By Andrew Hood
It was a day’s of two’s for Tyler Hamilton and Lance Armstrong. Each barely missed winning a race against the clock by just two seconds; Hamilton at the opening prologue of the 61st Paris-Nice and Armstrong in the final time trial of the Tour of Murcia in Spain. Both were making their respective season debuts this week and it’s obvious both are already in fine shape heading into more important races later in the season. Here’s a look at all the racing action Sunday in Europe:
Hamilton debuts in P-N opener
CSC’s Tyler Hamilton just missed winning Sunday’s opening prologue of the 61st Paris-Nice, the first major stage-race of the 2003 season. Hamilton roared over the short, 4.8km course just west of Paris and posted the fastest time until Belgian Nico Mattan (Cofidis).
Mattan, 31, suffered through a bad year after a strong 2001 season when he won the Paris-Nice prologue, the Three Days of La Panne, GP Ouest-France and the Tour du Piedmont. He’s obviously back with a big win in Issy Les Moulineaux just west of Paris.
“I’ve been training especially for this prologue,” said Mattan after posting a time of 5 minutes, 47 seconds. “During the week I’ve worked a lot on my intensity on a bike with a sloping frame and riding behind a derny (scooter). I had a great day and I did everything to win.”
It was a nice sunny spring day in the Parisian suburbs for the opening prologue of the season’s first major stage-race. Emmanuel Magnien (Brioches La Boulangere) put down a fast early time at 5 minutes, 55 seconds that stuck until Credit Agricole’s Thor Hushovd stormed across. Just a few minutes later, teammate Stuart O’Grady came across three seconds faster. Then, Cofidis’ Philippe Gaumont just nipped him by 8-tenths of a second.
Hamilton looked very strong in his season debut and flashed across the line some three seconds faster.
“Riding up the finishing straight, I thought to myself: I want to win this,” Hamilton said later. “On the short flat section, which followed after the climb, I was able to pick up a lot of speed and that was the reason why I was able to produce such a good result. I am very pleased with the result because I have been a bit anxious about how I would react to racing after such a long break. I have not raced since August last year and I am very satisfied with my own performance today.”
But Mattan, starting in the fifth-to-last position, rode a perfect time trial to snatch the win. Pre-race favorite Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo) came across six seconds slower in sixth while defending champion Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom) was eight seconds slower in 10th.
Frank Vandenbroucke (Quick Step), 17th at 10 seconds slower, showed he’s indeed back among the strongest after a scandal-plagued 2002 season. Sandy Casar (Fdjeux.com), second overall last year, was eighth at seven seconds slower.
The 61st Paris-Nice continues with the 191km first stage from Auxerre to Paray le Monial, a rolling stage that favors a mass gallop to the line.1. Nico Mattan (B), Cofidis 5min 47sec
2. Tyler Hamilton (USA), at 0:02
3. Philippe Gaumont (F), at 0:05
4. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), same time
5. Fabian Cancellara (Swi), s.t.
6. Dario Frigo (I), at 0:06
7. Mikel Pradera (Sp), s.t.
8. Sandy Casar (F), at 0:07
9. Laurent Brochard (F), s.t.
10. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz), at 0:08
11. Thor Hushovd (N), s.t.
12. Oscar Camenzind (Swi), 0:09
13. Emmanuel Magnien (F), s.t.
14. Davide Rebellin (I), s.t.
15. Baden Cooke (Aus), s.t.
16. David Bernabeu (Sp), at 0:10
17. Frank Vandenbroucke (B), s.t.
18. Kim Kirchen (Lux), at 0:11
19. Claus Moller (Dk), s.t.
20. Jerome Pineau (F), at 0:12
45. Max Van Heeswijk(Nl), U.S. Postal at 0:16
51. Pavel Padrnos(Cz), U.S. Postal at 0:18
61. Gilberto Simoni (I), at 0:20
65. Andrei Kivilev (Kaz), at 0:20
83. Tom Boonen (B), at 0:25
100. Richard Virenque (F), at 0:27
120. Benoit Joachim(Lux), U.S. Postal at 0:31
122. Matt White(Aus), U.S. Postal s.t.
134. Antonio Cruz (USA), U.S. Postal at 0:34
139. Damon Kluck(USA), U.S. Postal at 0:35
146. Guennadi Mikhailov(Rus), U.S. Postal at 0:39
148. Robbie McEwen (Aus), at 0:43
Llorente nips Armstrong, wins overall at Murcia
Javier Pascual Llorente delivered a surprising win in Sunday’s final time trial to nip four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong by just two seconds and sew up the over title at the Tour of Murcia.
Llorente ripped the 12.9-km course and handily beat rivals Jan Hruska (ONCE) and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel) to secure his second stage-race of the season to go along with his win at Ruta del Sol last month.
Armstrong posted the fastest time early and looked to have his first win in his pocket until Llorente flew over the flat course. The Kelme rider, who started last with the race leader’s jersey on his back, pumped his arms as he came across the finish line.
“I’m just in the clouds right now. I knew after yesterday’s stage, when I had some troubles on the climb but recovered and maintained my leader’s jersey, it would give me a lot of confidence,” Llorente said.
Llorente missed most of last season out with mononucleosis, but bounced back this year to be the most dominant rider so far in the Spanish spring calendar. After finishing third overall at the Tour of Valencia, he won the difficult climbing stage at Rua del Sol and then repeated here, winning Tuesday’s difficult climbing stage to secure the final overall GC.
But his time trial win against Armstrong was surprising.
“I never expected to beat Armstrong’s time, but it’s only March and by July, he’ll be on top of his form,” Llorente said.
Overall, it was an impressive debut for Armstrong. Looking very fit, Armstrong rode without drama throughout the five-day stage race in southern Spain. His ride Sunday revealed just how fit the Texan is. Up next for Armstrong is the Setmana Catalana, March 24-28.
“It was good to get back to Murcia after missing last year,” Armstrong said. “It’s a great race to start the season with although I admit that this year was much harder than my previous experience. The riders were more aggressive and the courses were hillier and windier. Overall, I’m happy with the way it went.”
Armstrong was the center of attention, drawing huge crowds of fans and media when he started his season Wednesday.
“My fitness is where it needs to be if not a little ahead. I’ll have another chance to test it in the Semana Catalana in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I’ll spend my time training hard,” he said.
ONCE’s Jan Hruska will have to settle for second place at the Murcia race for the second year in a row. Last year’s winner, Victor Hugo Pena, took home a nice stage-win Saturday despite being caught behind a crash in Thursday’s stage that spoiled his chances for a repeat.
Stage results, ITT
1. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, 12.9km in 15:24
2. Lance Armstrong (USA), USPS, at 0:02
3. Jan Hruska (Cze), ONCE, at 0:07
4. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:08
5. Victor Hugo Pena (Col), USPS, at 0:09
6. Rene Andrle (Cze), ONCE, at 0:10
7. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak, at 0:10
8. Beat Zberg (Swi), Rabobank, at 0:11
10. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:18OTHERS
19. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, at 0:40Final Standings
1. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, 15:58:18
2. Jan Hruska (Cze), ONCE, at 0:17
3. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel, at 0:23
4. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:40
5. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak at 0:47
6. Victor Hugo Pena (Col), USPS at 0:49
7. Beat Zberg (Ned), Rabobank at 1:00
8. Cadel Evans (Aus), Telekom, at 1:00
9. Jose Luis Martinez (Sp), Paternina, at 1:08
10. Addy Engles (Ned), Rabobank, at 1:22OTHERS
22. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, at 3:16
32. Lance Armstrong (USA), USPS, at 9:42
Perdiguero steals Trofeo Pantalica
Last week at the Tour of Valencia, Spanish speedster Martin Perdiguero won a stage atop the Alto de Campello. On Sunday at the 28th Trofeo Pantalica in southern Italy, he was back on familiar flat ground and won the sprint out of a group of 25 riders. The Domina Vacanze rider edged Enrico Cassani (Alessio) and Giuliano Figueras (Panaria) after a crash split the group in the final 100 meters and reduced the group to just nine riders.