By Andrew Hood
What a difference a year makes for the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. In 2005, not one ProTour team lined up in May because of commitments to the Vuelta a Cataluyna and Giro d’Italia.
With Setmana Catalana postponed this year, Castilla y Leon was bumped up into its slot in April and now the race is enjoying its best action ever.
Witness Wednesday’s exciting 181km march south across Spain’s rolling meseta from Zamora to Salamanca. Wind, attacks, breakaways and tricky finish made for a top-flight day at the races.
Spanish veteran Chente García Acosta (Illes Balears) attacked with 800m to go in the frolicking finish to hold off the hard-charging sprinters to grab the victory. Alexandre Vinokourov (Liberty Seguros) retained the overall lead.
Earlier in the stage, seven riders chugged away at 13km and stayed away until the closing four kilometers. In the group were: Julián Sánchez (Comunidad Valenciana), Juan José Abril (Viña Magna), Manuel Beltrán (Discovery Chanel), Javier Mejías (Saunier Duval) Pablo De Pedro (Nicolas Mateos), Daniel Moreno (Relax) and Luis Pérez (Andalucia Paul Versans).
Strong winds pushed their advantage to more than five minutes when the peloton awoke from its collective siesta, with Liberty Seguros and Discovery Channel helping drive the chase.
Abril, Beltrán and Pérez fought the good fight, but eventually succumbed to the pressure of the chase. Aaron Olson did fine work closing down the final kilometers for Saunier Duval to set up the sprint for their Brazilian with speed, Luciano Pagliarini.
In the final two kilometers, Victor Gomez (Viña Magna Cropu) tried to slip away, but García Acosta used his wile to jump after the peloton pushed through an 180-degree turn with about 1200m to go.
Thursday’s hard climbing stage to finish atop the Puerto de Navacerrada in the mountains outside of Madrid. Watch for Discovery’s José Luis Rubiera and José Azevedo, both strong at Paris-Nice two weeks ago, to take the battle to Vinokourov.
Vuelta a Castilla y León, Stage 3, Zamora to Salamanca, 181km
1. Jose Garcia Acosta (Sp) Baleares 4:32:21
2. Pablo Urtasun (Sp) at 0:02
3. Luciano Pagliarini (Bra) same time
4. Angel Edo (Sp), s.t.
5. Wesley van der Linden (B) s.t.
Overall standings after three stages
1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), Liberty Seguros, 8:31:06
2. Luis Leon Sanchez (Sp), at 0:04
3. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), at 0:05
4. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), s.t,
5. Michele Scarponi (I), at 0:11
Huff keeps lead in Normandy
Belgian Jurgen Roelandts (Bodysol-Jong Vlaanderen) won Wednesday morning’s third stage of the Tour de Normandie, a 77.3km leg from Forges-les-Eaux to Aubevoye. American Charles Bradley Huff (TIAA-CREF) finished second in the same time as Roelandts to retain his overall lead. Stage 4, a 74km leg between Gaillon and Elbeuf-sur-Seine, takes place Wednesday afternoon. Organizers count the prologue as a stage. Stage 3 results
1. Jurgen Roelandts (B), Bodysol-Jong Vlaanderen, 77.3km in 1:42:25 (45.286 km/h)
2. Charles Bradley Huff (USA), TIAA-CREF, same time
3. Jean-Luc Delpech (F), G.S. Bretagne-Jean Floc’h, s.t.
4. Stéphane Bonsergent (F), G.S. Bretagne-Jean Floc’h, s.t.
5. Romain Feillu (F), CC Nogent Sur Oise, s.t.
1. Charles Bradley Huff (USA), TIAA-CREF, 294.1km in 7:45:11 (37.012 km/h)
2. Kai Reus (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:08
3. Rick Flens (Ned), Rabobank, at 0:11
4. Emilien Berges (F), Auber 93, at 0:13
5. Alexey Shmidt (Rus), Omnibike Dynamo Moscow, at 0:14
Nibali grabs leads from Zabriskie
Vicenzo Nibali gave Liguigas its first win of the season in Wednesday’s second stage at Setttimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali and slipped away with the overall leader’s jersey won by Dave Zabriskie (CSC) after Tuesday’s team time trial.
The 21-year-old Nibali counter-attacked late behind a four-man breakaway and pulled free on the Monte Trebbio climb with about 25km to go to drop the chasing Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Graziao Gasparre (Amore & Vita).
Neither Bettini nor the rest of the peloton could stop Nibali, who powered home to the win and snagged the leader’s jersey.
“When Bettini set off, I saw the light: attacking with the ‘Grillo’ could allow me to catch the breakaway men,” Nibali recounted. “I was riding better than Bettini and I left him behind. I’m good in the descent, so I set a gap of 20 seconds in the finale. … I hope to carry this leader’s jersey till the end of the Coppi and Bartali. I aim at taking part in the same condition into the second part of the northern classics: Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.”
The race continues with the 165km third stage from Scandiano to Fiorana Modenese and finishes with a three-lap circuit.
Veuchelen wins in Belgium
Belgian rider Frederik Veuchelen (Chocolade Jacques) won in a solo move Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen, derailing the hopes of the favored sprinters in the bunch.
The win was the first for the 27-year-old pro who held off the pack by just one second. Jeremy Hunt (Unibet.com) won the sprint in the main bunch just one second back with Tom Boonen (Quick Step) coming through fifth.
Alessandro Petaacchi (Milram) pulled out after 130km complaining of “not feeling well.” He’ll line up for Harelbecke on Saturday and take aim at the Tour of Flanders on April 2.
Dwars door Vlaanderen, 202km
1. Frederik Veuchelen (Bel) Chocolade Jacques, 5:12:09
2. Jeremy Hunt (GBr) Unibet.com, at 0:01
3. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R Prévoyance, same time
4. Nico Eeckhout (Bel) Chocolade Jacques, s.t.
5. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step-Innergetic, s.t.
Landis confirmed for CI
As expected, Paris-Nice champion Floyd Landis will line up for this weekend’s Critérium International, his Phonak team confirmed.
Other Phonak riders to start the two-day, three-stage race include Axel Merckx and Koos Moerenhout, both coming off strong performances at Paris-Nice, as well as sprinter Aurelian Clerc and Frenchman Nicolas Jalabert.
Last year, Bobby Julich (CSC) won Critérium International after blazing away with victory at Paris-Nice.
Paolini heading north
Luca Paolini, fresh off third at Milan-San Remo, is licking his lips at the looming northern classics. The Liquigas leader is optimistic ahead of the season’s big events.
“After my performance in Milan-San Remo, I expect to do well in the next races,” he said in a team statement. “I like especially the Ronde van Vlaanderen, but I don’t undervalue the other events. Besides the race of the hills, I’m thinking above all about Driedaagse De Panne and Amstel Gold Race.”
Team officials said they might have to race without 2004 Paris-Roubaix champion Magnus Backstedt riding at full strength, who is still ailing with knee pain from a bad crash at the Mallorca Challenge last month.
“(Flanders) is like a world championship for the Belgian riders and it’s terribly difficult to stand out in this kind of race,” said team manager Roberto Amadio. “We should also direct our attention on skilled Stefano Zanini who has already made several incursions into the cobblestones.”
Liquigas for this weekend’s races at E3 Prijs Vlaanderen (G.P. Harelbeke) and Brabantse Pijl (Flèche Brabançonne): Michael Albasini, Magnus Backstedt, Daniele Colli, Mauro Da Dalto, Marco Milesi, Luca Paolini, Marco Righetto and Stefano Zanini.Team manager: Dario Mariuzzo.