By Andrew Hood
In weather that’s more reminiscent of his home back in Holland than sunny Andalucia, Dutch rider Remmert Wielinga endured a long day in the saddle through cold, wind and rain to deliver Rabobank its third stage victory in the 49th Ruta del Sol.
Wielinga – winner of a stage at the Mallorca Challenge earlier this month – outmuscled Kelme’s Ivan Parra and ONCE’s Joaquin Rodriguez to win Wednesday’s difficult stage, which featured no less than four category-two climbs. The trio peeled away from Quick Step’s Patrik Sinkewitz and Euskaltel’s Unai Extebarria on the final climb of the day.
Parra tried in vain to drop Wielinga and Rodriguez with an intense attack on the final short climb just before entering the narrow, cobbled streets of Jaen. Extebarria flatted while chasing back on with 4km to go and the threesome came into the finishing straight playing a cat-and-mouse game.
Wielinga started his sprint with about 300 meters to go and Rodriguez couldn’t come around the 24-year-old rising Dutch star. Parra had nothing left to mount a challenge for the victory.
“The stage was very hard, especially in the final because it was so cold and rainy,” he said. “It was up and down all day.”
Wielinga’s win is Rabobank’s third in four days at the Ruta del Sol. Two-time world champion Oscar Freire won the opening two stages in sprints. Among the riders abandoning Wednesday were 2001 Vuelta a Espana champion Angel Casero and AG2R sprinter Jaan Kirsipuu.
Kelme’s Javier Pascual Llorente, meanwhile, retained the overall lead he gained after winning Tuesday’s “queen stage” by finishing with a lead group of riders at 10:49 back.
“It was a complicated day made harder by the rain. My team controlled the situation and we didn’t have to work to hard to keep things under control. The worst was the final where the streets were like an ice-skating rink. The threat of falling was very high,” said Llorente. “I’m a little closer to the final podium, but the last stage is not going to be easy.”
The Vuelta a Andalucia concludes Thursday with the 178km fifth and final stage from Granada that features six rated climbs, including a short, but steep category-two climb just 5km from the finish to Benalmadena on the Mediterranean Sea.
Results, Stage 4, Cabra to Jaen
1. Remmert Wielinga (Nl), Rabobank, 174km in 4:41:45 (37.05 kph) 2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), ONCE, at 0:02
3. Ivan Parra (Col), Kelme, at 0:07
4. Unai Extebarria (Vz), Euskaltel, at 0:29
5. Patrik Sinkewitz, Quick Step, at 1:05.Overall standings after four stages
1. Javier Pascual Llorente (Sp), Kelme, 17:16
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
Barry just misses win at Algarve opener
Postie rider Michael Barry of Canada just missed winning the opening stage of the Tour d’Algarve (UCI 2.3) in Portugal on Wednesday, finishing second behind Spanish sprinter Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS) in a bunch sprint.
Barry, who suffered a horrible crash that ended his season in the Vuelta a Espana in September, was just nipped in the 178km stage in Tavira. The race continues Thursday with the 172.5km second stage from Lagos to Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
Stage 1, Tour d’Algarve, Tavira-Tavira
1. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza-MSS, 178km 4:41:23
2. Michael Barry (Can), U.S. Postal, s.t.
3. Yon Bru (Sp), Pecol, s.t.
4. Ruben Galvan (Sp), s.t.
5. Nuno Marta (Por), s.t. OTHERS:
12. Victor Hugo Pena (Col), U.S. Postal, s.t.
44. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal, s.t.
45. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), U.S. Postal, s.t.
67. Damon Kluck (USA), U.S. Postal, at 0:32
Ferrigato takes Liguria opener
Italian Andrea Ferrigato (Alessio) won the opening stage Wednesday of the Giro della Liguria (UCI 2.3), taking a bunch sprint in the 141km stage from Arenzano to Diano Marina along the Italian Riviera. Ferrigato won in 3 hours, 32 minutes, 6 seconds with an average speed of 39.91kph, just edging compatriot Paolo Bossoni (Sidermec) and Ukraine rider Yaroslav Popovych (Landbouwkrediet). Popovych, the former U23 world champion, tried to escape the bunch with less than 3km to go, but was reeled in. The race continues Thursday with the 150.4km stage from Pietra Ligure to Andora.Gonzalez contract still up in the air
Fassa Bortolo officials said Wednesday that since the outcome of Aitor Gonzalez’s contract dispute has still not been decided by the UCI, he likely won’t be starting Trofeo Luis Puig on Sunday or the Tour of Valencia next week as hoped.
The 2002 Vuelta a España champion is in the middle of a contract row involving Domina Vacanze and Fassa Bortolo. Domina Vacanze, last year racing as Acqua & Sapone, insists it has an agreement it reached with Gonzalez last year.
After winning the Vuelta in September, a bidding war ensued for Gonzalez’ services and Fassa Bortolo came out on top. Since then, Domina Vacanze has challenged the Fassa deal and now the issue is being considered by the UCI, which promises a decision by this week. But team officials said Wednesday Gonzalez isn’t expected to start Luis Puig or the Valencia tour.
Armstrong, Ullrich could face-off at Sarthe
Race organizers for the upcoming 51st Circuit de la Sarthe (UCI 2.3) unveiled an expanded course for this year’s edition set for April 8-11. Four-time defending Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong will be among the headliners making the start.
The race features as Armstrong’s third scheduled stage race of the 2003 season. Armstrong’s season debut is expected at Tour of Murcia (March 5-9), followed by more racing at Semana Catalana (March 24-28). Armstrong is also considering starting at Milan-San Remo (March 22) and Tour of Flanders (April 6).
Race organizers also said troubled star Jan Ullrich (Coast) also is expected to race. If so, it would be the first chance Armstrong and Ullrich have faced each other since the 2001 Tour de France.
This early in the season don’t expect major fireworks between the two, but it would still be interesting to see them both at the start line. Ullrich is also eyeing his comeback to racing for Semana Catalana, but no official word has come out the Ullrich camp.
The German press reported this week that Ullrich is satisfied with his progress during a training camp held in Tuscany this month. Ullrich is under suspension for taking the party drug Ecstasy until March and hasn’t raced since last year’s Tour of Qatar.
Zabel hints at racing until 2005
World No. 1 Erik Zabel, 32, could receive a contract extension until 2005 from his Telekom team, Radsport reported Wednesday. Telekom team manager Olaf Ludwig said there would be an offer on the table following the spring classics to keep the Berlin resident inside the German fold through 2005.
“We are still interested in him and he could end his career with Telekom,” Ludwig said.
Tour d’Algarve, Rhodes tour start today
The 29th Tour d’Algarve (UCI 2.3) in southern Portugal and the Tour of Rhodes (UCI 2.3) in Greece both start today and continue respectively through Sunday. U.S. Postal Service will be featuring George Hincapie and Victor Hugo Pena among its lineup while Raimondas Rumsas, third last year at the Tour de France, will lead Lampre in the 676km stage-race.Tour d’Algarve stages
Stage 1 – Tavira circuit, 178km
Stage 2 – Lagos to Vila Real de Santo Antonio, 172.5km
Stage 3 – Lagos circuit, 153km
Stage 4 -Guia to Albufeira, 10.5km (individual time trial)
Stage 5 – Loule to Alto do Malhao, 161.6km
Navigators look forward to next Euro-side test
The Navigators started their 2003 season with a bang Tuesday in Italy, racing in the 183km Trofeo Laigueglia. The team didn’t have any riders in the front group, but after completing its training camp in Italy, the team was at least intent on racing in Italy.
Here’s the list of the Navigators’upcoming European races:
Tour de Haute Var, Feb. 22
Classic Haribo, Feb. 23
Memorial Samyn, March 5
Driedaagse Van West Vlanderen, March 7-9
Settimana Ciclista Internatzionale, March 25-30.