By Andrew Hood
Russian motor Vladimir Karpets was more than pleased with his first win since 2004 in Monday’s rainy 10km time trial opener at the Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain.
The Caisse d’Epargne rider faced slick roads as rain fell on the late starters in the five-day stage race that saw solid performances by Discovery Channel captains Ivan Basso (7th at 9sec) and Levi Leipheimer (8th at 10sec).
“I’m very happy because last year I finished second and third a lot in time trials, but I could never win any of them,” Karpets said. “Despite the change in the weather, I was able to pull it off. We will fight to keep the overall lead and the fourth stage will decide everything. I haven’t won anything since the 2004 Vuelta al Rioja in 2004, so this win is great for me.”
The Spanish race saw a bevy of stars turn up, including Tour de France runner-up Oscar Pereiro making his season debut after starting the opening stage of the Mallorca Challenge back in early February. Like many of the bigger names that started in the rain, Pereiro didn’t want to risk too much.
“I chose to not to take unnecessary risks because with the wet roads the curves were dangerous,” said Pereiro, 46th at 43sec back. “I have to regain little by little the rhythm of competition and I know that I will be suffering in the first races, but I am happy to be back at the races.”
Basso, meanwhile, told La Gazzetta dello Sport he was “satisfied” with his performance after shaking off a fall at Tirreno-Adriatico last week.
Team CSC, meanwhile, had to start without the services of team captain Iñigo Cuesta, who hurt his shoulder in a pre-race crash during warm-ups.
“It was extremely unlucky for Iñigo, whom I’d had great hopes for in this race. He was almost unable to move his shoulder after the crash, so we were afraid his collarbone was broken, but he’s had a scan and luckily there are no fractures,” said Team CSC sport director Kim Andersen on the team’s web page. “He was our best bet in this race, so we’ll probably have to face the fact that this limits our chances of an overall win somewhat. But we might get a chance to make a difference in some individual stages, so that’s what we’ll be aiming for now.”
The race continues Tuesday with a rolling stage from Zamora to Salamanca.
Riis responds to doping claims
A Belgian television broadcast over the weekend pointed new allegations against 1996 Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis. Former soigneur Jef d’Hont said several Telekom riders used the banned blood booster EPO in the mid-1990s and accused Riis of riding with a hematocrit level well above the 50-percent cutoff later established as a healthy parameter.
The program said a handful of Telekom riders used EPO, but d’Hont isn’t there wasn’t organized doping within the team structure. He said sprinter Erik Zabel refused to use the doping product that swept through the peloton in the 1990s.
Riis, who retired in 1999 and now manages Team CSC, issued a statement Monday denying the allegations.
“I have never had a particularly close relation with Jef d’Hont and he has no validation for the allegations he is making. There will always be some one out there trying to make money by talking about the past and in my opinion that is probably, what he is trying to do here,” Riis said. “This is probably not the first nor the last time these kinds of stories surface. To me, it’s all in the past and I do not wish to be held accountable every time some one finds it interesting to bring up some ten-year-old story. I truly believe the future is much more important than the past. I want to be judged on the work I’m doing with my team today, and the results we achieve – that is what’s important to me.”
Freire wants green jersey, 4th rainbow jersey
Oscar Freire – fresh off winning Saturday’s Milan-San Remo with a perfect finishing sprint – says lingering injuries won’t keep him from taking aim at a record fourth world title later this season.
The Spanish sprinter has missed the past two world championships due to health problems, first with a saddle sore in 2005 and then with dizzy spells and headaches in 2006. He hopes the worst is behind him and he can continue the 2007 season with the same success he’s enjoyed so far.
“The past few years I haven’t been able to race the world’s due to injuries. Things are going well so far, but I have to be careful,” Freire told Spanish radio. “Now I want to fight for the green jersey at the Tour de France and win a fourth world title.”
Freire – whose next major goal will be the Tour of Flanders – said cycling has lost the interest among the major media in Spain.
“It would have been a much bigger triumph if it had been an Italian rider, because in Italy these races are much more important,” Freire said of the reaction of his Milan-San Remo win. “In Spain, the media doesn’t treat cycling very well. After Indurain, cycling lost a little interest and the media has lost interest after not winning the Tour.”
Kirchen on the up
T-Mobile rider Kim Kirchen hopes a strong start to the 2007 season will mark a return to the winner’s circle after an injury-plagued 2006 campaign.
Second overall at Tirreno-Adriatico, attacking on the Poggio in Milan-San Remo and third at Milano-Torino bode well for the Luxembourg native.
“2006 was a difficult year for me. After making the switch from Fassa Bortolo, I had to struggle with a lot of health problems. My back, in particular, was giving me problems. There were times when I experienced extreme back pain, so severe that I couldn’t even sit properly on the bike,” Kirchen said on the team’s web page. “The end effect was that I couldn’t really find my rhythm and show the team management what I was capable of. I did win the Luxembourg road race championships, but it really was an up-and-down year for me.”
Kirchen said he’s hoping the return to form will bring him the same successes he enjoyed in 2005, with four wins when he rode for Fassa Bortolo in a support role for Alessandro Petacchi.
“I am already in the kind of form I want to be in for the Ardennes Classics So the job will be to hold this form. Therefore, I have decided to scratch the Tour of the Basque Country from my program, and instead I will ride the Brabantse Pijl and Tour of Flanders,” he said. “My goal is to better my performances from 2005. If I can achieve that, then I will be very pleased.”
Norwegian sprint Thor Hushovd will return to racing this weekend for the GP Harelbeke and the GP E3 in Belgium, according to his Credit Agricole team. Hushovd missed out on Saturday’s Milan-San Remo after coming down with stomach flu. Francesco Bellotti, who didn’t start for the same reason, is expected to be back for the Vuelta al País Vasco next week.