By Andrew Hood
Jens Voigt (Team CSC) used his strong early season form to hold off the hard-chasing peloton and win Wednesday’s opening stage of the Tour Méditerranéen that hit the Poggio en route from San Remo to Menton.
Voigt was part of a four-man break that pulled clear over the Poggio, forcing such sprinter teams as Gerolsteiner and Liquigas to chase hard to set up their men Danilo Hondo and Mario Cipollini.
With the lead down to 20 seconds, the others lost their verve and were ready to give in to the inevitable, but not the irrepressible German. He shot away with 6km to go and held the peloton at bay, winning by 17 seconds to score his second win in two weeks of racing.
“Jens was in a league of his own today and he had to snatch the leader’s jersey for the word go,” explained Team CSC manager Kim Andersen.
“The peloton was more or less all together before Poggio, where everything exploded. Gerolsteiner rapidly organized a pursuit, and they almost reeled them in on a minor hill shortly before finish. But then Jens attacked true to habit and the others in the break away had to let go.
“The solo victory was a reality, and it couldn’t have been done in a nicer way.”
The five-day Tour Méditerranéen continues Thursday with the 131km second stage from Villeneuve Loubet to Bormes les Mimosas.
Tour Méditerranéen (FRA 2.1), Stage 1, San Remo, Italy to Menton, France, 130km
1. Jens Voigt (Ger), Team CSC 3 hours, 18 minutes, 11 seconds
2. Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra), Ag2r, at 0:17
3. Erik Dekker (Ned), Rabobank
4. Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel), Cofidis
5. Luca Paolini (Ita), Quick Step – all same time
Valverde pulls off another win
There’s no stopping Alejandro Valverde when he finds his groove and the wins usually come in buckets when the 24-year-old hits his form. The Illes Balears rider scored his second straight win in Wednesday’s fourth stage of the Mallorca Challenge in the 150km stage from Sóller to Port de Sóller.
Valverde held off Ricardo Serrano (Kaiku) and Aitor Pérez (Spiuk) in a sprint to further consolidate his grip on the overall standings following his impressive win in Tuesday’s climbing finish.
The day’s selection came on the second passage of the Cat. 2 Coll de Sa Batalla about 30km from the finish. Only 30 riders could hang with the blistering pace to remain in the lead group. Valverde and his teammate and defending champion Toni Colom cleared the Coll Puig Major on the final stretch and held a 10-second lead.
On the fast charge to the finish line, Adolfo García Quesada (Communidad Valenciana), Quesada and Pérez gave chase, but they couldn’t stop Valverde.
Thursday’s final stage of the Mallorca Challenge is the 148.3km race from Magalluf to Palmanova, a roller-coaster course that features three Cat. 2s and two Cat. 3s, with the final Coll d’es Tords coming 13km from the finish line on the posh Paseo Marítmo de Palmanova.
Beloki out for ‘vengeance’
Joseba Beloki is still on the slow road to recovery from his horrific 2003 Tour de France crash, but the Spanish podium contender seems to be ready for what he’s calling his “vengeance.”
So much so that the Basque rider is considering racing all three grand tours in 2005 as he searches to rediscover the winning formula that put him on the three consecutive Tour podiums 2000-02.
“One of my goals in this comeback year is race as much as I possibly can and that means I am considering racing in all three grand tours and continue right into the world championships, which are going to be held in Madrid,” Beloki told the Spanish sports daily MARCA.
Beloki made his season debut in his Liberty Seguros jersey in last week’s Tour of Langkawi and keeps a busy schedule, hitting the Vuelta a Murcia, Tirreno-Adriatico, Setmana Catalana, Tour de Romandie and the Giro d’Italia.
“After the season I had last year, the thing that most interests me is simply to race. I am convinced that I have recovered completely from my injuries to the leg and elbow, but I have to come back to feel like a bike racer again to return to the level that I had before,” Beloki said.
Beloki suffered through a painful, sub-par 2004 season. Just months after signing a big-money contract with Brioches La Boulangere, he broke with the French team under acrimonious situation over a dispute concerning his preferred antihistamine. Beloki said he needed it for chronic allergies; the French team said it bordered on doping.
Saunier Duval picked him up for the remainder of the season, but Beloki limped through the Vuelta a España and never rediscovered his winning legs. Now back under the tutelage of Manolo Saiz, the GM at Liberty Seguros, Beloki figures racing is the best ticket back to the big time.
“My objective from here to the Tour is to race as much as possible to recover the confidence I had in my possibilities and return to the level I had before my fall in 2003,” Beloki said.
More of same at Pais Vasco
The Vuelta al Pais Vasco, one of the most demanding early season races on the calendar, returns this year safely inside the ProTour with a course that once again will provide challenger aplenty for anyone tackling the five-day race.
Tucked in northern Spain’s Basque Country region, the race will start April 4 in the surf town of Zarautz and end April 8 in Oñati. A summit finish in the second day at the Alto de La Arboleda will be a decisive stage while stage 3 ends in Vitoria and stage 4 in Alsasua.
The final day features a split stage, with a morning road sector with the finale in Arantzazu and an afternoon 9.3km time trial to cap the race. American Bobby Julich (CSC) won last year’s time trial in a close race against compatriot Tyler Hamilton.
The Mallorca Challenge continues Wednesday with the fourth stage, the 150km GP Manacor. Following his dramatic win in the rain and wind in Tuesday’s summit finish, Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) leads the overall unofficial classification, as riders can start and pull out of any of the week’s races they choose.
The five-day Tour Mediterranean in San Remo, Italy, tracing some of the route of Milan-San Remo, before finishing in Menton along France’s Cote d’Azur. The race features a top-notch field, with Mario Cipollini (Liquigas-Bianchi) looking to pad to his record 14 career stage wins.