In the same way we’ve recently reviewed results in the early French and Italian races on the European circuit, we also need to wrap up the Spanish ones ahead of their first World Tour event, the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya from 20th to 24th March.
The picture’s somewhat similar: races reduced in length either thanks to adverse weather or the adverse financial climate, or both. Again, the races threw up a few surprises, a few new faces and names to conjure with. But in essence, these are races to showcase emerging talent and for second and third division sides to angle for further race invites. So let’s have a quick look over our shoulder at the Challenge Ciclista Mallorca, the Vuelta a Andalucia or Ruta del Sol, Clasica de Almeria and last weekend’s Vuelta Ciclista a Murcia.
Trofeo Palma: Fellow Brummie and Omega Pharma-Quick Step neo-pro, 21-year-old Andy Fenn won a hard-fought sprint in the first challenge in snow-bound Mallorca. On a 116km circuit around Palma di Mallorca, he successfully beat off the challenge of Andre Shulze (NetApp) and Alexander Porsev (Katusha). Not unnaturally, the 2008 winner of junior Paris-Roubaix was delighted with his maiden professional win:
I’m ecstatic. I’ve been dreaming of a victory like this. The team did some extraordinary work. In the last three laps we took charge of the race. In the final Matteo Trentin carried me splendidly and I managed to win. It’s my first success as a pro – the joy is indescribable. I can’t wait to share it with my team mates this evening.
Trofeo Migjorn: Andy Fenn (OPQS) scored back-to-back victories, winning the second test of the Challenge Mallorca. He beat Porsev again and Matteo Pelucchi (Europcar) with an exceptionally powerful final sprint. At one point in the race, thanks to all the wind and rain, Fenn found himself in the second group on the road but his teammates helped him regain the leading pack. He repaid their efforts by taking another win.
Trofeo Deia: On a much hillier parcours than the previous two days, Norway’s Lars Petter Nordhaug (Sky) soloed across the line, having attacked on the final climb and dropped his breakaway companions before descending to the finish 26 seconds ahead of Rui Costa (Movistar) and 28 seconds in front of Luis Henao (Sky). OPQS, albeit minus Andy Fenn, again rode an aggressive race putting a number of riders into the first breakaway. But it was the second break, formed on the penultimate climb, which proved to be conclusive.
Trofeo Serra de Tramuntana: With a heavy snowfall overnight affecting the climbs of the Puerto de Soller and the Puig Major, the final event was cancelled.
The opening 6km prologue in Spain’s race to the sun went to the German Patrick Gretsch (Project 1t4i) who was two seconds faster than defending champion Markel Irizar (RadioShack-Nissan) and three seconds ahead of Saur-Sojasun’s Jerome Coppel.
In Monday’s stage one, local rider Javier Ramirez (Andalucia) outsprinted his breakaway companions, Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and William Routley (Spidertech) to the finish of the 188km stage to Benlamadena. They’d been together since just after the start in Zahara de los Atunes. Daniel Dominguez (NSP-Ghost) had been with them but had fallen off the pace and been taken back by the peloton in the final 5km. 1t4i had worked hard to significantly reduce the leaders’ time gap so as to retain the overall lead for prologue winner Gretsch. Evergreen Oscar Freire (Katusha) was best of the rest.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) revealed his intent on stage two by soloing across the finish line at the top of the Alto Santuario. He won the stage, and took the leader’s jersey ahead of a star-studded cast: Denis Menchov (Katusha) was 10 seconds behind him along with Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) and Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan).
Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) had ridden away from the peloton after only 15km and built up a lead of six minutes but, thanks to the efforts of the Movistar team, he was in sight at the foot of the summit finish. Valverde waited until he was inside the final kilometre before launching his successful attack on the steep slopes. Afterwards he said:
I’m tremendously happy and I want to thank all the team, because they were phenomenal from start to finish of the stage. They got full support on me from the beginning and I could reward them back with the victory. I want to dedicate this to all the fans always supporting me, and most especially, to Paco Sanchez Sabater, my agent’s father, whom I wish to get well soon.
Stage three was won by Oscar Freire (Katusha) who outsprinted Daniel Schorn (NetApp) in second place and former teammate Michael Matthews (Rabobank) in third. The race split on the first climb of the day and a small group worked well together to build a lead of over three minutes but were hauled back on the last climb of the day. Going into the final stretch, Katusha kept the pace high for Freire who brought home the bacon or, as we’re in Spain that should probably be jamon!
Going into the final stage on Thursday, Alejandro Valverde retained his slender three-second lead over Taaramae and eight seconds over Coppel.
Daniel Moreno won the final stage as Katusha wrapped up the Spanish stage race with back-to-back victories, three in total. Moreno attacked inside the final kilometre on the cat. 3 finish of La Guardia de Jaen and narrowly held off his pursuers for the stage win. Two seconds behind Moreno, Valverde finished at the head of a 19-man group to take overall victory and the points jersey. Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) rounded out the top three on the final stage in the same time as Valverde, the Olympic champion’s best result of the season to date. Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) won both the sprints and King of the Mountains jerseys while RadioShack-Nissan won best team.
1. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 16:08:49
2. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) +0:03
3. Jerome Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) +0:08
4. Denis Menchov (Katusha) +0:14
5. Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:15
6. Tom Dumoulin (Project 1t4i) +0:18
7. Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:22
8. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:26
9. Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan) +0:27
10. Wilco Kelderman (Rabobank) +0:28
Unsurprisingly the Classica de Almeria came down to a bunch sprint. Australian Michael Mathews (Rabobank) took his and his team’s long awaited first win of the season – a repeat of his 2011 feat – from Borut Bozic (Astana) and Roger Kluge (1t4i) on a slight uphill, after 185km ridden around the Spanish coastline.
Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Barracuda), Jose Toribio (Andalucia), Jurgen Van de Walle (Lotto-Belisol), Yaninck Talabardon (Saur-Sojasun) and Kenny De Ketele (Topsport Vlaanderen) were in an earlier break that was hauled back 26km before the finish. After the race, Matthews said:
It is fantastic for the second consecutive year to help the team to its first win of the season. I felt strong and the team did a great job. The lead out was close to perfect. Luis Leon [Sanchez] gave us very good start and Graeme went from 400 meters.
Javier Moreno (Movistar) was the best regional rider, Movistar were the best team and Jurgen Van de Walle waltzed off with the sprint and King of the Mountains jerseys.
1. Michael Matthews (Rabobank) 4:24:17
2. Borut Bozic (Astana) same time
3. Roger Kluge (1t4i) s/t
4. Stephane Poulhies (Saur-Sojasun) s/t
5. Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) s/t
6. Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
7. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) s/t
8. Michel Kreder (Garmin-Barracuda) s/t
9. Daniel Schorn (NetApp) s/t
10. Aitor Galdos (Caja Rural) s/t
The shortened Tour of Murcia started on Saturday with a challenging 198km stage in the mountains finishing on the Sierra de Espuna. Movistar’s pocket-sized neo-pro, Colombian Nairo Quintana took the stage and the overall from Wout Poels (Vacansoleil) at 14 seconds and Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura) at 16 seconds.
Having raced against Tiernan-Locke in the Tour du Haut Var, the young Columbian knew what to expect and kept the Brit in his sights on the last climb, before pouncing and going past him in the final kilometres. Poels, who had been chasing the other two, overtook the fading Tiernan-Locke for second place.
Stage two’s 12.3km individual time trial was won by Alexander Serov (RusVelo) – their and his first win of the season – from Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and Alexander Wetterhall (Endura). But the key move took place a bit further down the stage classification. Tiernan-Locke beat Poels by five seconds to move into second place on general classification. Overnight leader Quintana was only 10 seconds behind Tiernan-Locke, leaving the young Colombian enough in hand to hang onto the overall.
The former Tour de L’Avenir winner Quintana dedicated his win to his team, his family and the assistance he’d received from God while he’d been so far from home.
Vacansoleil’s Tomasz Marczynski won the mountians prize, Alejandro Marque (Carmin-Pro) the sprints jersey, Movistar were the best team and Sergio Mantecon, riding for Spain, the best Spaniard.
1. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +5:06:10
2. Jonathan Tiernan-Locke (Endura Racing) +0:06
3. Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:09
4. Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) +0:15
5. Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) +0:21
6. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:22
7. Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) +0:25
8. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) +0:33
9. Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp) +0:47
10. Paul Voss (Endura Racing) +1:24
Can we draw any definite conclusions from these race? Who’s hot and who’s not? The sprinters all always eager to add to their palmares, irrespective of the where we are in the season as witnessed by the wins of Andy Fenn (OPQS), Oscar Freire (Katusha) and Michael Matthews (Rabobank).
We’ve new names to conjure with: Jonathan Tiernan-Locke, who’d already lit up the Tours Mediterraneen and du Haut Var, and neo-pros Fenn and Nairo Quintana.
We’ve riders who had a point to prove to themselves, their fans, their new teams: Freire and Alejandro Valverde. And riders whose eyes are on bigger prizes, coming nicely into form: Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM), Denis Menchov (Katusha) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis).