By Andrew Hood
Alessio’s Ruslan Ivanov was simply stronger than four others in the breakaway that closed out the fifth and final stage Thursday in the 49th Ruta del Sol in southern Spain while Kelme’s Juan Pascual Llorente held on for final victory.
Ivanov dropped Inigo Chaurreau (AG2R) and Gustavo Toledo (Paternina) on a Category 2 climb just 5km from the finish and unleashed a stage-winning attack on the flats with 1km to go. Jose Luis Martinez (Paternina) and Santi Blanco (Relax-Fuenlabrada) tried to hang on, but the veteran Alessio rider simply out-muscled the Spanish riders in the Ruta’s final stage.
The five broke away early in challenging 178km, six-climb stage from Granada to Benalmadena on the Mediterranean Sea. Weather remained unseasonably cool and rainy throughout the stage, and Ivanov was clearly the strongest going up the final climb. He watched the others riders like a hawk and knew just when to make his move. Rather than wait for a three-up sprint, Ivanov set down a blistering attack with 1km to go.
Blanco – a popular Spanish rider who won a dramatic stage at La Covatilla in last year’s Vuelta a España – waited for Martinez to bring Ivanov back and counter-attacked at 400 meters. Ivanov simply hit the accelerator again and easily dropped Blanco to secure his first win of the season.
The fight for the overall wasn’t over, by any means, with the category-two climb looming so close to the finish-line. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Phonak) had bike trouble right at the base of the four-kilometer climb and had to work hard to fight back to the lead group, quickly whittled down to 15 riders by Kelme’s punishing pace.
Francisco Cabello and Alejandro Valverde drove a punishing tempo to check any would-be aggressors to Llorente’s lead. Italian Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) seemed content to sit on Llorente’s wheel and didn’t challenge the Spanish rider. Euskaltel’s Samuel Sanchez sprung off the front of the lead group to take sixth in the stage.
Llorente’s victory marks a comeback for the veteran rider who missed most of last season with an illness. The 32-year-old won the difficult climbing stage Tuesday and benefited from the help of his Kelme teammates to control the final stages. His victory is already the second stage-race win this season for the Spanish Kelme squad, which won the Mallorca Challenge with Valverde.
Next up on the Spanish calendar is the one-day classic Luis Puig on Sunday followed by the Tour of Valencia next week.
Stage 5, Granada to Benalmadena
1. Ruslan Ivanov (Mol), Alession, 4:40:19, (38.1 kph)
2. Santi Blanco (Sp), Relax-Fuenlabrada, at 0:02
3. Jose Luis Martinez (Sp), Paternina, at 0:04
4. Inigo Charreau (Sp), AG2R, at 0:29
5. Gustavo Toledo (Sp), Paternina, at 1:05Final overall standings
1. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, 21:56:19
2. Davide Rebellin (I), Gerolsteiner, at 0:08
3. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme, at 0:09
4. Giampoaolo Caruso (I), ONCE, at 0:09
5. Jose Gutierrez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 0:16.
Palumbo takes Liguria stage, Bossoni take lead
Italian Giuseppe Palumbo (De Nardi-Colpack) continued the youth movement in Italian cycling after winning the bunch sprint in Thursday’s second stage of the Giro della Liguria. Palumbo, 26, a former world junior champion, held on for victory in the 162km stage featuring four rated climbs between Pietra Ligure and Andora along the Italian Riviera. Compatriot Paolo Bossini (Sidermec) moved into the overall race lead.
Loddo wins in Portugal, Edo holds lead
Italian Alberto Loddo won Thursday’s second stage of the Tour d’Algarve in Portugal, edging Spanish riders Candido Barbosa (Pecol) and Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS). Edo, winner of Wednesday’s opening stage, retained the overall lead. U.S. Postal Service kept its key riders in strong position, with Michael Barry in fourth place overall at 10 seconds back and Victor Hugo Pena in 20th at just 16 seconds back.
Stage 2 results
1. Alberto Loddo (I), Lampre, 4:17:25
2. Candido Barbosa (Sp), Pecol, at same time
3. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza-MSS, s.t.
4. Alberto Benito (Sp), Antarte, s.t.
5. Yon Bru (Sp), Pecol, s.t.OVERALL, Tour d’Algarve, after two stages
1. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza-MSS, 8:58:12
2. Yon Bru (Sp), Pecol, at 0:09
3. Candido Barbosa (Sp), Pecol, at 0:10
4. Michael Barry (Can), U.S. Postal, at 0:10
5. Oscar Serrano (Sp), Vila do Condo, at 0:10
OTHERS:20. Victor Hugo Pena (Col), U.S. Postal, at 0:16
45. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal, at 0:16
58. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), U.S. Postal, at 0:16
67. Damon Kluck (USA), U.S. Postal, at 0:48
Zabriskie banged up
U.S. Postal Service almost scored its first victory of the season in Wednesday’s opening stage of the Tour d’Algarve in Portugal when Michael Barry finished second behind Spanish sprinter Angel Edo.
Teammate Dave Zabriskie was forced to pull out of the race after crashing. “Dave had a pretty bad crash on a downhill with about 50 kms left,” according to directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel in a USPS press release. “He injured his knee pretty bad, but it looked worse in the race that it actually was. His knee was stitched up at the hospital and we also found out he dislocated his shoulder. Obviously, he is out.”
Also, Christian Vande Velde didn’t start as planned due to a back injury. Vande Velde is penciled in at starting at next month’s Tour of Murcia in Spain, where four-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong will also make his season debut.
Castilla y Leon wants Midi Libre date
The modest Vuelta a Castilla y Leon (UCI 2.3) in Spain could have a super-star field if the race gets its wish to change dates. Race organizers are hoping to move the race, now set for April 30-May 4, to the dates of the now defunct Midi Libre race, May 21-25. The main reason is that a visit to Spain by Pope John Paul II will interrupt live television coverage of the race.
If the UCI approves the new dates, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Sevilla and Jan Ullrich said they would be interested in competing as part of a tune-up for July’s Tour de France. Armstrong won last year’s Midi Libre and so far has not set his May racing schedule.
Cipo, Scirea fined; Mondini joins Domina-Vacanze; Gonzalez ruling Saturday
Cycling world champion Mario Cipollini was fined recently for riding his bike along the Florence-Pisa-Livorna superhighway, according to reports in Datasport in Italy. Cipollini was riding with Domina Vacanze teammate Mario Scirea when a highway patrolman stopped them and fined them for illegally riding along the roadway where bikes are banned. Cipollini said the police officer said, “We’re sorry, but you do your job, we do ours.”
Cipollini will be making his season debut at Sunday’s Trofeo Luis Puig in Spain followed by the Tour of Valencia from Feb. 25 to March 1.
Also, Domina Vacanze has signed Gianpaolo Mondini to a one-year deal. The 30-year-old Mondini was signed to race for U.S. Postal Service, but was fired after the team learned Mondini was being investigated for doping during the 2001 Giro d’Italia.
The Spanish MARCA newspaper reported that the UCI has scheduled a meeting Saturday in Lugano, Switzerland, to resolve the Aitor Gonzalez contract dispute. Both Domina Vacanze and Fassa Bortolo contend they have a contract with the 2002 Vuelta a España champion.
Vuelta limits field to 20 teams
Just six months ago, the Vuelta a España was talking about having 36 teams and a split peloton to create a “super-tour.” Now, the Vuelta has instead decided to cut the number of teams racing in the 2003 Vuelta from 22 to 20. Enrique Franco, director of race organizer Unipublic, also confirmed the presence of all Spanish pro teams in the Vuelta until 2005 during a press conference Wednesday.
“This year we are cutting the field to 20 because quantity doesn’t always equal quality. There were teams last year that only had two riders left in the middle of the race and that hurts. That has to stop,” Franco said.
He also added the measure was being introduced to increase security and planning. Already 18 teams have been confirmed for the 2003 Vuelta.
Fullana takes to the trail
Two-time world mountain bike champion Marga Fullana won a cross-country running race Sunday, becoming the Balearic islands champion and getting herself a ticket to the national championship race later this summer.
The Orbea mountain biker has long been a fan of long-distance running and said when she retires from bike racing she will dedicate herself to running. In Sunday’s short, 4km course, she finished nearly 1 minute ahead of her nearest rival. Fullana also told MARCA she’s recovered from surgery on her left Achilles tendon in October to relieve chronic tendonitis and was worried that she might not ever race again.