By Andrew Hood
England’s Jeremy Hunt sprinted to the biggest win of his career Sundayin the GP de Plouay, charging to the head of a field dominated by riders from English-speaking countries in the French race deep in the heart of Brittany.
Hunt, 28, edged Australians Stuart O’Grady (Credit Agricole) and BadenCooke (FDJeux.com) in a bunch sprint in front of a raucous crowd undersunny summer skies.
American Fred Rodriguez (Domo) finished fifth in one of France’s mostimportant one-day races on the calendar.
“I stayed in the pack all day hoping it would come down to a sprint,”Hunt told French television. “I need a contract for next year, so the timeto sign is now. This couldn’t have come at a better time for me.”
Hunt’s victory was pie in the face for many of cycling’s top guns, whocame looking for a big win in the prestigious hors-categorie race.
Severalof the big names were involved in numerable attacks, but were all checked coming into the finale of the 198-km circuit in front of 100,000 cycling fans. Laurent Jalabert (CSC-Tiscali), Paolo Bettini (Mapei) and Igor Astarloa (Saeco) were all part of breaks that were reeled in coming into the final sprint.
Hunt, a two-time British road champion who left iBanesto.com to jointhe modest Big Mat team, out-sprinted the top sprinters to grab the victory.The sprint was marked by a nasty pile-up coming into the finish. GeertVan Bondt (CSC-Tiscali) and Alessandro Bertolini (Alessio) were among theworst injured, with Bertolini injuring his wrist and Van Bondt earninga trip to a local hospital.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, continues to hold his good form that he’s hadgoing all the way back to Milan-San Remo in March, when he finished secondto Mario Cipollini. Rodriguez struggled through the Tour de France andabandoned before getting a chance to duel on the Champs Elysees.
It was tight to the wire, with no team setting up a dominant train,thus letting Hunt sneak in for the big win.
(Click herefor full results)
GP Ouest France — Plouay, France – August 25, 2002
1. Jeremy Hunt (GB), Big Mat, 4:44:02
2. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Credit Agricole
3. Baden Cooke (Aus), FDJeux.com
4. Martin Elmiger (Swi), Phonak
5. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Domo
6. Jo Planckaert (B), Cofidis
7. Peter Van Petegem (B), Lotto
8. Serge Baguet (B), Lotto
9. Laurent Jalabert (F), CSC-Tiscali
10. Andrea Tafi (I), Mapei, all same time
89. Jeff Louder (USA), Landbouwkrediet-Colnago, at 5:56
Mapei pair takes GP Eddy Merckx
Mapei’s Laszlo Bodrogi has been quietly becoming one of the top timetrialists in the game. During both individual time trials at the Tour deFrance, Bodrogi set the fastest early time and finished each one comfortablyin the top-five. Coupled with teammate Fabian Cancellara, Bodrogi won theprestigious two-man time trial GP Eddy Merckx on Sunday.
The Mapei team edged the Gerolsteiner pair of Uwe Peschel andMichaelRich by less than a second. Rich missed a turn, an error which ate up valuableseconds and most likely cost them the victory.
Bodrogi and Cancellara covered the 41-km course in 48 minutes, 25 secondswith an average speed of 50.8 kph. Defending champions Erik Dekker andMark Wauters, both of Rabobank, finished in third place, 12 seconds slowerthe Mapei pair.
Lance Armstrong, racing in his final European event of the 2002 season,finished fifth with U.S. Postal Service teammate Viatcheslav Ekimov. Thepair won this event in 2000, but they couldn’t match the pace set by theGerolsteiner and Mapei riders. Posties Floyd Landis and David Zabriskiefinished ninth at 1:30 back.
The biggest news was a bad crash involving Tyler Hamilton, who suffereda broken collarbone, cuts to his face and a possible concussion in a spillduring his warm-up. Hamilton was previewing the course with CSC-Tiscalipartner Andrea Peron when someone in a car opened a door just in frontof Hamilton, who had no time to move out of the way.
“There was no time for Tyler to react, and he went straight into thedoor. He was taken to the university hospital in Bruxelles,” said ChristianAndersen on the CSC-Tiscali team web-page. “The accident means that Tyler’sseason is over.”
Doctors said he fractured his collar bone and suffered a deep lacerationto his forehead that caused significant blood loss. The American brokehis shoulder during the Giro d’Italia in May and rode most of the three-weekrace without realizing the seriousness of the injury.
GP Eddy Merckx – Brussels, Belgium – August 25, 2002
1. Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) and Fabian Cancellara (Swi), Mapei, 48:25 (50.776kph)
2. Uwe Peschel and Michael Rich (Ger), Gerolsteiner, at 0:01
3. Marc Wauters (B) and Erik Dekker (Hol), Rabobank, at 0:12
4. Magnus Backstedt and Marcus Ljunqvist (Swe), EDS, at 0:52
5. Lance Armstrong (USA) and Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus), U.S.Postal, at 0:54
6. Nathan O’Neill (Aus) and Sergey Matveyev (Ukr), Panaria, at 1.13
7. Andy Cappelle (B) and Christian Poos (Lux), Marlux-Ville de Charleroi,at 1.24
8. Anthony Morin (F) and Thor Hushovd (N), Credit Agricole, at 1.26
9. Floyd Landis and David Zabriskie (USA), U.S. Postal, at 1:30
10. Serguei Gontchar (Ukr) and Marco Velo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 1.33.
Unsung Jufre takes Puertos
An unknown Spanish rider won Sunday’s Clasica Ciclista los Puertosin Spain, one of the last major proving grounds for the upcoming Vueltaa Espana (Sept. 7-29). Josep Jufre, of the modest Boavista team, out-sprintedsome of Spain’s top riders in the climb-heavy 146-km race in the mountainsnorth of Madrid. Eight riders pulled off the front of the main bunch andJufre surprised such bigger names as Oscar Sevilla(Kelme) and FrancescoMancebo (iBanesto.com).
“This win is the most important for my career,” said Jufre, whose othervictories have both come in small Portuguese races. “I hope this will helpmy return to Spanish racing. Before this race today, I was talking withRelax-Fuenlabrada (a Spanish Division II team) and now I feel more optimisticabout continuing my career back in Spain.”
Sevilla, who came across the line third, said he was more pleased withhis form than being upset about losing the race.
“The only thing I didn’t do was win,” Sevilla said. “I didn’t win butI felt very good, which is important for my morale going into the Vueltawhere I hope to win.”
Clasica a Los Puertos, 146 kilometers
1. Josep Jufre (Sp), Boavista, 3 hours, 21 minutes, 56 seconds, withan average speed of 43,8 kph;
2. Adolfo García (Sp), iBanesto.com);
3. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme;
4. César Solaun (Sp), Euskaltel;
5. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), iBanesto.com;
6. Héctor Guerra (Sp), all same time;
7. Peio Arreitunandia (Sp), Boavista, at 1 second;
8. Jesús Manzano (Sp), Kelme, at 1 second;
9. Koldo Gil (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 30 seconds;
10. José Gutiérrez (Sp), Kelme, at 04:35
Ullrich to CSC-Tiscali?
Rumors are back that Jan Ullrich will fly the Telekom coop after alland sign with his former teammate and mentor Bjarne Riis, now the managerof the CSC-Tiscali team. Back in July, when the story first hit the press,Riis denied reports he was trying to convince Ullrich to drop his remainingone year with Telekom to join him.
CSC-Tiscali has extra money to spend with the retirement at the endof the year of Laurent Jalabert and has already signed Andrea Tafi to aone-year contract and has been negotiating with world champion Oscar Freire.Still, Riis is looking for another big stage-race rider to complement AmericanTyler Hamilton, second in the Giro d’Italia this year. French televisionreported Sunday that Ullrich, who’s reportedly received offers from Coast,Gerolsteiner and CSC-Tiscali, will announce on Aug. 31 his intentions.The team is also reportedly in discussions with another as-of-yet-unnamedAmerican rider who may be seeking an early contract termination with hiscurrent team.
Ullrich has had a long run of troubles dating back to the spring, whenhe ran his car into a bicycle rack. He was later fined and lost his license.Then he tested positive for amphetamines and received a six-month ban fromcycling as well as another fine. He’s since had his knee operated on fora second time to alleviate pain that forced him to not start the 2002 Tourde France. French television reported that Ullrich is ready for a changeto perhaps bring some new motivation for the 1997 Tour champion.