Jan Bakelants on the podium at La Med, Leigh Howard defying the wind at Clasica Almeria and a feisty Andrea Fedi in the hills of Italy. To paraphrase the ‘Walrus of Luurve’ – it’s your first, your last, your everything!
The Spanish racing season continued this weekend with the Vuelta a Murcia and the Clasica de Almeria, where things didn’t always go quite as anticipated.
Asturian Dani Navarro, new to Cofidis this season, found the legs – and lungs – to defeat Bauke Mollema (Blanco) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), thereby foiling Murcian plans for a home-grown winner on Saturday. While on Sunday Blanco scored yet another win, this time with Aussie Mark Renshaw. Clearly, the hunt for a replacement sponsor is keeping the Blanco Billies on their toes – or should that be hooves?
Vuelta a Murcia – Trofeo Alfonso Guzman
The former five-day stage race has since 2010 been steadily whittled down to a financially viable one-day event making it a Clasica rather than a Vuelta for the first time in its history. Historically this is a race which favours dimple-chinned Murcian riders from Movistar or, at worst, their teammates. Saturday’s edition included its defending champion Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and a number of dimple-chinned riders, including recent Ruta del Sol winner Alejandro Valverde.
The race isn’t quite as extreme as its 183km profile above would suggest. While the route finishes atop the short but steep cobbled category three Alto Castilla de Lorca, it’s preceded by a 13km-long drag up to the category one Alto Collado Bermejo – Cima Marco Pantani, from which there’s a nice swift drop back into the valley.
Spain’s climatic conditions were certainly better than in northern Europe. The riders enjoyed positively balmy temperatures of 20ºC and just the odd rain shower. The initial break of the day included Javier Ruiz de Larrinaga (Euskadi), Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura), Lukasz Owsian (CCC Polsat) and Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural), but their advantage never quite reached four minutes and they were pulled back by a peloton controlled by the combined forces of Movistar and Blanco, intent on placing their men on the podium.
Next to slip away was Astana’s Kevin Seeldraeyers, who nipped off the front group on the Alto Sierra de Espuña, only to be caught on the subsequent category one Cima Marco Pantani by a chasing sextet, which included the eventual race winner, with about 20km remaining.
This group forged on and, with under a kilometre to go and what was left of the peloton bearing down on them, Navarro launched his decisive attack and managed to hold off the swiftly advancing Mollema and third-placed Valverde, to record only his third professional win in a nine-year career, and his new team’s second of the season.
1. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) 4:40:32
2. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) same time
3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) s/t
4. Robert Gesink (Blanco) s/t
5. Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) s/t
6. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
7. Davide Rebellin (CCC Polsat) s/t
8. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) s/t
9. Jonathan Hivert (Sojasun) s/t
10. Enzo Moyano (Caja Rural) s/t
Clasica de Almeria
On Sunday most of the riders from the previous day contested the Clasica de Almería about 200km south-west of Murcia. With only three hills to scale, it was a much more sprint-friendly parcours although it did have a slick kick-up to the finish.
Mark Renshaw (Blanco) continued his team’s successful early season with his first victory since last April’s Tour of Turkey. His fast sprint finish saw him get the better of Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg (Argos-Shimano) and Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural) after a hectic final couple of hours of racing.
The break of the day which formed after 30km comprised David De La Cruz (NetApp-Endura), Pablo Urtasun and Mikel Bizkarra (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and managed to stay clear until 60km or so remained, when Blanco’s determined pursuit put paid to their ambitions. However, their efforts weren’t made in isolation as all the sprinters’ teams shared the workload on the flat roads on the run into the finish. But it was the Blanco sprint train, which is also working well over in the Tour de Langkawi, which provided Renshaw with an armchair ride to his first victory of the year, and only his second with the team.
After the race, he said:
In the team meeting we discussed the tactics for today. We would aim for a sprint. During the race it was always Juan Manuel Garate and David Tanner looking after me. On the hills Robert Gesink, Bauke Mollema, Wilco Kelderman and Laurens ten Dam made sure there where not too many explosions. Stef Clement followed the moves in the peloton continuously, by chasing the breakaways. It was really impressive to have this level of riders helping me to the victory. It was a collective victory of the team.
1. Mark Renshaw (Blanco) 4:30:14
2. Jense Van Rensburg (Argos-Shimano) same time
3. Francesco Lasca (Caja Rural) s/t
4. Juan Jose Lobato (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t
5. Stephane Poulhies (Cofidis) s/t
6. Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) s/t
7. Bartolomiej Matyusiak (CCC Polsat) s/t
8. Dennis Vanendert (Lotto-Belisol) s/t
9. Fabien Schmidt (Sojasun) s/t
10. Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t
Analysis & opinion
A number of riders will have taken comfort from their performances ahead of the forthcoming Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, races which will give us a real feel for who’s hot and who’s not. Alejandro Valverde has been quick out of the starting blocks along with Blanco, who’ve been scoring wins all over the place in their eager search for a replacement sponsor.
Likewise those teams hoping for a Tour de France wild-card, most notably here Cofidis and Sojasun, have performed well. Euskaltel, who have animated a number of races without yet taking a win, will be hoping that Giro-bound Samuel Sanchez lights the after-burners in Tirreno or Vuelta al Pais Vasco. However, it’s unusual for Igor Anton to be on song so early in the season (fourth overall in Murcia) and they’ll have been cheered by Juan Jose Lobato‘s fourth place in Almeria.
Saturday’s result – plus 10th at last week’s Vuelta a Andalucia – justifies Dani Navarro’s decision to leave Alberto Contador’s side. He’d ridden for the multiple Grand Tour winner for all of his professional career and many were surprised when he left Saxo-Tinkoff at the end of last year, which had been a promising year for him results-wise. It’s looking increasingly like a smart move.
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. Continue reading