By Andrew Hood
Spanish sensation Alejandro Valverde earned a hat-trick Wednesday in the Vuelta a Burgos after taking his third consecutive stage in the difficult 139km climbing finish up the narrow, twisting roads to Lagunas de Neila.
Valverde, a winner of the opening two stages of the four-day Burgos tour, faltered within the final kilometer of the steep climb with ramps as steep as 14 percent, but bounced back to catch the wheel of Italian Leonard Piepoli (Saunier Duval) and Denish Menchov (Illes Balears).
Valverde caught back on with less than 200 meters to go and shot ahead of Menchov to score his 13th win of the season.
Earlier in the stage, a two-man breakaway featuring Ion del Río (Costa Almería) and Josep Jufre (Relax-Bodysol) was reeled in on the lower flanks of the punishing final climb high into the pine-covered sierra. Saunier Duval sent Joaquín Rodríguez and Juan Carlos Domínguez up the road to force Valverde’s Kelme teammates to chase.
The lead group was trimmed to seven riders and Domínguez was caught with about 2.5km to go, leaving a quintet of Valverde, Piepoli, Menchov, Moisés Dueñas (Relax-Bodysol) and Jonathan González (Costa de Almeria-Paternina). Piepoli accelerated with less than 1.5km to go to drop González and Dueñas, leaving Menchov and Valverde to fight for the spoils.
The Burgos tour – reduced from five to four stages to make room for the Olympic road race on the international calendar – concludes Thursday with the 171km rolling stage featuring a Cat. 2 and Cat. 3 climb midway through the race from Mirando del Ebro to Burgos.
Meanwhile, according to a report on the Italian web page Data Sport, Valverde is reportedly close to signing a two-year contract to join the Quick Step team in 2005.
26th Vuelta a Burgos (SPA 2.1), Stage 3, Arenisca de los Pinares to Lagos de Neila, 139km
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa), Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, 3:44:03
2. Denis Menchov (Rus,) Illes Balears-Banesto, s.t.
3. Leonardo Piepoli (Ita), Saunier Duval-Prodir, at 0:03
4. Moisés Dueñas (Spa), Relax-Bodysol, at 0:36
5. Jonathan González (Spa), Costa de Almeria-Paternina, at 0:42
Overall (after three stages)
1. Valverde, 11:04:51
2. Menchov, at 0:03
3. Piepoli, at 0:06
4. Marcos Serrano (Spa), Liberty Seguros , at 0:50
5. Jonathan González (Spa), Costa de Almeria-Paternina, at 0:53
Bettini wins Camaiore
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) won the 55th edition of the GP Citta di Camaiore, a one-day race in Italy ahead of compatriot Danilo Di Luca (Saeco).
Bettini pulled away on the final passage of the climb at Monte Pitoro to score the victory. Only Frank Schleck, a Luxembourg rider from Team CSC, stopped the Italian sweep of the top five.
55th GP Citta di Camaiore (ITA 1.2), 193km
1. Paolo Bettini (Ita), Quick Step 4:18:43
2. Danilo Di Luca (Ita), Saeco, at 0:10
3. Luca Paolini (Ita), Quick Step
4. Frank Schleck (Lux), Team CSC
5. Antonio D’Aniello (Ita), Miche – all same time
O’Grady wins Denmark opener
Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) got another morale-boosting win for the upcoming Summer Olympic Games after taking the bunch sprint in the opening stage of the Tour of Denmark.
O’Grady, a winner at the World Cup HEW Cyclassics race on Sunday, won ahead of Michael Van Haecke (Mr Bookmaker) and Andre Korff (T-Mobile), who came through third.
Tour of Denmark (DEN 2.3), Stage 1, Aabenraa to Esberg, 150km
1. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Cofidis
2. Michael Van Haecke (Ned), Mr Bookmaker
3. Andre Korff (G), T-Mobile – all same time
Mancebo OK for Vuelta
Francisco Mancebo, the Spanish rider on the Illes Balears team, will be able to start the Vuelta a España (Sept. 4-26) after X-rays revealed his left wrist isn’t as seriously injured as first thought.
Mancebo – fresh off his sixth place in the 2004 Tour de France — crashed in the second stage of the Vuelta a Burgos on Tuesday, but exams at the University Clinic of Navarra on Wednesday showed there are no major fractures, clearing the way for the Spanish national champion to race in next month’s Vuelta.
Merckx and Hammond join Discovery
Axel Merckx and Paris-Roubaix podium finisher Roger Hammond are set to join Discovery Channel for 2005. According to a report in the Het Niewsblad newspaper, Hammond has signed a two-year contract to join the American team while Merckx will rejoin with Lance Armstrong, who rode together in the mid-1990s at Motorola.
Hammond, a British rider on Mr. Bookmaker.com, finished third in this year’s Paris-Roubaix. Merckx, the son of cycling legend Eddy Merckx, enjoyed a fine Tour de France, going on the attack on several occasions and finishing 21st overall.
Earlier this week, Discovery Channel announced that promising grand-tour contender Yaroslav Popovych was joining the team with a three-year contract.
Big Mig: Armstrong deserved sixth win
Miguel Indurain, the Spanish caballero who won five successive Tours 1991-95, said Lance Armstrong deserved the record sixth Tour de France and said he feels no rancor that the American broke his mark.
“I don’t have any problem with it. I am happy for him because he won the sixth Tour that no one else could do. He’s worked hard and now we have to congratulate him for what he’s done and the sacrifices he’s made,” Indurain told the EFE news wire. “Armstrong deserved to win because he’s been the most consistent and better than the others. In cycling, there’s no other way to judge a racer than by numbers and statistics and for this he’s the best in the Tour, but perhaps at the global level there are other riders who have better palmares.”
T-Mobile will bring Alexander Vinokourov and Paolo Savoldelli out of the injury ward for the German Regio Tour, which gets under way Wednesday in Heitersheim and takes the peloton across 740km of varied and difficult terrain in the Black Forest, Kasiserstuhl and Alsace before the finish in Vogtsburg on Sunday.The Volta a Portugal continues Wednesday with the 152km sixth stage from Santa Joao de Madeira to Gouveia. Spanish rider José Miguel Elias (Relax-Bodysol) is holding a 1:02 lead over compatriot David Bernabeu (Milaneza) while American Tom Danielson (Fassa Bortolo) continues to hone his form for next month’s Vuelta a España.