Road

Wednesday’s EuroFile: Gutierrez drives it home in Castilla y León: Astarloa signs with Lampre

The peloton ripped apart over a Category 2 climb midway through the opening stage of the five-day Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain. Strong winds finished off the job as José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) drove home a seven-man group. Pre-race favorites Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme missed the move, which Liberty Seguros had leader Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano safely tucked into the seven-rider group that came through 29 seconds ahead of the chasing Alejandro Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme). Joining Gutierrez in the lead break were Galdeano, teammate David Navas, Gorka Beloki (La

By VeloNews Interactive, Copyright AFP2003

See ya! Astarloa's stint in his Cofidis kit was short-lived

See ya! Astarloa’s stint in his Cofidis kit was short-lived

Photo: AFP (file photo)

The peloton ripped apart over a Category 2 climb midway through the opening stage of the five-day Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain. Strong winds finished off the job as José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears) drove home a seven-man group.

Pre-race favorites Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme missed the move, which Liberty Seguros had leader Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano safely tucked into the seven-rider group that came through 29 seconds ahead of the chasing Alejandro Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme).

Joining Gutierrez in the lead break were Galdeano, teammate David Navas, Gorka Beloki (La Boulangere), Aitor Perez (Cafes Baque), Dionisio Galparsoro (Euskaltel) and Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval).

Gutierrez won the seven-up sprint, but Zaballa was furious after he claimed Gutierrez impeded his sprint. Race judges ruled Gutierrez did nothing inappropriate as he hammered his bike toward the line, although Zaballa appeared to be boxed out.

“He drove me into the barriers. If the sprint were clean, I would have the sprint,” Zaballa said after a futile protest.

Valverde was isolated without teammates after the peloton split apart. There were four other Liberty Seguros riders in his chase group working at 35 seconds back with 5km to go.

2002 Tour de France runner-up Joseba Beloki (La Boulangere) made it safely through the stage at 58th at 2:21 back. For the injury-plagued Spanish rider who’s been unable to finish a stage-race this season, completing Wednesday’s stage was victory enough.

“I’m feeling better on the bike,” said Beloki, who added he was satisfied to see his younger brother finish in the lead group. “My goal here is regain my fitness and hopefully be ready for races later in the season.”

American Tim Johnson (Saunier Duval), fresh off racing in the Tour de Georgia last week in the United States, came through 78th at 5:49 back.

The Vuelta a Castilla y León (SPA 2.3) continues Thursday with a 32km team time trial from Fromista to Carrion de los Condes. Strong winds are expected to be a protagonist.
ResultsAstarloa has a new team
World road champion Igor Astarloa has signed a two-year contract with the Italian Lampre team and will race in the Giro d’Italia, starting in Genoa on May 8.

The 28-year-old, who won the world title at Hamilton last year, was released by top French team Cofidis who are embroiled in doping allegations.

“I was afraid of losing the whole season as the situation at Cofidis still is very confused,” Astarloa said.

But Astarloa was quick to deflate speculation of a Giro win.

“I would like to win an important stage and wear the pink jersey for a few days but the overall title is beyond me,” he said.

Astarloa, who lives in Italy, finished 53rd when he rode the Giro in 2002 with the Saeco team.

Cofidis riders before judge
Three former and current Cofidis riders — Philippe Gaumont, Médéric Clain and Robert Sassone – are scheduled to appear before French judge Richard Pallain on Wednesday as part of the ongoing investigations into the so-called Cofidis Affaire.

Others who have already appeared before the judge include Oktos sport director Oleg Kozlitine, former Cofidis soigneur Boguslaw Madejak, former Cofidis rider Marek Rutkiewicz and compatriot Daniel Majewski.

Gaumont was fired from the team after he admitted to using banned performance-enhancing drugs. Cofidis, which voluntarily pulled itself from competition under pressure from the growing scandal, is expected to return to competition in next month’s Four Days of Dunkirk after recent meetings with staff and riders to toughen the team’s ethics policy.

No sponsor, no Armstrong
Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has suggested that he might retire next year if his team fails to find a new sponsor capable of recruiting quality riders.

U.S. Postal, criticized for spending money on sponsorship in the light of three postal rate increases over the last four years, is withdrawing its sponsorship from cycling at the end of the year and the Texan says he is unsure of his plans for 2005.

“If the team continues under another name with a new structure and a squad as competitive, it’s sure I’ll be riding. Otherwise, I’ll stop,” he told l’Equipe sports daily in an interview from Atlanta after winning last week’s Tour of Georgia.

U.S. Postal gave Armstrong a job after the Texan won his battle with cancer. “Without them I might not have won one Tour. They were the perfect sponsors,” he said.

And the 32-year-old admitted he had not looked at proposed changes to the pro cycling circuit next year.

“I haven’t looked at 2005 because I don’t know what I’ll be doing then,” he said. “It’s April and the only thing that matters is who’s going to win the Tour de France.” Kelme, Liberty to square off in Spain
Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme is expected to battle Liberty Seguros for overall victory in the Vuelta a Castilla y León (SPA 2.3) that starts today in northern Spain.

Kelme has been on a roll this spring while Liberty Seguros is still looking of its first overall stage-race victory of the season. Kelme comes with a still-motivated Alejandro Valverde, who is back from a short break.

“The balance of the year can’t be better and I can’t ask for more on how the year has gone,” said Valverde, who’s won seven races so far this season. “We’ll see how the race goes, but what’s sure is I won’t let any chance for victory slip away. I still feel pretty good. Not the form I had in February, but at 80 percent.”

Liberty Seguros, meanwhile, comes with a strong team anchored by Koldo Gil, Angel Vicioso and Igor González de Galdeano that could prove decisive in the team time trial in Thursday’s second stage.

The route pushes east to west, shadowing the “Camino de Santiago” pilgrim’s route across northern Spain, and is highlighted by a 32km team time trial in stage 2 and a difficult mountain day in stage 4.

The Spanish/Italian Saunier Duval team is also participating in the race, with American Tim Johnson slated to start.

Beloki facing key test
Joseba Beloki (La Boulangere) starts the Vuelta al Castilla y León today in Spain with the hopes of reaching the finish line. Beloki – second overall in the 2002 Tour de France – has yet to finish a race he’s started this season as he searches for form following his horrendous crash in the 2003 Tour.

Beloki last raced in the Tour of the Basque Country in early April, but pulled out after the first stage.

Leblanc new sport director
Former French pro Luc Leblanc has been named as a sport director of the Belgian team Chocolade Jacques, the team announced. Leblanc, 37, a former world champion, will join the team as the fourth director joining existing directors Johan Capiot, Jef Braeckevelt and Walter Planckaert.

“We have a very full schedule and we’ve decided to add a fourth director,” Capiot said. “I knew that Leblanc was looking for a team and when we contacted him, we quickly reached an agreement.”

Leblanc will join the team for the upcoming Giro d’Italia and will work primarily with the team in the French races.

Racing today
Stage 1 of the Tour de Romandie (SWI 2.HC) in Switzerland, with a rolling 175km first stage starting and finishing in Yverdon les Bains that hits two Category 4 climbs; the first at 106 kilometers and the second at 158 kilometers. Prologue winner Brad McGee (FDJeux.com) will be looking to defend his jersey

Stage 1 of the Vuelta a Castilla y León (SPA 2.3), 156km from Belorado to Castrojeriz along the flat meseta of northern Spain.