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26th Clasica San Sebastian - ProT

Spain, August 12, 2006

Live report

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Shane Stokes

Live coverage starts: 15:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:30 CEST

15:07 CEST   
Howdy ho and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 26th Clasica San Sebastian. It's the second of the late season classics, and is always a bit tricky to pick. Its position between the Tour de France and Vuelta a España means that it is not really suited to riders who did well in the Tour or are aiming to peak in the Vuelta. But we'll see.

ProTour leader Alejandro Valverde is one rider to watch, mainly because it's his first race back since breaking his collarbone during the Tour. Riding a 225 km classic is one way to ease back into racing... Then there's Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak), winner in 2004, and Oscar Freire (Rabobank), winner of the Vattenfall Cyclassics a couple of weeks ago. And don't forget the Kazakhstani combination of Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin (Astana), champing at the bit after being kept away from racing for so long.

Today's parcours features six climbs, with the Alto De Jaizkibel at 32 km to go typically being the key climb. It's 7.8 km long at 5.84%, and usually sorts things out into groups. Then there's the small Alto de Gurutze (2.8 km at 5%) at 14 km to go, for that final decisive attack...

15:10 CEST   
The weather today is overcast, with some blue patches. There was a possibility of rain but apart from one heavy shower this morning, it has held off (in the city at least). The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain and all that.

15:22 CEST   
The race started at 11:30 with 172 riders from 22 teams. Mikel Astarloza (AG2R) was the first to attack, but wasn't able to get clear, and the peloton hit the Alto de Orio after 19 km as one bunch. At the top, Yon Bru (Kaiku) was first ahead of Mikel Pradera (Caisse D´Epargne-Illes Balears) and Jose Redondo (Astana). Over the top, Bru continued his efforts with Kolobnev (Rabobank) and Vallejo (Relax) joining him in a three man escape. Kolobnev won the sprint at Zarautz (km 23), but the break was then brought back.

On the Alto de Meagas (km 27), Jose Azevedo (Discovery) was first to the top ahead of Bichot (FDJ) and De Sárraga (Relax). Azevedo got the company of two of his teammates: Jason McCartney and Michael Barry, but the bunch did not let them go. At the sprint in Azpeitia (km 47), Jose Alberto Benitez (Saunier Duval) was first ahead of Kolobnev and Charteau (Credit Agricole), with the peloton covering 46.7 km in the first hour.

The attacking continued with Serrano (Kaiku) then his teammate Bru having a go. The latter was able to cross the Alto de Azkarate (km 56.5) in first place, a minute clear of Freddy Bichot (FDJ), De Sárraga (Relax) and Lopez (Kaiku). Bru increased his lead to three minutes after 63 km, and then up to a massive 15'10 on the Alto de Udana (km 99). Redondo (Astana) and De Sárraga (Relax) led the bunch up on that climb.

Euskaltel and Milram took control of the chase, and knocked the gap back to 12'26 after 120 km, and now the leader is going to have a tough time staying out in front.

15:35 CEST    170km/55km to go
Milram and Euskaltel have continued to cut the lead of Yon Bru, who passed the meta volante sprint in Tolosa (km 141) with just 8'42 of his lead. Jurco (Milram) was second there. The last time check was 7'10, as the speed winds up in antici...pation of the Jaizkibel.

George Hincapie
Photo ©: Régis Garnier
(Click for larger image)

15:36 CEST   
We spoke to George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) this morning, and asked how his form was. "I don’t know…it is not that great… I was really tired after the Tour so I wasn’t able to train properly, but I hope next week that I will be going better in the Eneco Tour (16 – 23 August, ProTour).

"My last races will be the Eneco Tour and the national championships, so hopefully I can recover and feel good for those. That’ll be the end of my season, then – I don’t think I will be doing the worlds. "

What about the plans for next year? "It will probably be the same as this year…I will just focus on the Classics and then figure out what to do after that."

15:43 CEST   
Saunier Duval's David Millar, wearing the number one dossard, told us this morning, "I will try to ride a good race. I will wait until the Jaizkibel and follow. It is quite an easy race, tactically."

How is your form? "It is good, I am fresh after the Tour. I was very motivated there and am happy to be back racing. I am enjoying it.

"I have got the Vuelta after this, then the world championships, Lombardy, Zurich…the usual ones. I am hoping to win a stage in the Vuelta."

15:45 CEST    173km/52km to go
The Kaiku rider is tiring in front. From a maximum lead of 15'10, it's now around 4'00 to the hungry peloton, which is getting close to the Jaizkibel now. Another 12 km, and the climb will start.

15:47 CEST   
Bru gets out of the saddle as he rides through Oiartzun with just 3'23 on the peloton. It's coming down quickly. Bru finished fifth last year, but is not going to be anywhere near that today. He's really struggling on these smaller climbs.

15:48 CEST   
Bru will be easy to spot in his bright pink and grey gear. He's even got pink bidons to match.

15:50 CEST    177km/48km to go
Interestingly, Kaiku and Milram, who have been quite active in this race, are both involved with milk products.

Euskaltel has two men on the front of the bunch, working for Mr Mayo, winner of the Vuelta a Burgos last week.

15:53 CEST    178km/47km to go
Bru stamps on the pedals as he is passed by a convoy of motorbikes. He's in a pretty small gear now as he gets a "turbo bidon" from his team car. He then grabs a coke from a soigneur, and nearly crashes while trying to open it. Now he gulps it down and definitely needs it!

Michael Boogerd is quite visible at the front of the bunch, where Milram and Euskaltel are pegging the gap back quickly - just 1'12 now. There are also a few Kaiku jerseys near the front, and Frank Schleck.

15:55 CEST   
Bru has been out there for a long time, but won't be there for much longer. He has 45 seconds of his once very large lead, but now he gets a bit of a rest on a descent.

Bettini is moving up in the bunch.

15:58 CEST    179km/46km to go
Bru gingerly navigates a roundabout half a minute in front of a lined out peloton. He's sitting up now, with a resigned look on his face. The break is finally over, having lasted a good 120 km.

Den Bakker is driving the peloton now.

16:01 CEST   
Gerdemann (T-Mobile) now does a turn as one of the Milrams grabs a bidon. Plenty of teams have riders at the front, and Cadel Evans (Davitamon) and Mick Rogers (T-Mobile) are quite prominent.

We asked Evans how he was feeling this morning. "A little bit tired! The plan today is just to see how it goes."

After this, Evans will probably do "Plouay [August 27th, ProTour] and then the Tour of Britain (August 28 – September 3rd, 2.1) or the Tour of Poland (September 4 – 10, ProTour)."

16:01 CEST    180.5km/44.5km to go
Quick.Step now lifts the tempo with Baguet and a teammate leading Paolo Bettini. The foot of the Jaizkibel is just 4 km away.

16:03 CEST   
Carlos Sastre (CSC) told us that "I really don’t know" how his form is. "Today will be the first real race since the Tour de France. For me it has been a long and tough season. I don’t know [about the Vuelta]. Today will be important, because before I was training hard but I need today to see exactly how I am. We will see today."

Sastre will make a decision about whether to ride the Vuelta mid-next week.

16:04 CEST    182.5km/42.5km to go
One Quick.Step pulls off but there are plenty of others willing to keep the tempo high. CSC is also very prominent at the front now.

Mayo is ready for Euskaltel, and Sastre is also up there.

16:06 CEST    184km/41km to go
Now the final sprint to the foot of the climb is on! CSC and Quick.Step are driving it, but there's one Gerolsteiner in front. Bettini, Sastre and Schleck are the best placed.

16:07 CEST    185km/40km to go
They race through Lezo and it's almost like the last kilometre of a sprinters stage. Liquigas has men up front for Di Luca.

The climb commences, with Ongarato leading out the sprint. Oops - it's 7.8 km uphill :-)

16:08 CEST   
Now the pace eases as Sastre makes the first attack! Let's get it on!!

16:09 CEST    186km/39km to go
Sastre gets a nice little gap as one of the Euskaltels tries, but fails to follow.

A Saunier rider takes off in pursuit - Ricardo Ricco. He catches Sastre.

16:10 CEST   
In the peloton, Cunego is on the front but has two CSCs on his wheel. They won't work, with Sastre in front. Looks like the two Schleck brothers.

Iban Mayo attacks, and one of the Schlecks marks him. He sits up.

16:11 CEST   
Sastre and Ricco look back and see they have 10 seconds. Ricco is pedaling a small gear very fast as Mayo and Schleck get another gap. That's gotta be Frank Schleck.

16:12 CEST    187.5km/37.5km to go
Denis Menchov (Rabobank) rides up to Mayo and Schleck, who catch Sastre and Ricco. This is an interesting group. Mayo keeps the pace on.

16:13 CEST    188km/37km to go
Five leaders now: Frank Schleck, Carlos Sastre (CSC), Ricardo Ricco (Saunier Duval), Iban Mayo (Euskaltel), Denis Menchov (Rabobank). The peloton isn't that far behind though.

16:14 CEST    188.5km/36.5km to go
Zubeldia (Euskaltel) and Figueras (Lampre) get across next. But now, Sastre, Mayo and Menchov have gotten clear again.

16:15 CEST   
Valverde is back in the peloton, following Serrano in a rearguard action behind the breakaways. Ardila, Karpets and Herrero are with the pair. They can see the next group just in front.

16:16 CEST    190km/35km to go
Mayo, Menchov and Sastre are lookin' good through, and all working. Sastre looks fairly comfortable, but Mayo is very motivated to do well.

16:18 CEST   
The peloton is coming back to the various chasers, and it's quite a big bunch. But Sastre, Menchov and Mayo have 24 seconds lead now. The chasers ease up with the bunch right behind them.

16:20 CEST    192km/33km to go
Mayo gets a lot of encouragement from the Basques on the side of the road. His teammate Zubeldia is trying to slow things down a bit in the bunch, where one of the Cofidis riders is leading.

Mayo does another strong turn. Nearly at the top.

16:20 CEST   
The leaders are on a flatter section of the climb and the peloton has gotten its act together in the chase. 22 seconds.

16:22 CEST   
the bunch is perhaps 30-40 riders strong as Luis Perez (Cofidis) is the man pouring on the pace with Valverde on his wheel. Then Valverde does a turn. He looks good today.

Sastre does a turn up front, then Menchov and Mayo. Their gap comes back to 19 seconds.

16:23 CEST    193km/32km to go
Valverde does a monster turn and takes about a dozen riders with him. Schleck is still there, and Zubeldia, Ricco, Vinokourov further back.

The leaders are at the summit of the Jaizkibel.

16:24 CEST   
The Valverde group of 16 comes up at just over 20 seconds, then another chase group of nine a few seconds later. Then smaller groups, but it could all come back together a bit.

16:26 CEST    195km/30km to go
The three leaders hit the descent with 25 riders, including Valverde, in pursuit. The ProTour leader should be able to score more points today in San Sebastian.

16:28 CEST   
Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prévoyance) told us that he was feeling "Good, finally. It took a couple of weeks to recover. I finished the Tout quite sick, so it took a bit longer than I had hoped. But I am feeling good now. I got bronchitis during the Tour, that is what happened. So I finished pretty crook with that.

"As regards the rest of the season, I have got a pretty good programme. I have pretty much a one day race each week for the next few weeks, plus the Tour of Poland and a few more one day races in Europe. I will then go home for the Herald Sun Tour.

"Today is just a case of seeing how I feel. The race pretty much comes down to the Jaizkibel so if I have got good legs, I will hopefully be up the front there."

Is there a designated leader for today or is it whoever has got the legs? "No, I think everyone is pretty much in the same situation. Obviously we have got some Spanish guys in the team who are pretty motivated. Moreau and Calzati are still going well from the Tour. So we have got a pretty good team here."

16:30 CEST    199km/26km to go
The chasing bunch has the advantage of numbers on the descent, but still can't get closer than 23 seconds to Mayo, Sastre and Menchov - all pretty decent riders. Well, maybe this race does suit the Tour/Vuelta riders :-)

16:31 CEST    201km/24km to go
Vinokourov is sitting last wheel in the bunch. He's a danger man, no matter what his level of fitness. He can attack...

The leaders get the most out of the last part of the descent, and hit the flat again. One more climb to come.

16:33 CEST    202km/23km to go
And they're now on the flat, riding through Hondarribia with 23 km to go. All three are working well together.

16:35 CEST    204km/21km to go
The chase group is strung out with Serguei Yakovlev (Astana) sitting last wheel. He chooses a quicker way around a roundabout, but still has to work hard to get onto the back of the peloton.

A big crowd is waiting at the finish in San Sebastian. They like this race.

16:35 CEST   
Mayo flicks his elbow for Sastre and Menchov to come through, as Karpets and another Caisse d'Epargne rider bury themselves in the chase group for Valverde.

16:36 CEST    205km/20km to go
Mayo looks back to check the gap as he pulls off after a turn. They are under 20 km to go, and still have 21 seconds.

16:38 CEST    206km/19km to go
The leaders must work well, or they're finished. Mayo is extremely nervous. He does another strong turn then Sastre and Menchov just roll through. The Caisse d'Epargne boys are working very hard behind, but with only two of them, they're not making an impression.

Mayo takes the meta volante in Irun ahead of Sastre and Menchov. The bunch is exactly 21 seconds back.

16:39 CEST    207.5km/17.5km to go
Celestino (Milram) has Valverde's wheel, with Kashechkin and Nibali right behind. Patxi Vila has moved up to the front of the bunch to maybe help the Caisse d'Epargne riders.

16:40 CEST   
Now Menchov checks back to see where the chasers are. Sastre finishes a turn, stops pedaling for a bit, then has to sprint as Mayo does yet another big one.

The peloton takes a much shorter route around a roundabout. Nothing wrong with that. It's an easy way to win back a couple of seconds.

16:41 CEST    208km/17km to go
The leaders are on the final climb, the Alto De Gurutze (Cat. 3, 2.8 km at 5%). Mayo lets a gap go, then closes it. Sastre forces the pace in front.

16:42 CEST    209km/16km to go
Mayo takes over as Arrieta (AG2R) tries to bridge up. Then Petrov (Lampre). No dice.

16:43 CEST    209.5km/15.5km to go
Petrov has another go as the gap comes down to 16 seconds. then Mayo tries to lift the pace in front. Petrov gets out of the saddle - he needs to bridge 15 seconds. Ricardo Serrano (Kaiku) is behind him.

16:44 CEST    210km/15km to go
It's Carlos Castaño (Kaiku), not Serrano. But he can't get clear of the bunch.

The three leaders are 1 km from the top of the Gurutze. They ease back up to 16 seconds.

16:45 CEST    211km/14km to go
Vinokourov, Ricco and one of the Euskaltels set off after Petrov, who is still chasing Menchov, Sastre and Mayo alone.

The three are at the top of the Gurutze.

16:47 CEST    211km/14km to go
And at the top of the climb, the gap is 24 seconds as all the chasers are back together. Petrov is caught by the bunch just before the top, and Schleck keeps an eye on things, making sure the tempo isn't too high.

16:47 CEST    212km/13km to go
Yakovlev now does a turn in front of the chase bunch, which is at least 25 riders strong.

Mayo, Sastre and Menchov fly down the descent.

16:49 CEST    213km/12km to go
The leaders are now back in Oiartzun, with the bunch managing to peg them back to 19 seconds. Caisse d'Epargne has support from Arrieta (AG2R) now.

16:49 CEST    214km/11km to go
Mayo does another turn as he sees 11 km to go. Then Menchov motors through with Sastre on his wheel. Flat out to the finish now, or they will be swallowed.

16:51 CEST    215km/10km to go
It's not over until it's over. The three in front will sell their lead dearly. Mayo adjusts his kit as Menchov pulls off from another bit turn, tightening his shoe straps.

16:52 CEST    216km/9km to go
The leaders are on another uphill stretch as they get to 9 km to go. This is a big road here.

Menchov is giving it full gas - he's got an excellent chance if it's a three up sprint.

16:54 CEST    217km/8km to go
In the bunch, CSC, Euskaltel and Rabobank are doing their best to keep the gap from getting smaller than it is. It's still 18 seconds. Lampre has quite a few men to chase as well, helping Caisse d'Epargne and Astana. But do they have enough power to get these three in front?

16:55 CEST    218km/7km to go
15 seconds as the chase gets organised. This doesn't look good for the leaders. We could see a 30 rider bunch sprint. But it ain't over yet. 7 km to go and Menchov does a big turn, hurting Mayo and Sastre as they go under a bridge.

16:55 CEST    219km/6km to go
The gap is still coming down - 14 seconds. Menchov is the real motor of the breakaway now. He can climb, but he is very powerful on the flat.

16:56 CEST    219.5km/5.5km to go
Sastre looks back and sees it's just 10 seconds. That's not enough. Mayo rolls through again, but not with a lot of conviction. 9 seconds. Too far to go, alas.

16:57 CEST    220km/5km to go
Caisse d'Epargne has three guys for Valverde, and Lampre hasn't even had to work. The three in front haven't given up yet, but it's still five km to go.

16:58 CEST    220.5km/4.5km to go
Mayo sits up. They all do. Break over with just under 5 km to go. Caisse d'Epargne has done an amazing job.

Kashechkin attacks.

16:58 CEST    221km/4km to go
But it goes nowhere. Now a Lampre rider counters. This might not be a bunch sprint.

16:59 CEST    222km/3km to go
Anyone who doesn't fancy themselves against Alejandro Valverde in a bunch sprint is trying to attack. That's pretty much everyone in the bunch, except the Caisse d'Epargne riders. Vino next, but it goes nowhere.

17:00 CEST    222km/3km to go
Gaps are created in the bunch at three km to go, courtesy if Vinokourov, A. But Valverde is marking everything.

17:01 CEST    223km/2km to go
Vino isn't done yet. He has two riders with him: A. Schleck and an Euskaltel. then two more, then the bunch.

17:02 CEST    224km/1km to go
But there is a Lampre stopper up there (Bruseghin), and no-one will work with Vino, so it comes back together. 1 km to go!

17:02 CEST   
Hincapie is in third position - haven't seen him much, but he can sprint a bit. Liquigas leads it out.

17:04 CEST    225km/0km to go
Hincapie falls back, as the sprint starts on the right side, led by a Bouygues rider - Xavier Florencio. He wins!!! Kashechkin second, it looked like. What an amazing finish. Valverde was well out of it.

17:07 CEST   
OK, so no-one picked that! Xavier Florencio, one of the Spanish riders in Bouygues Telecom, led out from about 150m to go, hit the last corner in front, and simply held Kashechkin on his wheel until the line. It was Garzelli second ahead of Kashechkin, then Botcharov (CA), Moreni (Cofidis), Celestino (Milram), Serrano (Kaiku), Valverde (Caisse d'Eparnge), Hincapie (Discovery), Pellizotti (Liquigas), and Mori (Saunier Duval), Lövkvist (FDJ).

17:15 CEST   
And there's a crash in the group sprinting for 53rd place - Fabian Wegmann and Leonardo Duque come down, but don't look hurt. Don't ask me why they were sprinting, as there are no ProTour points and no cash down that far. But sometimes, when you see the finish, you gotta sprint.

Valverde keeps the lead in the ProTour after finishing eighth today, and showed that he is in half decent condition in his first race back. We'll see him in the Vuelta, no doubt. And Probably Sastre and Menchov too...

Speaking of the Vuelta, that's when we'll see you again from the live commentary dirigible. Saturday, two weeks. Be there!

Results

Provisional
1 Xavier Florencio Cabre (Spa) Bouygues Telecom                5.32.45
2 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Liquigas                                     
3 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana                                      
4 Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Crédit Agricole                           
5 Cristian Moreni (Ita) Cofidis-Le Crédit par Téléphone               
6 Mirko Celestino (Ita) Team Milram                                   
7 Ricardo Serrano Gonzalez (Spa) Kaiku                                
8 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    
9 George Hincapie (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team            
10 Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas                                   
11 Manuele Mori (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir                            
12 Thomas Lövkvist (Swe) Française des Jeux                           
13 Riccardo Ricco (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir                          
14 Theo Eltink (Ned) Rabobank                                         
15 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank                                       

ProTour standings

1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears