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By Andrew Hood
Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke (Française desJeux) stormed to victory in the Grand Prix La Marseillaise on Tuesday toopen the French racing season.
Cooke nipped Jo Planckaert (MR Bookmaker.com) to take the bunch sprintin the 152km race from Gardanne to Aubagne. Italian Fabio Baldato (Alessio-Bianchi) came across the line third.
Racing continues Wednesday in France with the five-day l’Etoile de Bessèges.GP La Marseillaise (UCI 1.3)
1. Baden Cooke (Aus), FDJeux.com, 152km in 3:38:30
2. Jo Planckaert (B), Mr Bookmakers
3. Fabio Baldato (I), Alessio-Bianchi
4. Stefan Van Dijck (Ned), Lotto-Domo
5. Gerben Lowik (Ned), Chocolade — all same time
Valverde wins, Colom takes lead at Mallorca
Alejandro Valverde almost didn’t make it in time to race Tuesday’s four-climbrollercoaster across Mallorca, but he made the most of it.
Valverde (Communidad Valenciana-Kelme) arrived late from the airportafter flying in from mainland Spain and he quickly picked up where he leftoff last season taking the silver medal at the road world championships.
“I almost didn’t make it here, but I felt good today and I had a lotof excitement to be racing again,” Valverde said after winning a six-upsprint in the 150km stage to Port Soller.
Communidad Valenciana-Kelme put four riders into the six-man group thatled over the day’s final climb in the third stage of the Mallorca Challenge.Team CSC’s Jens Voigt built up a three-minute lead midway through the stage,but the motivated Spanish riders weren’t about to let him stay away.
Toni Colom (Illes Balears-Banesto) and Koldo Gil (Liberty Seguros) wereoutgunned against four Kelmes, but it was another strong showing for LibertySeguros after winning the opening stage and Colom, who slipped on the raceleader’s jersey for the day’s effort.
“It was difficult four against two and there wasn’t much we could doto try to win,” Colom said. “But we are motivated to try to win here becauseour sponsor is here. I hope to be able to be strong in the coming days.”
The five-day Mallorca Challenge continues with a rolling stage on Wednesday.Mallorca Challenge (UCI 1.3), Stage 3, Feb. 3, TrofeoPort Soller
1. Alejandro Valverde, Kelme, 150.6km in 3:43:28
2. David Blanco, Kelme
3. Ruben Plaza, Kelme
4. Toni Colom, Illes Balears-Banesto
5. Koldo Gil, Liberty Seguros — all same timeOverall standings after three stages
1. Toni Colom, Illes Balears-Banesto 9 hours, 16 minutes, 55minutes
2. David Blanco, Kelme
3. Carlos Garcia, Kelme
4. Ruben Plaza, Kelme
5. Koldo Gil, Liberty Seguros — all same timeBoonen blows into Qatar lead
Tom Boonen profited from heavy winds in Tuesday’s second stage of theTour of Qatar, taking the stage win in a sprint victory ahead of Jean-PatrickNazon (Ag2r) and grabbing the overall leader’s jersey.
Quick Step set a blistering pace from the gun, causing the group tosplit into two. The second group finished more than 30 minutes off Boonen’swinning time.
The five-day Tour of Qatar continues Wednesday with the 189.5-kilometerstage starting and finishing at the Camel Race Track. Only in Qatar willyou find one of those!
3rd Tour of Qatar (UCI 1.3), Stage 2, Al Zubarah toDoha Hyatt Plaza
1. Tom Boonen, Quick Step, 151km in 2:53
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon, Ag2r
3. Francesco Chicchi, Fassa Bortolo
4. Robbie McEwen, Lotto-Domo
5. Robert Hunter, Rabobank — all same time
Beloki’s season kick-off delayed
Joseba Beloki’s planned return to racing in today’s GP de La Marseillaise in France has been cut short with tendonitis, the Spanish daily MARCA reported. The newspaper reporter Beloki started feeling pain in his knee during last weekend’s Six Hours of Euskadi track event in Basque Country.
Beloki hasn’t raced in a major event since his horrible crash in last summer’s Tour de France which left him battered with a broken leg, elbow and wrist. Beloki could make his season debut in his new Boulangere colors at Luis Puig on Feb. 22.
Freire feels stronger than last year
Fresh off his victory Monday in the Mallorca Challenge, two-time world champion Oscar Freire is expecting big things this season. He told the Spanish daily AS he’s feeling stronger than last year.
“I feel better than last year,” he said. “I did more work in the gym. I started training the same day as usual – Dec. 20 – but I’ve been working more in the gym and I haven’t loss so much muscle. I feel stronger.”
Freire said he’s putting the world championships and the World Cup ahead of the Summer Games.
“I want to win important races. Last year I won seven races, which isn’t bad, but none of them were very big. This year I want to be in the bigger races,” he said. “Last year I only felt strong at Milan-San Remo, but there you have to have a bit of luck and I didn’t have any. The Olympics are important, but my big objectives are the classics of the World Cup and the world’s.” McGee not worried about Cofidis affair
Brad McGee, winner of last year’s Tour de France prologue, told the AFP he’s not worried about investigations involving the French Cofidis team that made headlines last month.
“I know the general feelings in the team (about the revelations), but it just doesn’t really concern us, you know,” he told AFP at the team’s presentation last week. “We’re not going to change anything, we know what we do, we’re proud of what we do and … it disappoints me what’s going on out there, with these cases that have been exposed. I say all the time now that I’d rather there was no cycling than cycling with drugs.”
McGee, who this season will challenge for honors in the world track championships, the Tour de France and the Olympic Games, admitted the peloton would simply have to start afresh.
“We just have to be strong and drive through it again,” he said referring to the latest doping scandal. “I was under the impression that we were over it, that we were on the good side of the Festina thing and what happened after that. This shit comes up all the time. It disappoints me but it doesn’t change anything for me. We just keep going the way we’re going.” — AFP
Racing today in Europe
Stage 3, Mallorca Challenge, Spain, 150.6km stage to Port de Soller with four rated climbs
GP de La Marseillaise, 150km from Gardanne to Aubagne, official start of the French racing calendar.