By Andrew Hood
American Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), three-time Tour de France podium man Joseba Beloki (Liberty Seguros) and defending Giro d’Italia champion Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Caffita) headline Tuesday’s start of the five-day Vuelta a Murcia in Spain.
Leipheimer is just getting his season started and will be looking to reach peak fitness in time for a top 5 at the 2005 Tour de France.
Cunego, meanwhile, officially kicked off his season in Sunday’s Clasica de Almeria and will race Murcia to continue to build form to his title defense at the Giro in May.
“I feel I have done a good job in the build up to the season. The training camp in Terracina with the rest of the team was good for me, and I must say I am feeling even better at this time of the year than I did last year,” Cunego said. “Murcia means a lot, because it will show me my true race condition for this time of the season.”
Beloki, meanwhile, continues his comeback from injuries he suffered in a spectacular crash in the 2003 Tour de France. Beloki suffered through an unremarkable 2004 season, but is motivated to return to the top level under the careful eye of Manolo Saiz at Liberty Seguros.
“The principal goal of the season remains the Tour,” Beloki said. “These early races are important to regain the rhythm in the legs. I will race the Giro, but only to get back to full strength. For me, I want to race as much as possible this year.”
Snow blanketed much of Spain in a late winter storm over the weekend, leaving many of the roads closed. Race officials are hopeful roads will clear later in the week to allow for Saturday’s climbing stage in the the Sierra del Collado Bermejo.
Major names missing include Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile), who’s sick with the flu, and defending champion Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), who will be racing Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of Milan-San Remo.
Assuming the roads are clear to race, the action kicks off Tuesday with 16 teams for the 162km first stage from Murcia to Molina de Segura. The Category 3 Alto de Gebas will be little more than a speed-bump for what’s likely a mass gallop.
Wednesday’s 25km individual time trial starting and finishing in Alhama will be decisive in the fight for the overall while the peloton will see two Cat. 3s in the 155km third stage from Mula to Fortuna.
Things get interesting with the 152km fourth stage from Aguilas to Collado Bermejo with three Cat. 3s, the Cat. 1 Espuña climb and the Cat. 1 summit finish to Collado Bermejo, called the “Cima Pantani” in honor of Marco Pantani.
The final 151km stage starts and finishes in Murcia with the Cat. 3 Alto Cabezo de la Plata livening things up for the final sprint.
Klöden satisfied with season opener
Andreas Klöden called last week’s Tour of Valencia a perfect season-opener for the 2004 Tour de France runner-up. Klöden told Spanish journalists the race was just want he needed to kick start his season.
“The race is a perfect season opener for me,” he said. “I can test my form and keep building on it without stress. That’s the most important thing at this stage of the season. Apart from that, it’s decisive to stay healthy and to finish without a fall.”
Klöden will be aiming for the Tour yet again this year when T-Mobile is hoping to arrive with its trio of stars in top form. He said the Valencia tour was demanding enough for so early in the season.
“They are just right. Not too difficult, not too easy. The stages at 150 to 180 km aren’t overly long, we are in the saddle between four and five hours each day,” he said. “There are two stages on the more difficult side, which lead up to the mountains. The flat stages are also demanding, due to the wind. However, you don’t have to race at the limit.” Petacchi feeling stronger than ever
Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) roared out of his detour through Spain stuffed with victories. The sprinter took wins at two stages at Ruta del Sol, Luis Puig and three stages and the overall at Valencia.
“I always start strong, but these are races that I like in this time of the calendar, but it seems that this might be my best start ever,” he told the Spanish daily AS.
Taking the final GC in a stage race is something new for Petacchi. Race organizers were forced to cancel part of the difficult climbing stage up the Alto de Campello due to poor weather, allowing Petacchi to snag his first career stage race victory.
“I’ve worn race leader’s jerseys before, but never at the end of a race. For a sprinter it’s very difficult to win small tours, but this year I feel very good, including on the climbs,” he said.
Petacchi said he’s hopeful for his first major goal of the season, winning at Milan-San Remo.
“I’ve liked San Remo since a child and I’d like to win it once. Last year I finished fourth and I think it’s within my reach. Later I will race the Giro and the Vuelta, where I hope to have good results,” he said. “Finally, I will think about the world’s. I saw the course in early December and I like it, but that was still winter and I want to go back to inspect it.”
Quick Step for March
Here’s the racing schedule for upcoming races for Quick Step:
March – 04-06: Driedaagse van West-Vlaanderen (Bel/2.1)
Christensen, Cretskens, Engels, De Fauw, Garrido, Knaven, Rosseler and Van Goolen (standby: Paolini, Pozzato and Pecharroman)
March – 06-13: Paris – Nice (Fra/Pro Tour)
Boonen, De Weert, Hulsmans, Lotz, Rogers, Tankink, Trenti and Verbrugghe (standby: Cretskens, Engels, Pecharroman and Van Goolen)
March – 09-15: Tirreno – Adriatico (Ita/Pro Tour)
Bettini, Bramati, Knaven, Moreni, Nuyens, Paolini, Pozzato and Zanini (reserven: Cretskens, Engels, Pecharroman and Van Goolen)
March – 16: Nokere Koerse (Bel/1.1)
Cretskens, Christensen, De Fauw, Engels, Garrido, Rosseler and Van Goolen
March – 20: GP Rudy Dhaenens (Bel/1.1)
Cretskens, Christensen, De Fauw, De Weert, Engels, Hulsmans, Rosseler and Tankink (standby: Knaven and Lotz)
March – 22-26: Settimana Ciclista Internationale (Ita/2.1)
Bettini, Engels, Garrido, Mercado, Pecharroman, Rogers, Sinkewitz and Van Goolen (standby: Bramati, Christensen, Paolini and Moreni)
March – 23: Dwars door Vlaanderen (Bel/1.1)
Boonen, Cretskens, De Weert, Hulsmans, Knaven, Nuyens, Rosseler and Tankink (standby: Bramati, De Fauw, Lotz and Trenti)
March – 26: E3-Prijs Vlaanderen (Bel/1.HC)
Boonen, Cretskens, Hulsmans, Knaven, Nuyens, Tankink, Pozzato and Zanini (standby: De Weert, Lotz, Paolini and Rosseler)
March – 27: Brabantse Pijl (Bel/1.1)
Christensen, De Weert, Lotz, Nuyens, Paolini, Tankink, Van Goolen and Verbrugghe