By Andrew Hood
Dario Frigo is back with Fassa Bortolo and he’s back to his winning ways, taking Tuesday’s opening time trial of the Vuelta Ciclista a Communidad Valencia.
Two years ago, Frigo was fired by Fassa Bortolo after he admitted he had in his possession banned doping products during the “San Remo blitz” of the 2001 Giro d’Italia. Last year he returned to racing with Tacconi Sport and won stages in Paris-Nice and the Tour de France as well as taking overall victory in the Tour of Romandie.
This year, Frigo is back in the white and blue jerseys of Fassa Bortolo and easily won the flat, 9.7km individual time trial that opens the very difficult and mountainous Valencia tour.
“I don’t know if I am strong enough yet to win this race because it is very mountainous,” said Frigo, who covered the course in 10 minutes, 58 seconds. “There are some difficult stages and perhaps the Spanish riders will be better prepared, but it’s nice to win today.”
Frigo pipped veteran Alex Zülle, his rival in last year’s Romandie tour. Zülle and Frigo were the only two riders to top the early best time set by Czech Rene Andrle (ONCE), who came across in 11:04. ONCE teammate Jan Hruska finished less than a second slower while pre-race favorite David Millar (Cofidis) had to settle for fifth at … back.
Zülle – a winner here twice – said he put everything into his ride because he doesn’t expect to be challenging for the final overall victory.
“This race is much more difficult in the mountains than it was last year, so I really wanted to win today,” said Zülle, just five seconds off Frigo’s winning time. “I turned the pedals like I could. I’m not as strong at this point as I was this time last year.”
The Spanish riders filled the result sheet below the top-5, with Ruta del Sol champion Javier Pascual Llorente (Kelme) coming in 10th at 15 seconds slower. He said it’s hard to predict who can win the race.
“It’s still so early in the season. Some riders are going to be much stronger than others, so they will be attacking to win,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to control with so many mountains.”
The out-and-back course was largely flat and presented little technical difficulty. Early riders on the course faced stronger winds which let up for the later starters, something that helped Frigo edge the early time posted by Andrle.
The course was in the hometown of 2002 Vuelta a Espana champion Aitor Gonzalez, whose racing fate is now in the hands of the UCI. Officials met over the weekend to rule on a contract dispute between Fassa Bortolo and Domina Vacanze, both of which say they have rights to the rider.
“I hope to return to racing as soon as possible,” said Gonzalez, who provided race commentary for Spanish television. “I’d like to be racing by Setmana Catalana (March 24-28) and at Vuelta a Pais Vasco (April 7-11). My main goal remains the Giro d’Italia and I want to get some good racing in before then.”
World champion Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze) rode a solid race in his second appearance of the year, this time, however, without his rainbow jersey since it was a time trial event (Santiago Botero – if he were here – would have gotten that honor).
The Valencia tour continues Wednesday with the 159km, difficult second stage, featuring two climbs up the category-one Alto de Tudons and once up the category-two Alto de Confrides. Once riders top the second climb up the second climb at Tudons, it’s a fast, 30km-plug descent to the finish at Vila Joiosa along the Mediterranean.
Results stage 1, San Vicent del Raispeig- San Vicent del Raispeig
1. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 9.7km in 10:58 (50.8 kph)
2. Alex Zülle (Swi), Coast, 11:03
3. Rene Andrle (Cze), ONCE, 11:04
4. Jorg Jaksche (G), ONCE, 11:05
5. David Millar (GBr), Cofidis, 11:06
6. Daniel Becke (G), Coast, 11:09
7. Angel Vicioso (Sp), ONCE, 11:11
8. Alvaro Gonzalez de Galdeano (Sp), ONCE, 11:12
9. David Bernabeu (Sp), Milaneza, 11:13
10. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, 11:13Americans
62. Bobby Julich (USA), Telekom, 11:40
122. Guido Trenti (USA), Fassa Bartolo, 12:17.
Casagrande fractures handItalian Francesco Casagrande fractured his right hand in a fall in Sunday’s final stage o the Tour d’Algarve in Portugal, L’Equipe reported Tuesday.
The 32-year-old Tuscan will be forced to skip at least the Tour of Murcia (March 5-9), but team doctors hope the injury won’t impair his preparations for the Giro d’Italia, the Lampre rider’s main target of the season.
This is not the first such incident for Casagrande (aka “Frankie Big House” to American cycling fans). He fractured his left hand in a spill in the opening stage of the 2001 Giro and was forced to abandon.
American wins Vuelta a Cuba
American Todd Herriot won the final overall classification of the 28th Vuelta a Cuba on Sunday in what must have been a wild adventure for the veteran Kansan racer.
Herriott and UPMC-Fuji teammate and compatriot Joe Papp made the most of the 157km eighth stage from Sancti Spiritus to Cienfuegos (Holy Spirit to 100 Fires), when they were part of a seven-man break that finished nearly eight minutes ahead of the main field. Papp won the stage and Herriott moved into the lead for good. Herriott, 33, held on to become the first American to win the Vuelta Ciclista a Cuba, a tough, two-week 1,915km race from west to east across Cuba.
The race started in the 1960s but was discontinued after 1990, but restarted in 2000. Last year’s winner was Italian Filippo Pozzato, now on Fassa Bortolo and winner of last week’s Trofeo Laigueglia race back in Italy. Herriott quit racing for five years but came back in 2001 and is a former winner of the Univest GP.
This year the field of 100 riders included racers from the United States, Europe and, of course, Cuba. Herriott held on through the final stages to grab the final victory, finishing 1:14 ahead of Cuban Eliecer Valdes and 5:55 ahead of Kazahk rider Maxim Gourov.
We wonder if he brought back some good cigars?
Millar eyes Valencia TT
Cofidis’ David Millar says he’s feeling surprisingly strong for so early in the season and hopes to win Tuesday’s opening time trial in the Tour of Valencia, he told L’Equipe. Millar rode well in Sunday’s Trofeo Luis Puig and even put down an attack about 3km from the finish before being reeled in. “I climbed well in the stage, which is a good sign,” he said. “I haven’t felt this good at the start of a season since 1999, when I was fourth at Valencia.” After Valencia, Millar stays on in Spain to race in Sunday’s Clasica Almeria and then heads to Tirreno-Adriatico (March 13-19), where he aspires for the overall title.
Zabel remains atop UCI rankings
German Erik Zabel remained atop the UCI rankings released Monday, while American Lance Armstrong and Paolo Bettini retained their respective positions in second and third. Armstrong has yet to race in the 2003 season and will make his debut next month at the Vuelta a Murcia in Spain on March 5-9 while Bettini has already won the Tour Mediterranean. Bettini leads the top-100 rankings of points awarded so far in the 2003 season while American Tom Danielson sits in seventh thanks to his win at the Tour of Langkawi in January.
Top-20 UCI rankings:
1. Erik Zabel (Germany) 2,237.00 points
2. Lance Armstrong (U.S.) 2,110.00
3. Paolo Bettini (Italy) 2,055.00
4. Dario Frigo (Italy) 1,702.00
5. Mario Cipollini (Italy) 1,698.20
6. Robbie McEwen (Australia) 1,667.00
7. Davide Rebellin (Italy) 1,557.00
8. Aitor Gonzalez Jimenez (Spain) 1,556.00
9. Francesco Casagrande (Italy) 1,468.00
10. Roberto Heras Hernandez (Spain) 1,455.75
11. Joseba Beloki Dorronsoro (Spain) 1,298.00
12. Michele Bartoli (Italy) 1,265.00
13. Danilo Di Luca (Italy) 1,186.00
14. Santiago Botero Echeverry (Colombia) 1,131.40
15. Johan Museeuw (Belgium) 1,085.50
16. Alessandro Petacchi (Italy) 1,068.00
17. Michael Boogerd (Netherlands) 1,066.60
18. Baden Cooke (Australia) 1,062.00
19. Peter Van Petegem (Belgium) 1,041.00
20. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano Aranzabal (Spain)
Americans in the top 200
36. Tyler Hamilton (USA), 731
46. George Hincapie (USA), 664
54. Fred Rodriguez (USA), 623
110. Levi Leipheimer (USA), 438
191. Floyd Landis (USA), 306.
Top-10 so far in 2003
1. Paolo Bettini (Italy), 256 points
2. Stuart O’Grady (Australia), 218
3. Isaac Galvez (Spain), 204
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spain), 184
5. Fabio Baldato (Italy), 175
6. Allan Davis (Australia), 156
7. Tom Danielson (USA), 153
8. Alberto Loddo (Italy), 150
9. Dario Munoz (Colombia), 145
10. Sylvain Chavanel (France), 140
Museeuw and boys reconnoiter Flanders
Defending Paris-Roubaix champion Johan Museeuw will take a closer look at the most important sections of the Tour of Flanders course on Wednesday, his Quick Step-Davitamon team reported. Joining the three-time winner of the Tour of Flanders will be teammates Tom Boonen, Frank Vandenbroucke, Wilfried Cretskens and Servais Knaven. The team said the riders will ride the final 180km and pay special attention to the three new “cotes” inserted into the closing section of the course.
The team also reported Museeuw trained Monday for 160km on the course of Saturday’s Omloop Het Volk, the opening race of the Belgian calendar.
“It was good training,” Museeuw said in a team press release. “My condition is good, but I’m still about 20 percent off my top condition. However, Het Volk isn’t a real ‘classic.’ The race is much shorter than the Tour of Flanders, so with being 80-percent, I still can count among the favorites.”
Bruyneel comments on Algarve
U.S. Postal Service sports director had these thoughts in a team press release about the recent Tour d’Algarve, where Colombian Victor Hugo Pena finished second overall: “Victor’s second place in his first race of the year is a very good sign. I was very happy with the way he and the rest of the team performed in Algarve. We started the race with the objective of keeping Victor’s chances intact until stage four and Victor did a fantastic ride in finishing second. The last stage was a very tough uphill finish and Victor managed to hold on Moller’s wheel. The team performance was very good, also with the second place finish of Michael Barry in the first stage.”
Next up for the Posties are Het Volk on Saturday and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne on Sunday where Viatcheslav Ekimov and George Hincapie will be looking for a win.
Tirreno-Adriatico reveals stages
Organizers for the upcoming Tirreno-Adriatico revealed the stages Monday for the upcoming Italian stage-race, March 13-19. The so-called “Race of Two Seas” is the prime tune-up for riders heading to the World Cup opener Milan-San Remo on March 22, just three days after Tirreno wraps up. There will be 20 teams starting – nine Italian and 11 foreign – with eight riders on each team for a total of 160 riders.Stages:
Thursday, March 13: Sabaudia-Sabaudia, 178km
Friday, March 14: Sabaudia-Tarquinia, 213km
Saturday, March 15: Tarquinia-Foligno, 168km
Sunday, March 16: Foligno-Ortezzano, 154km
Monday, March 17: Monte San Giusto-Rapagnano, 181km
Tuesday, March 18: Teramo-Torricella Sicura, 179km
Wednesday, March 19: S. Benedetto-S. Benedetto, 162km