Zülle signs with Phonak
By Andrew Hood
Dario Frigo chugged away from Lance Armstrong and other top favorites to win the fourth stage of Setmana Catalana and take control of the race with just one stage remaining.
The four-time Tour de France champion stayed with the lead group of riders up the long, difficult 19.5km Category 1 climb to the finish at the ski village of Pal, high in the Spanish Pyrénées, until the attacks by Juan Miguel Mercado fractured the lead group with 2km to go.
Armstrong, racing in his second race of the season as he prepares for the Tour de France in July, came across 24th at 1:11 back.
Frigo, however, is ramping up for May’s Giro d’Italia and revealed he could well be the man to beat in the Italian grand tour. Frigo has been one of the dominant players thus far this season, winning the Tour of Valencia and was leading Paris-Nice after winning the individual time trial when he didn’t start because of a sudden attack of gastroenteritis.
Three riders – Rafael Casero (Paternina), Oscar Laguna (Relax) and Juan Antonio Flecha (iBanesto.com) – had a gap of just over 2 minutes at the base of the grinding Montée de Pal, the longest climb racers have seen this season.
Defending champion Mercado (iBanesto.com) attacked on the lower flanks of the climb to soften up the bunch. Flecha hung about 30 seconds off the front when Marcos Serrano (ONCE) and Jose Luis Rebollo (Relax) jumped.
With 8km to go, Flecha rode with Rebollo just off the front of about 25 lead riders. Mercado made another move and then Frigo accelerated to further fracture the lead group.
Cold wind and rain pelted the riders, but it was nothing compared to last year’s horrific conditions at the summit when riders slogged through snow, fog, rain and cold winds. With 7 km to go, Lampre’s Francisco Vila drove the lead group and smothered any attacks.
With just under 2km to go, Santi Blanco (Relax) and David Latasa (Kelme) accelerated and further caused the lead bunch to fracture. Leonardo Piepoli (iBanesto.com) attacked from one side of the bunch while Iban Mayo (Euskatel) came off the other. Frigo grabbed his compatriot’s wheel.
With just under 1km to go, Frigo dropped Piepoli to score his fourth win of the season and the second straight win for Fassa Bortolo at Setmana Catalana. Friday’s 176km fifth and final stage features Cat. 2 and Cat. 3 climbs, but Frigo’s Fassa Bortolo team will likely keep a lid on things.
Setmana Catalana, Stage 4
1. Dario Frigo (I-Fassa Bortolo), 4h8’12” (15:44:58 overall time)
2. Jose Jufre (Sp-Relax) at 0:09
3. David Latasa (Sp-Kelme) at 0:13
4. Leonardo Piepoli (I-iBanesto.com) at 0:13
5. Iban Mayo (Sp-Euskaltel) at 0:23
6. Santiago Perez (Sp-Phonak) at 0:25
7. Michael Rasmussen (Den-Rabobank) at 0:25
8. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp-ONCE) at 0:27
9. Jose Azevedo (P-ONCE) at 0:31
10. Marcos Serrano (Sp-ONCE) at 0:31Others:
21. Levi Leipheimer (USA-Rabobank) at 0:58
24. Lance Armstrong (USA-USPS) at 1:11Overall
1. Frigo, 15:44:58
2. Jufre at 0:09
3. Latasa, at 0:13
4. Piepoli, at 0:13
5. Mayo, at 0:23
6. Perez, at 0:25
7. Rasmussen, at 0:25
8. Rodriguez, at 0:27
9. Serrano, 0:31
10. Azevedo, at 0:31Others
19. Leipheimer, at 0:59
23. Armstrong, at 1:11
Kolobnev wins stage at Coppi e Bartali
Russian Alexandr Kolobnev (Domina Vacanze) won the second stage of the Settimana Ciclistica Internazionale “Coppi e Bartali” on Thursday. Kolobnev held off the likes of Mirko Celestino (Saeco) and Franco Pellizotti (Alessio) in an 8-up sprint to win the first race of his career. The race continues through Sunday.
Coppi e Bartali, Stage 2, Riccione to Faenza
1. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus-Domina Vacanze), 244km in 6:36:30
2. Mirko Celestino (I-Saeco)
3. Franco Pellizotti (I-Alessio)
4. Francesco Casagrande (I-Lampre)
5. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr-Landbouwkrediet) – all same timeOverall standings after two stages
1. Mirko Celestino (I-Saeco) 8:39:13
2. Francesco Casagrande (I-Lampre) at 0:04
3. Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr-Landbouwkrediet) at 0:08
4. Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus-Domina Vacanze) same time
5. Franco Pellizotti (I-Alessio) at 0:12
Zülle moves to Phonak
After successfully negotiating a release from his contract with TeamCoast, Alex Zülle has signed a contract with the Swiss Division 1team Phonak Hearing Systems for the remainder of the season.Zülle, winner of last year’s Tour de Suisse and two-time winnerof the Vuelta a España, has the option to extend the deal for anotheryear if he decides not retire as planned. Phonak team officials said Thursdaythat they hope the inclusion of the Swiss rider will “create goodwill withthe organization of the Tour de France when the remaining four wild cardsfor the Tour” are announced on May 19.Zülle moved quickly after earning his release from Coast to inkthe deal with Phonak and had already scheduled a photo shoot for Thursdayafternoon at the head office of the Phonak Cycling Team, in Switzerland.Fact File
Name: Alex Zülle (Swi)
Date of Birth: July 5,1968
Professional since: 1992
World ranking: 25. (on March 16, 2003)
Points UCI: 828
Palmares: Winner Tour de Suisse (2002); Two-time winner of theVuelta (1996 & 1997); Twice second in the overall classification Tourde France (1995 & 1999)
Museeuw cautious about injury
Quick Step’s Johan Museeuw went on a training ride Thursday morning in an effort to assess the extent of injuries he sustained during Wednesday’s Dwars Door Vlaanderen Waregem.
Museeuw, said he experiences pain to the left knee when he pushes a big gear, suffered a contusion to his knee-cap during a fall in the 200km race in Flanders.
The defending Paris-Roubaix champion said that he and team medical staff will review the extent of his injuries and announce on Friday how he might alter his training and racing schedule for the coming weeks.
Tour mulls tighter security
The Tour de France is considering tighter security for July’s centennial edition in part after Lance Armstrong expressed concerns about his team’s safety because of the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
Tour officials said no decisions have yet been made, but admitted they are considering new measures for the July 5-27 race.
“If we do take extra precautions, we will not decide until one or two months before the race,” Tour spokesman Philippe Sudres told the AP on Wednesday.
Armstrong has expressed his worries about safety of the riders several times since his return to Europe, most recently in an interview with Spanish television. He’s worried that he would be a high-profile target because he’s an American and rides for an American-sponsored team.
On Monday he told Spanish TV that crowds along the roads “without barriers cannot be kept under control” and added, “I’m neither for nor against the war. I’m a professional cyclist, that’s it.”
Tour officials addressed the safety issue as the 2003 edition was officially launched at a ceremony Wednesday in Montgeron, France.
“The safety of all our riders, not just Lance, is of utmost concern,” Sudres said. “We will do all we can with the forces of law and order and the interior minister to ensure the safety of riders and spectators alike.”
Navigators to race Gent-Wevelgem
The Navigators cycling team received an invitation to race in the semi-classic Gent-Wevelgem on April 9. The race falls on the Wednesday after Tour of Flanders and before Paris-Roubaix and traditionally attracts an impressive field.
Last year, Mario Cipollini just beat Fred Rodriguez and George Hincapie in an exciting finish. The Navigators are currently competing in the Coppi e Bartali race in Italy as part of its second European swing of the season.
Schleicher wins Castilla y Leon stage, nun injured
German Regina Schleicher won the opening stage of the three-day Vuelta Ciclista a Castilla y Leon on Wednesday, edging rival Mirjam Melchers in the bunch sprint. Schleicher was second in the Primavera Rosa on Saturday and looks strong going into Sunday’s Castilla y Leon World Cup race.
The stage was marred after a nun watching the race from the side of the road was hit by one of the competitors at 27km into the stage. Both the racer and the nun were injured and taken to a local hospital. The extent of the injuries weren’t immediately known.
Castilla y Leon stage-race, stage 1, Palencia-Palencia
1. Regina Schleicher (G), Chirio Forno, 2:31:49
2. Mirjam Melchers (Ned), Farm Frites)
3. Adrie Visser (Ned), Team Holland
4. Zinaida Stahurskaya (Ltu), Chirio Forno
5. Kaita Longhin (I), Acca Due – all same time
Pozzato out of Flanders
Rising Italian star Filippo Pozzato will not start the Tour of Flanders on April 6 due to complications of his spill in Saturday’s Milan-San Remo, the Gazzetta dello Sport reported.
Pozzato, fresh off his win at Tirreno-Adriatico, crashed on the descent off the Cipressa and required four stitches in his leg. No word on his comeback date.