By Andrew Hood
Valverde gets his in Mallorca
In a week that’s seen some big names take early season victories, it was only a matter of time before Alejandro Valverde would bounce into the winner’s circle.
The 24-year-old Spanish sensation won more than 15 races last year and it didn’t take long for him to notch his first victory of the 2005 season. Valverde sprang back to life by peeling away from the main bunch to win the Trofeo Soller and give home team Illes Balears a much-desired win.
Conditions were horrible during the 164km stage, which featured three tough climbs, with wind, snow and rain pelting the peloton. Oscar Freire, winner of the first two days of the five-day Mallorca Challenge, charged out of the gate early in the stage, but later faded on the summit finish climb to the Mirador de Colomer.
The day’s real action came 45km into the stage when 21 riders took off, including Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and defending champion Toni Tauler (Illes Balears). Rabobank and Illes Balears worked together to neutralize the break, leaving Valverde to fight mano a mano against Ronald Mutsaars and Steven De Jongh (both Rabobank).
Valverde leapt away on the final approach to give Illes Balears a victory in its home race after finishing second in the opening two stages with Isaac Gálvez. Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) crashed with 5km to go, spoiling his chances to fight for a top spot.
The Mallorca Challenge continues Wednesday with the 150km GP Manacor.
Trofeo Manacor, Stage 3, Mallorca Challenge, Pollensa to Mirador de Colomer, 165km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Illes Balears 4 hours, 20 minutes, 48 seconds
2. Ronald Mutsaars (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:42
3. Steven De Jongh (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:56
4. David Muñoz (Sp), Comunidad Valenciana, at 1:18
5. Rolf Aldag (G), T-Mobile, at 1:19
Cipo’ wants more at Tour Med
Mario Cipollini (Liquigas-Bianchi) lines up Wednesday for the start of the Tour Méditerranéen looking to add to his record haul of 14 stage wins in the early season race along the French Cote d’Azur.
Other top names include two-time winner Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner); Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole); Erik Dekker (Rabobank); and Jens Voigt, Dave Zabriskie and Bobby Julich (CSC). The Navigators will be among the 20-team roster lining up in San Remo for Wednesday’s first stage to Menton, which will hit the Poggio climb featured in Milan-San Remo.
The course also features a climb over the imposing Mont Faron in stage 3 to Toulon, one of the more spectacular climbs anywhere in Europe. A team time trial in stage four will favor defending champions Team CSC, who will be without last year’s winner Jorg Jaksche.
Teams for Tour Méditerranéen: Aqua & Sapone (Ita), Ag2r (Fra), Agritubel (Fra), Bookmaker Sports Tech (Bel), Bouygues (Fra), Cofidis (Fra), Credit Agricole (Fra), Domina Vacanze (Ita), Fassa Bortolo (Ita), FDJeux.com (Fra), Gerolsteiner (Ger), Liquigas (Ita), Miche (Ita), Naturino (Ita), Phonak (Swi), Quick Step (Bel), RAGT (Fra), Rabobank (Ned), Team CSC (Den) and Navigators (USA)
Stages for Tour Méditerranéen:
Stage 1, Feb. 9 – San Remo, Italy to Menton, 130km
Stage 2, Feb. 10 – Villeneuve-Loubet to Bormes-les-Mimosas, 131km
Stage 3, Feb. 11 – La Garde to Toulon, 134km
Stage 4, Feb. 12 – Bouc-Bel-Air to Berre l’Etang, 36km (team time trial)
Stage 5, Feb. 13 – Cabriès to Marseille, 122km
Bettini skips stage, Pozzato does MSR recon
Quick Step reports Paolo Bettini skipped today’s stage of the Mallorca Challenge and could miss out on the last two days after complaining of a throat infection that’s been molesting the Olympic champion since January.
Meanwhile, Filippo Pozzato and Quick Step teammates Kevin De Weert, Bram Tankink, Sebastien Rosseler and Jurgen Van Goolen did a recon mission Tuesday on the final kilometers of the Milan-San Remo course, hitting the Cipressa and Poggio climbs as a warm-up for next month’s classic.
“It is always enthralling riding these sections that represent a monument in cycling,” Pozzato said. “As far as I am concerned this training session has been extremely useful in giving me a clear idea on what lines I’ll need to take during the downhill sections. In fact, it was during the descent of the Cipressa two years ago that my hopes of a win went flying out of the window.
“Over this winter I’ve done a lot of agility and base work but still haven’t done any specific work. During the Tour of the Mediterranean I want to see what point I am at in respect to my competitors and then I’ll start working on the change of rhythm.”