By Andrew Hood
After being stuck on replay for three days, the Tour of the Basque Country changed the script in Thursday’s 171-km fourth stage.
The five-climb stage didn’t end in a bunch sprint and there wasn’t a new leader, as has been the plot line since Monday. With the overall fight coming down to a nail-biter in Friday’s dual-stage finale, the leading protagonists didn’t want things to get too far out of control.
Lampre’s Marco Pinotti scored a huge win after going on a mega solo break to finish just three seconds ahead of the surging peloton while Kelme’s Alejandro Valverde led the bunch across just 3 seconds back to retain the overall lead.
Pinotti, 27 and no threat to the overall, attacked early in the five-climb stage with Irish rider Dermont Nally (Paternina) as clear skies returned to the race following Wednesday’s frigid rainy stage. Pinotti worked alone over the day’s final obstacle, hitting the Category 2 Alto de Saldias with just under three minutes on the lead bunch.
The lead bunch fractured on the short, but steep climb with ramps as steep as 12 percent with Marco Pantani (Mercatone) and Alex Zulle (Phonak) among the riders losing contact as Euskaltel set a punishing pace up the climb.
Pinotti cleared the climb with 1:28 but Saeco’s Igor Astarloa put down a vicious counter-attack with 14km to go. The Saeco rider is from this harshly beautiful region of Spain and had a big advantage on knowledge of the road. Astarloa trimmed Pinotti’s lead down to 40 seconds with 5km to go.
Pinotti hung on and rolled under the 1km to go banner with 15 seconds as Astarloa was brought back by Euskaltel and Fassa Bortolo. Pinotti had just enough time to take his sun-glasses in his jersey and kiss the heavens as he rolled across the line.
The Basque Country tour concludes with Friday’s dual stage with 31 riders tied for first place. The 91km morning sector from Doneztebe to Hondarribia features three rated climbs, including the punchy Category 2 Alto de Erlaitz some 26km from the finish line. Riders will surely be attacking hard to open up time going into the afternoon’s 13km individual time trial at Hondarribia. The race against the clock opens with a brisk 6km, 200-meter climb and rolls back to Hondarrribia for what should be a tight battle among the favorites.
Stage 4, Vitoria to Doneztebe
1. Marco Pinotti (I-Lampre), 171km in 4 hours, 7 minutes, 43 seconds
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp-Kelme) at 3 seconds
3. Angel Vicioso (Sp-ONCE)
4. Davide Rebellin (I-Gerolsteiner)
5. Matthias Kessler (G-Telekom)
6. Wladimir Belli (I-Lampre)
7. David Etxebarria (Sp-Euskaltel)
8. Iban Mayo (Sp-Euskaltel)
9. Benjamín Noval (Sp-Relax-Fuenlabrada)
10. Samuel Sanchez (Sp-Euskaltel) – all same timeOverall standings after four stages
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp-Kelme)
2. Davide Rebellin (I-Gerolsteiner)
3. Angel Vicioso (Sp-ONCE)
4. David Etxebarria (Sp-Euskaltel)
5. Iban Mayo (Sp-Euskaltel)
6. Igor Astarloa (Sp-Saeco)
7. Tyler Hamilton (USA-CSC)
8. Samuel Sanchez (Sp-Euskaltel)
9. Bingen Fernandez (Sp-Cofidis)
10. Santiago Perez (Sp-Phonak) – all same timeOTHERS
32. Levi Leipheimer (USA-Rabobank) at 15 seconds
45. Bobby Julich (USA-Telekom) at 1:50
Krivtsoy, Chavanel win split stage, Da Cruz holds Sarthe lead
French phenom Sylvain Chavanel (Brioches la Boulangere) continues to deliver strong results, winning the 8.8km individual time trial in the afternoon sector of Thursday’s split stage at the Circuit de la Sarthe.
The win will certainly boost his team’s chances of earning an at-large bid to join this summer’s Tour de France. Ukraine Yuriy Krivtsov (Jean Delatour) won the morning road sector, finishing 1 second ahead of Alexandr Kolobnev (Domina Vacanze) to take the 93km stage.
French rider Carlos Da Cruz (Fdjeux.com) finished strongly in both sectors to retain the overall lead. The race concludes with Friday’s 191km fourth stage from Angers to Le Mans.
Voskamp wins GP Cerami
Dutch rider Bart Voskamp (Bankgiroloterij) won the 184km GP Pino Cerami (UCI 1.3) on Thursday with Italian Stefano Casagrande (Alessio) coming across in second at 3:34 back. Gabriele Balducci (Caldirola-Sidermec) led the main group across to take third at 3:44 back.
The Navigators came here as defending champions and finished with two riders in the lead chase group. Jeff Louder and Henk Vogels finished 22nd and 23rd respectively to cap what’s been an excellent European trip for the Navs’. Vogels finished second in Wednesday’s Ghent-Wevelgem while Oleg Grishkine won Sunday’s GP Rennes.