By Andrew Hood
Bernhard Eisel (FDJeux) made a ferocious sprint Wednesday to win the 227km second stage at the Three Days of De Panne and grabbed the overall lead for the effort.
Eisel – who finished second in Tuesday’s opener — came around Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) and out-kicked Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) to score the emphatic victory and nudged into the leader’s jersey thanks to time bonuses.
A three-man break dominated most of the day’s action with Discovery Channel glued at the front of the peloton to protect the jersey for overnight leader Leif Hoste. Lampre, Quick Step and Davitamon-Lotto surged to the front late to help finish off the breakaway with less than 10km to go.
Hoste seemed to get boxed out in the sprint and didn’t finish within the time bonuses and slipped to second in the overall, now four seconds back. Gert Steegmans (Davitamon-Lotto) crashed early, allowing Luis León Sánchez (Liberty Seguros) to move into third overall at 35 seconds back.
Several riders didn’t contest the sprint, including world champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Innergetic), who already said he will not race Thursday’s afternoon time trial to avoid risking a crash ahead of defending his title in Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
Eisel will try to defend his jersey in Thursday’s double-stage. There’s a morning road stage followed by the decisive afternoon time trial. Only Hoste and Sánchez remain within striking distance to the Austrian sprinter.
Petacchi will ride Flanders
Italian Alessandro Petacchi will saddle up for the season’s second bigone-day classic, the Tour of Flanders, this Sunday his Milram team confirmed.
Petacchi, one of the peloton’s most prolific sprinters, has never finishedthe Tour of Flanders on two previous participations and this time couldfind himself at the service of his veteran teammate Erik Zabel.
The 35-year-old German, a four-time winner of Milan-San Remo, came fourthlast year in the race which runs from Bruges to Meerbeke in Belgium.Petacchicame second behind Italian Filippo Pozzato two weeks ago at Milan-San Remo,the first one-day classic of the season.
Pozzato’s Quick Step teammate Tom Boonen is the reigning Tour of Flanderschampion.
Last year Boonen, now the reigning world champion, followed up the victorya week later by winning what is arguably the toughest classic of them all,Paris-Roubaix.
Agence France Presse
Olson heads to the Classics
AaronOlson is quietly making a positive impression in his first weeks racing in Europe with Saunier Duval-Prodir, so much so he’ll be making starts at Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem and Paris-Roubaix
Olson, fresh off racing in the five-day Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain, said he’s more than ready for what will be some heady days for the 28-year-old American.
“I am definitely very happy to have the opportunity to do these Classics in my first year on the team,” Olson told VeloNews. “My main goal is to ride a good race, and finish. 260km is long, but I like the style of course Flanders has to offer, and think I can have a good ride.”
Olson, who signed on with Saunier Duval for two seasons after racing consistently on the domestic circuit, said he’s feeling stronger than ever after solid winter of preparation under the watchful eye of his training coach, Max Testa.
“(Testa) had me working hard since November to be ready for the Pro-Tour,” Olson said in an e-mail exchange. “The stage-races really help bring my level up, and going into the northern classics, I am very motivated.”
With the retirement of Classics strongman Andrea Tafi, Saunier Duval won’t necessarily have a go-to man for the cobble-stoned classics, opening the door for opportunities on the team.
“When I signed with the team, they asked if I wanted to do Paris-Roubaix. I said yes, this style of races I have always wanted to try,” he said. “Without Tafi this year, the team doesn’t really have a leader as far as I know, so I think I will have a good chance to ride the race, and follow the wheels, and see how well I can do.”
Getting the chance to race in the legendary races of Europe is why Olson jumped at the chance to join Saunier Duval.
“With this team it is great because you get plenty of opportunity. I plan on making the most of it,” he said. “I hope all my hard work, and everyone’s help pays off. I feel myself getting stronger by the week, and am looking forward to seeing how high of a level I can achieve (CLEAN)!” (editor’s note: Olson’s emphasis).
After the Classics, Olson will return to the United States to race in the Tour de Georgia and then venture back to Europe for what could be a slot at either the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France.
Not surprisingly, with team captain Gilberto Simoni making a run at the overall Giro title, Olson admits grabbing one of the nine start positions for the season’s first grand tour could prove difficult.
“We have a lot of good riders on the Italian side, and they will want experienced riders for Simoni. We will see, I would love to have the opportunity to try to help him win, that would be an honor for me. And, with the Team TT this could also suit me to help,” Olson said. “Of course, I would like to do the Tour, and think if I have a consistent season, this will be my best shot for a grand tour.”
Overall, Olson is very pleased with how things are unfolding since joining Saunier Duval. After getting a taste of racing in Europe with the national U-23 program in 1999 and 2000, Olson was keen to get back to the top level of the sport.
“My impressions of the team are great. It’s something I have been working towards for many years now, and definitely want to make the most of my opportunity,” he said.
León Sánchez ambitious for De Panne
Luis León Sánchez – fourth in Tuesday’s opening stage at the Three Days of De Panne – is expecting big things for the Belgian stage race.
The young Spanish rider counter-attacked with 30km to go, but fell 12 seconds short of catching the leading threesome featuring stage-winner Leif Hoste (Discovery Channel). If he can stay close going into Thursday’s double-stage finish with a final time trial, León Sánchez could have a shot at overall victory.
“I don’t know why, but I always like the (split stages), like at Alcobendas where I have the time trial twice,” he said, referring to the Clasica de Alcobendas in Spain. “There’s also a double-stage on the last day here, so I have to take advantage of the opportunity.”
León Sánchez has been racing hard since the Tour Down Under, where he finished second overall in his bid to defend his 2005 title. After De Panne, he’ll take a break before returning in May for Alcobendas and the Volta a Cataluyna to prepare for the Tour de France. Hondo cleared by UCI to race
German sprinter Danilo Hondo got the green light late Tuesday from the UCI to return to racing as soon as this weekend.
That means the 32-year-old – who was released by his Gerolsteiner team after he failed doping tests last March – could race in this weekend’s Tour of Flanders, if he can find a team to offer him a contract.
“On first instance, Danilo Hondo had been suspended for one year (from 1st April 2005 to 31st March 2006) by Swiss Cycling after having tested positive for Carphedon during the Vuelta Ciclista in Murcia on 3 and 4 March 2005,” read a UCI press release on Tuesday. “After this period, the rider will thus be eligible, according to the UCI Regulations, to resume his activity in all the races of the UCI’s calendar.”
Earlier this month, a Swiss civil court ruled that the German sprinter could race while it considers the validity of a two-year racing ban handed down by the Court of Arbitraton for Sport.
One hurdle will be the ethics rules imposed by the ProTour teams, which have agreed to essentially double a racing ban for a rider charged with doping offenses.
Under ProTour rules, any first-time offense includes an automatic two-year racing ban, plus an additional two-year ban before being allowed to return to one of the 20 ProTour teams.
Continental teams, however, will be able to sign him immediately.
Other riders serving racing bans imposed before the 2005 start of the ProTour series have signed contracts with ProTour teams. One example is David Millar, who is expected to start the 2006 Tour de France just days after his two-year ban expires for admitting to using the banned blood-booster EPO.
Hondo said on his web page that he’s been training diligently and is fit to resume racing immediately. Hondo’s agent, Tony Rominger, has reportedly been in discussions with several teams.
The ethics rule has so far been untested and the Hondo case could be the first challenge for ProTour teams’ own ethics rules.
Last year, Hondo – a German who races with a Swiss license – appealed a one-year racing ban imposed by the Swiss sports disciplinary body, but in January, CAS ruled against Hondo and actually expanded the competition ban to two years.
Earlier this month, however, a Swiss civil court ruled to allow Hondo to immediately return to racing while it considers the validity of the two-year racing ban.
The case is believed to be the first time a civil court has over-ruled a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a non-governing body charged with settling doping disputes in sport. Other bids to challenge CAS rulings in civil court have regularly been shot down.