulangere) and Julien Laidoun (AG2R), but Maestre dropped them with 25km to go in the 166km course with several rated climbs from Oviedo to Llanes. Phonak and Milaneza-MSS worked hard in vain to bring him back. Maestre finished just two seconds ahead of the peloton, led by Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS).
“I tell you, the final 15km were brutal,” Maestre said. “I gave it everything and it looked like I wouldn’t make it, but I really suffered. It’s nice to win in such conditions.”
The race continues Wednesday with the 153km second stage from Llanes to Gijon and features three rated climbs, including the Alto de San Martin de Huerces some 29km from the finish line.
Several top riders, including Joseba Beloki (ONCE) and Santiago Botero (Telekom), are among the starters. Oscar Sevilla (Kelme) is still recovering from surgery to remove a cyst in his groin while Jan Ullrich’s Team Coast was banned from racing, thus keeping away the 1997 Tour de France champion.
Vuelta a Asturias (UCI 2.2)
Stage 1, Oviedo to Llanes, 166km1. Jose Manuel Maestre (Sp), Relax Fuenlabrada, 3 hours, 56 minutes,10 seconds
2. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza-MSS +0:02
3. Walter Beneteau (F), La Boulangere
4. Massimiliano Gentili (I), Domina Vacanze
5. Alexandre Moos (Swi), Phonak – all same time
Peace Race: Bruun wins
Team CSC’s Thomas Bruun Eriksen scored a stage victory while Telekom’s Steffen Wesemann safely retained the overall lead in Tuesday’s fifth stage of the Peace Race.
Bruun joined five other riders, including CSC teammate Frank Schleck, in a breakaway in the 218-kilometer stage in the Czech Republic and the pair worked their advantage to score the victory. Schleck attacked the group, but was brought back with 6km to go. Schleck continued to counter-attack over the finishing circuit, while Bruun sat in and waited for the bunch sprint.
Danilo Hondo (Telekom) led the main bunch across at just over two minutes back and Wesemann retained his lead over defending champion Ondrej Sosenka (CCC-Polsat). The Peace Race continues Wednesday with a 145km flat stage.
Peace Race, Stage 5, Jawor to Zielona Gora, 218km
1. Thomas Bruun Eriksen, Team CSC
2. Ralf Grabsch, Wiesenhof
3. Volker Ordowski, Gerolsteriner
4. Alexander Klymenko, Mroz
5. Frank Schleck, Team CSC – all same timeOverall standings after five stages:
1. Steffen Wesemann, Team Telekom
2. Ondrej Sosenka, CCC-Polsat + 0:10
3. Jakob Piil, Team CSC +7.11
4. Enrico Poitschke, Wiesenhof + 7:11
5. Zbigniew Piatek, Mroz +7:13
Can Pevenage save Coast?
Belgian sport director Rudy Pevenage says he has a new German sponsor lined up to join forces with Bianchi, the Italian bike manufacturer, and is trying to wrestle away the UCI license from the troubled Team Coast.
“We reached an agreement with a new German investor. Now, we are asking for a racing license,” Pevenage told the German news agency DPA. “If we receive it, assuming we do, we are going to give job offers to all the 45 employees of Coast, including the 22 racers. It’s necessary that all this happens as soon as possible.”
Pevenage said he will release the name of the new sponsor if and when the new team receives its license. The UCI banned the troubled Team Coast for the second time this season last Wednesday, preventing the team and star Jan Ullrich from starting this week’s Tour of Asturias in Spain.
Team Coast has been plagued with financial troubles since last year and the UCI imposed the latest ban after riders were not fully paid in the month of April. If Pevenage can succeed in his palace coup, he’ll be required to come up with bank guarantees to cover salaries through the remainder of the 2003 season, DPA reported.
Vuelta a España: 2004 start in Leon
The 2004 Vuelta a Espana will start in Leon in northwest Spain, race officials announced Tuesday. The Vuelta will open with a team time trial with more details of the course coming following the road worlds in October. “Then we will know the opening date of the next edition, which was are assured will be the first week of September,” said Unipublic’s Felipe Sainz de Trapaga, referring to rumors that the Vuelta’s dates might be moved to accommodate the world’s in late August or early September. “From then, we will work to prepare the stages, the start and finishes for the Spanish race,” he said.
Comeback: Bettini eyes Tour of Bavaria
World Cup defending champion Paolo Bettini hopes to return to racing for the Tour of Bavaria next week, his Quick Step team announced Tuesday. The 29-year-old, already winner of the Milan-San Remo classic this season, has been out of action since falling in the Ghent-Wevelgem race on April 9 but in training sessions lasting four hours since the beginning of May he has not felt any pain in the shoulder he dislocated. The world’s fourth-rated rider is set to also compete in the Tour of Luxemburg which runs from May 29 to June 1.
Hamilton, Armstrong remain close
Despite being rivals, Lance Armstrong and Tyler Hamilton remain close friends – even after Hamilton took the spotlight ahead of Armstrong at Liege-Bastogne-Liege last month.
“Straight after Liege, he sent me a text message on my phone and after Romandie, we heard from his wife and Lance sent an e-mail congratulating me,” Hamilton told VeloNews. “We’re on different teams, but we’re still good friends and definitely have a lot of respect for each other, which is important.”
Hamilton left U.S. Postal after 2001 to lead Team CSC and the move has certainly paid off for the New Englander. Hamilton said the departure was smooth without any of the acrimony that surrounded Kevin Livingston’s departure the previous year.
“When I left Postal, sometimes situations like that could be sticky, but we were both honest and we’ve stayed good friends,” Hamilton said. “I believe we started on the right foot after I left. He’s been very encouraging, which is nice coming from a guy like Lance.”
Although they both live in the same refurbished apartment building in old part of Girona in Spain, Hamilton says they rarely see each other during the racing season.
“We’ve been on different race programs, different training programs,” he said. “I rarely see a lot of my friends from Postal. George, Christian, Levi, we’re all flying in and out at different times. Even on training rides, everyone’s on different training programs so we don’t even ride together very long.”
Beloki: ‘Better than ever’
ONCE’s Joseba Beloki is on cloud-9 following his big win last weekend at the Clasica de Alcobendas. He says he’s entering the 2003 season in better form compared to the last two seasons, when he was bothered with injuries early on.
“I feel better than ever,” Beloki said in an interview with MARCA. “Better than the past few years, when I’ve always had some sort of problem. I always like to arrive to the Tour with a victory and I already have it. It gives me more tranquility and it shows that I am strong.”
Beloki has finished on the podium in three straight Tours, including second place last year behind Lance Armstrong. Beloki remains realistic about his chances against Armstrong.
“Miguel Indurain won five and the fifth one appeared to be the easiest for him. But when everyone expected the sixth, he fell defeated. With Armstrong, it’s the same. Some day he will have a problem and I hope this year is his decline.”
Beloki says he wants to arrive at the Tour with about 20 days of racing in his legs, though he said he still needs to lose 3.5 kilos.
Sevilla won’t start Asturias
Kelme’s Oscar Sevilla continues to be sidelined from lingering problems caused by a cyst in the groin area and won’t be starting Tuesday’s Tour of Asturias in northern Spain. Sevilla was forced to miss the Clasica de Alcobendas over the weekend, but hopes to return for the Subida al Naranco on Sunday and start the Tour of Castilla y Leon next week.