Spaniard points out the importance of rest and recovery
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) tried to let Christophe Le Mevel (Garmin-Cervelo) take the maglia rosa on the rolling roads to Castelfidardo in the Giro d'Italia but with other teams trying to win the stage, and perhaps even keep him in pink and so under pressure, he was again obliged to use up precious recover time to attend the podium ceremony and consequent obligatory press conference.
Contador was fined 1000 Swiss francs after failing to attend Tuesday's press conference but decided it was not work losing another chunk of prize money today. He apologized to the media but seemed almost disappointed to be in pink for another day. Not because of a lack of respect for the maglia rosa but because of the importance of rest and recovery between each stage.
"It is possible that the Giro could be won in the hotel," he said.
Contador finished fifth in Castelfidardo and conceded it had been a tough day in the hilly Marche region.
"I was in a good position on the climb to the finish and waited for Scarponi to attack. But then Joaquim (Rodriguez) attacked. But my legs responded well."
"It was a hard stage today. We knew that everyone would have been looking to get in the break and we would have been happy to let Le Mevel take the jersey. But the other teams had other interests and they did the work for us. I'm proud to wear the maglia rosa and to lead the race but if you think calmly, its probably better not to have it now. What counts is to be leader on May 29 in Milan."
Not interested in his palmares
Contador denied that he had become the boss of the Giro after his dominant display on Mount Etna. Eddy Merckx has joined the Giro and is a regular guest on Italian television after each stage. But Contador refuted the idea that he was thinking about his place in cycling history amongst the multiple grand tour winners such as Merckx, Indurain or Pantani.
"It was an improvised attack and I wanted to see how I was going. There are occasions that I have to take advantage of during the race and Etna was one of them. My legs responded well and winning on Mount Etna on Sunday was incredible. It's something I'll always remember.
Anyway, It's always good to be ahead."
"I race for the fans, for my team and I give it everything because that's what I want to do. I'm not interested in having a historic palmares or not."
Contador was seen talking to David Millar and Murilo Fischer from Garmin-Cervelo as Le Mevel tried to keep the breakaway alive. Contador didn't perhaps realise he'd been caught on camera and let out a smile, before making a promise not to defend the maglia rosa during Thursday's flat stage from Castelfidardo to Ravenna.
"Every team has their interests in the finale of a stage, there were teams interested in winning the stage and so they did the chase. I would have left the jersey to Le Mevel but it didn’t happen. But from now on we won't pull a metre to keep it."
John Gadret (AG2R La Mondiale) jumped at the perfect time in the taxing finale of the Giro d'Italia's 11th stage to earn his first Grand Tour stage victory. Gadret has parlayed his climbing talents into nine top-ten stage finishes in his three Giro appearances, but today the punchy Frenchman crossed the line first.
"In the finale, I felt I had good legs," Gadret said. "I had the team at my service. They put me in the best position at the bottom of the climb. Rinaldo Nocentini looked after me to perfection.
"When I saw the two leaders [Ignatas Konovalovas and Daniel Moreno] 12 seconds ahead of us, I realised they were slowing. As soon as the other riders slowed down at the front of the bunch with 300 metres to go, I jumped and I told myself that I would look behind only once I passed the finish line. I'm very happy, this is the most beautiful win in my career."
Gadret is best known for his acumen as a cyclo-cross rider and it's no surprise to see him performing well on gravelled and steep roads. With his weight a svelte 58 kilos, it explains why he finished so well at the 2010 Giro d'Italia in the uphill time trial on the gravelled roads of Plan de Corones where he scored the third best time.
Earlier this Giro, Gadret was away on stage 5 to Orvieto on the strade bianche of Tuscany. "Had Pieter Weening kept me with him till the end, I probably would have won that stage with the hill in Orvieto," he said. "But I don't want to look back, especially today after this win.
"It's not because I've won today that my Giro is over," he told Cyclingnews. "On the other hand, the Giro is only starting after tomorrow with the big climbs. I came to win a stage and my first mission is accomplished. Now I'll ride for a top-ten overall. It's feasible."
Gadret said he would celebrate his stage win with his teammates with champagne rather than Italian spumante. Until the age of 23, he worked in the vineyards of the Champagne area, collecting grapes for the brand Bruno Michel, who was also the mayor of his village, Moussy, near Epernay.
"I haven't had an easy youth," Gadret said.
The Frenchman grew up as a fan of Marco Pantani and pleased the Italian tifosi today with his acceleration on the final climb to Castelfidardo, reminiscent of "the pirate".
"I just loved Pantani's style of racing," Gadret said.
Michele Scarponi's fan club had set up camp just four hundred metres from the finish in Castelfidardo, perhaps hoping the Lampre-ISD team leader would win the uphill finish and so give them something to celebrate and down a flew glasses of wine.
Scarponi comes from Filottrano, just a few kilometres deeper into the Marche hills and was hoping to win the stage for his tifosi and also to boost his moral after being unable to stay with Alberto Contador on the climb to Mount Etna.
John Gadret (AG2R-La Mondiale) spoilt Scarponi's party by jumping away with a kilometre to go, taking the big name overall contenders by surprise. The Frenchman got a gap and held off the rest of the peloton, giving him time to celebrate the biggest win of his career.
Scarponi finished a disappointing eighth and remains fifth overall, 1:28 behind Contador.
"It's a pity not to get a good result because it would have been nice to give everyone at the finish something to celebrate. We tried to be in the action and worked to bring the race back together but only ended up using a lot of energy," he admitted.
"The finish was uphill but it was also pretty fast and so I wasn't able to finish off the work of the team. Well done to Gadret. He surprised us all with his attack and won it well."
Scarponi dismissed a question by Italian television if he was still an overall contender in the Giro with a wave of his hand and preferred to focus on the strength of the Lampre-ISD team. Alessandro Petacchi again did a huge turn on the front to close the gap on the breakaway despite knowing he faces his last chance to win a sprint stage in Ravenna on Thursday.
Scarponi was grateful.
"Alessandro is a champion and is riding really strong, not only in the sprints but even on days like today," he said.
"He helped us a lot and we're trying to pick up things from his huge experience. It's great to have him in the race and hopefully it will be his turn to win tomorrow. He deserves it and we'll try and help him."
Millar praises the Frenchman's "character" and "panache"
Christophe Le Mével had been the virtual pink jersey of the Giro d'Italia for a long time before being brought back by the group of the favourites towards the very end of stage 11. He was extremely disappointed to have missed out on taking the lead in Castelfidardo, while his team-mate David Millar was full of praise for his courageous action.
"The pink jersey doesn't want me!" the climber from Garmin-Cervélo repeated a few times on the finishing line. "I love this jersey; I wanted to honour it as much as I could. After the stage on the Etna, I thought it wasn't possible to get it anymore because I was too close and they wouldn't let someone who is third on GC breaking away. But at the start of today's stage, I spoke with Richie Porte and he told me that Saxo Bank wouldn't do anything to keep the pink jersey, so I was most welcome to go and look for it. However, it was more of an instinctive move that propelled me to the front group."
"I've given a lot," the Frenchman continued, "and what do I get at the end? I lose 13 seconds because of a split in the bunch. Despite all the efforts I produced earlier on, I still went deep at the end to avoid this split but it was really at the max. When the favourites accelerated with 500 metres to go, I exploded. That's life. I've dreamt and believed that I'd get the pink jersey but Saxo Bank isn't the only team in this race. A lot of teams rode behind us with different interests."
Successively, Androni Giocattoli-C.I.P.I. and Lampre-ISD put an end to Le Mével's dream in pink. "Now it's finished," the Breton rider sadi regretfully. "This is not the year I'll lead the Giro. I have good legs but I'm not winning. All the coming stages are either for sprinters or climbers. At least I can say that I've tried everything for the jersey and I still want to make the top 10 overall."
Millar arrived in Castelfidardo 10 minutes after Le Mével and was full of praise for what his team-mate attempted. "That's what bike racing is all about," the Scotsman told Cyclingnews. "We're not here for just sitting in the peloton," he added looking at his bruises as he crashed while trying to bridge to the breakaway and called it "a driver's error".
"It was a good try by Christophe today," Millar insisted. "This is our style of racing at the moment. He could have been in pink. He's got incredible form."
Le Mével wasn't scared of paying later the efforts he made on stage 11. "Tomorrow is a day for sprinters, so I'll have time to recover before the big mountains," he predicted. The Frenchman's confidence is boosted by the depth and dedication of his Garmin-Cervélo team even though the Colorado-based outfit has to deal with some hiccups at the Giro. Super domestique Matt Wilson is now maglia nera – the Italian virtual black jersey for who is dead last overall – after developing a bad infection in his hip and backside. He is being treated with antibiotics.
"I've also lost most of the skin off my right palm so am effectively riding one handed," Wilson told Cyclingnews. "But I'll keep doing everything I can for Christophe and the team."
Cyclingnews takes a ride up Sierra Road with Continental team
The Amgen Tour of California stage 4 to San Jose's Sierra Road climb saw the peloton come to pieces behind the furious pace of the RadioShack team on the final ascent.
Cyclingnews was in the Bissell Pro Cycling team car with director Omer Kem, giving encouragement to Chris Baldwin as he was on his way to a 31st place finish on the stage, just 4:30 behind stage winner Chris Horner.
The team had a successful day, with both Ben Jacques-Maynes and Jeremy Vennell in the breakaway and Rob Britton as the top Continental team finisher on the stage.
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Chris Horner (RadioShack) proved that he is here to win the Amgen Tour of California after he triumphed atop Sierra Road, winning stage four by over a minute ahead of his nearest rivals. The American is confident that he will be unbeatable on the ‘queen' stage seven that includes the second and more decisive mountaintop finish on Mt Baldy.
"In the last five weeks I was on a mission to come here in the best fitness of my life," Horner said. "I think I put together the best five weeks of training ever in my career, with diet, rest and training. It's been a hard five weeks and it was an easy five kilometres to the summit."
With four stages to go, Horner is confident that he can hold on to the overall lead but showed slight concern over the stage six 24km time trial in Solvang. However, some of the pressure was absolved by the fact that his teammate and three-time overall event winner Levi Leipheimer is close behind in the overall classification. Leipheimer came to the race as the odds-on favourite to win the time trial, after winning it on three previous occasions.
"The only exception, not fear, that I have is the time trial," Horner said. "It is a questionable section but I think I am on my top form and when I am top form I normally win time trials. I don't think I will lose sleep over the time trial but I certainly believe that if there is any vulnerable part in my fitness or ability it would be there. I think that is a small dent in the armour and whatever time that I should lose there, I don't think I will lose the jersey there, but if I do, I will gain it back on Mt Baldy."
Sharing the overall classification duties with Levi
RadioShack announced that Horner and Leipheimer would be attending the Amgen Tour of California as co-race leaders, both in top form to contest the overall victory. Horner's commanding performance on stage four's Sierra Road indicates that he is in prime form to win the title. He won the stage by 1:15 ahead of runner up in the Tour de France last year Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) in second and Rory Sutherland (UnitedHealthcare) in third. Leipheimer finished in fourth place and an optimal second card to play in the overall classification.
"We came into this race as co-leaders," Horner said. "Of course, Levi had the majority of the team with him and I had Markel [Irizar] and Matt [Bushe] always with me. I was always protected and well looked after. In the mishap at the end of yesterday's stage, I had fantastic teammates devoted to me and also to Levi. I was never without a team and Levi was never without a team. We will go into the rest of the Tour of California with the same tactics."
It is no secret that Leipheimer is eying a fourth overall victory at the Amgen Tour of California. When asked if it mattered to the team which rider won the title, Horner replied, "It makes no difference. Though my whole career, and I have had a long one, the first priority is always the team. If the team wins that is the number one priority. I don't care if it's Levi, I don't care if it's me and I don't care if it's Matt Busche. The first objective, as a professional, is always that the team wins. The
second objective, of course, is that you wish it could be you."
Horner insulted by career under appreciation
Horner is undoubtedly a world-class racer whose decade-and-a-half career includes a victory at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, second overall at the Giro di Sardegna, seventh place at La Fleche Wallone, eighth place at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, tenth place at Amstel Gold Race, and fourth place overall at the Amgen Tour of California, all in 2010. His most memorable accomplishment last year was securing a tenth place overall at the Tour de France. This year, he placed second overall at the Vuelta Al Pais Vasco and fourth overall at the Volta a Catalunya. During the Amgen Tour of California stage four post-race press conference, he expressed his disappointment in the race organization and the media for, at times, being under recognized.
"I think in my career I have been under appreciated," Horner said. "When I arrived here at the Tour of California, I found it quite insulting to not be invited to the press conference. I think the press should have known, I have won the Basque Country and I was second at the Basque Country. I've been fourth here at the Tour of California before and I found it insulting that I wasn't invited to the press conference."
"Throughout 16 years of professional bike racing, I've been underrated many, many times," he added. "I've done a lot of domestique work and sometimes I see where the press can lose me in the lime light. When you have teammates like Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong, you can't have five RadioShack or Astana riders up here. At the same time it is easy to see that my form has been with the best of the best in the world and with the exception of Alberto Contador, I don't think there is anyone that can drop me."
The Rabobank team suffered from ill fortune in the first stages of the Amgen Tour of California, but that all turned around today in what would have been the race's fourth stage.
After two days where the team's sprinters Oscar Freire and Michael Matthews couldn't find the right formula for a stage win, and Matthews crashed and then abandoned the race altogether, Lars Boom walked onto the team bus and announced "I will make the breakaway today". Paul Martens said he would also like to have a go. Both pronouncements proved true today, and it has been a big morale boost for the team.
Boom was the first to make the breakaway, taking the first of the mountain primes. Although he did not last at the front when the 10-man breakaway was absorbed on the slopes of Mount Hamilton, a hors categorie climb, over the top Martens followed an attack by Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervélo) and stayed clear until they reached the final climb on Sierra Road in San Jose.
It was then the turn of Laurens Ten Dam, who used his climbing prowess to finish eighth on the stage, 1:45 down on stage winner Chris Horner of RadioShack.
"I was too far back when Horner and [Levi] Leipheimer accelerated," Ten Dam said according to the Rabosport.nl web site. "After they got away, we couldn't close the gap to the second group anymore. I had the wrong two riders with me - both Vande Velde and Gerdemann weren't going to chase because they had teammates up the road."
He is now 10th overall and wasn't sure the time trial would improve his standing, but said he would try to gain time again on stage 7 to Mt. Baldy.
Ten Dam said his success today came in part because he asked his Twitter followers which gear to use on the stage today - a rear cassette with a maximum 25 tooth cog or one with a 28? The answer came from his former teammate Rory Sutherland, who said "If you don't use a 25, then you're a 'watje' (wuss)".
"And what did he show up to the race with? A 26!," laughed Ten Dam.
Having spent a couple years in Europe with the Navigators since moving across to Jelly Belly in 2008, Van Ulden doesn't encounter the WorldTour teams in many events, but he enjoys the high level of competition they bring to the race.
But on stage 3 he had a extra close encounter with one of the sport's top men, Jens Voigt of Leopard Trek.
"I nearly ran over Jens Voigt yesterday. That was actually me just barely tagging him," Van Ulden said of Voigt's crash on the circuit in Modesto. "He was 90 degrees in the air right in front of me and I thought it was all over. I have so far been pretty fortunate, but in the field that can all change in an instant."
The Jelly Belly team has brought a young squad to the Tour of California, with Van Ulden as the most experienced in racing against the sport's top men.
"I spent two years in Europe doing the Spring Classics with my previous team. It's still fun, I really enjoy the events and the level of competition," he said before stage 4.
"The novelty has worn off and I'm able to just concentrate on the racing and wanting to try to perform, but you also know that when the world champion is riding by, or Goss, Bernhard Eisel or the tour leader, you have to give them respect and room to move around and do what they have to do."
He and his teammates have been focusing on entering into breakaways early in the stages as their best chance for success on the stage. On this stage, which passed over Mt. Hamilton en route to the finishing climb on Sierra Road, Van Ulden said the best way to have a good result is to get a head start.
"We are definitely trying to go for the breakaway. There will be at least 50-60 guys coming into the base of Sierra Road, and there will be an explosion in the first 500m of that climb.
"If you're in the breakaway, and you're still off the front at the climb, you might be able to hang on for dear life when the leaders come by. You can definitely hang onto the second group."
He ultimately ended up in the 'gruppetto', which came in 24:43 down on stage winner Chris Horner (RadioShack).
"We've had two downhill days, so it's really weird to go from that kind of riding to this, so we'll see. I felt a lot better yesterday than the first day. I think whole field was shut down on the first day. I'm really happy with how I rode yesterday, I made all the front selections."