25th Clasica San Sebastian - ProT
Spain, August 13, 2005
Saunier Duval teammates Constantino Zaballa and Joaquin Rodriguez outgunned a star-studded field to give their team its second Clasica San Sebastian victory in a row. Zaballa soloed off the front of a seven-man lead group with under 3 km to go to win by half a minute over his delighted teammate Rodriguez, who beat Eddy Mazzoleni (Lampre) and Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) across the line. It was a result that even bettered Saunier Duval's win last year, when Miguel Martin Perdiguero beat a group of six others, and Zaballa finished ninth.
"It's very difficult for a rider like me to win this race," Zaballa explained after the finish. "But I had a bit of luck and went at the right time. I knew I had to gamble on making one big attack, and making it count. The tactic worked better than I could have thought."
The 27 year old who turned pro with Kelme in 2001 now has five wins to his credit, including a stage in the 2004 Vuelta a España, but this is his biggest success so far. He finished third overall in Paris-Nice this year and is also a specialist in winning classification jerseys, and has three mountains jerseys, one metas volantes, and one special sprints competition to his credit.
In the battle for ProTour points, Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner, 13th) came close, but not quite close enough to finishing in the top 10, thereby missing out on any points. A sick ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca finished 94th today, but didn't lose any ground to Rebellin or any of the others.
How it unfolded
The 188-strong peloton started in San Sebastian at 11:30 in dry, but fairly cool conditions, with temperatures in the low 20s - a contrast to the usual searing August heat that this race is known for. The wind was blowing at 10 km/h from the NNE, which would be behind the riders for the first part of the race and also for the final. Early aggressors included Óscar Laguna (Relax- Fuenlabrada), Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), Benoît Poilvet (C.A.), Marco Serpellini (Gerolsteiner), Imanol Erviti (Illes Balears), Franck Renier (Telecom) and Adrian Palomares (Kaiku), but the first serious break of the day was made on the Alto de Garate (km 29) when eight riders attacked and got a gap.
The leaders represented eight teams, with Christophe Moreau (CA), Michael Barry (Discovery), Patxi Vila (Lampre), Ruban Lobato (Saunier Duval), Mauro Facci (Fassa Bortolo), Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel), Matthias Kessler (T-Mobile) and Antonio Tauler (Illes Balears) all in front. By the Cat. 2 Alto de Azkarate (59 km), the group of had 4'30, and increased it to a maximum of 6'05 after 90 km, but then the peloton started to clamp down as the other teams didn't want to risk letting such a large break stay out in front.
With 45 km covered in the first hour and an average speed of 43.8 km/h after two hours, the race was ahead of schedule. But as the riders turned back north to San Sebastian, the headwind started to slow them down and the break found it tough going. Phonak, Gerolsteiner, Barloworld-Valsir and Quick Step were doing most of the chasing, and had pegged the gap back to 3'35 with 70 km to go, knocking a couple more minutes off that over the next 25 km. As usual, the idea was to reel everyone in before the Jaizkibel, an 8 km climb averaging 5.73 percent that is usually decisive in this race.
Barloworld and Davitamon-Lotto performed the coupe de grace, and the eight leaders hit the Jaizkibel at 39 km to go with a gap of less than half a minute. All focus was on the peloton now, where Stangelj (Lampre) made the first move, followed by Moncoutié (Cofidis). They didn't survive too long, as Valjavec decided to stir things up for his Phonak team. Moreau and Vila were the last survivors of the break, which only made it up the first couple of kilometres of the Jaizkibel. Finally it was Carlos Sastre (CSC) who really split the peloton, before Denis Menchov (Rabobank) countered with a strong move.
From then on it was Menchov all the way to the top, while Sastre was caught by Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel), Davide Rebellin, Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner), Cadel Evans (Davitamon-Lotto), Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas) and Luis Perez (Cofidis). Another group of 20 was 25 seconds back, with Paco Mancebo at the helm trying to close the gap before the summit. Menchov eased up a little bit and was caught at the top of the Jaizkibel with 31 km to go, to form a group of 10 in front.
The Mancebo group, which also had Zaballa, Horner (Saunier), Astarloa (Barloworld), and Mazzoleni (Lampre) in it, was able to come back on the descent to form a mini-bunch of 30. Tour de Suisse winner Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel) chased hard to get them, and just made contact at the bottom. The rest, including ProTour leader Danilo Di Luca and HEW Cyclassics winner Pippo Pozzato, were nowhere in sight.
The leaders sped through Hondarribia and Saunier went on the offensive with Chris Horner making a solo attack, then getting away with Leipheimer, Solari (Domina Vacanze), and Zandio (Illes Balears) with 17 km to go. But on the last climb of the day, the Alto de Gurutze, Rebellin came back with most of the rest of the big group, and the attacks started anew. Over the top of the climb, Rebellin got clear with Rodriguez, Menchov and Garzelli, but that was chased down.
Finally, after the descent of the Gurutze, a group of seven riders got away and that was the good move: Garzelli was there again, along with Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel), Tino Zaballa, Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier), Yon Bru (Kaiku), David Moncoutié (Cofidis) and Eddy Mazzoleni (Lampre). They quickly got 20 seconds on the big group behind as the Leipheimer/Rebellin/Menchov-led chase ran out of allies and horsepower.
In front, Saunier had the numbers and the motivation to win on home soil, and with under 3 km to go, Tino Zaballa attacked and got that all-important gap. As soon as Garzelli looked at the others to chase, it was all over, especially with Rodriguez there to mark any counter-jumps. Under the kilometre to go banner, and Zaballa had 15 seconds, driving it up to the finish with the wind at his back to celebrate his biggest career victory. To cap it off, Rodriguez led out the group sprint for second place, equally as delighted as his teammate in front. Mazzoleni led Garzelli in for third.
Thus, after Miguel Martin Perdiguero's victory here last year, Saunier Duval-Prodir bettered its performance with a strong display of teamwork coupled with plenty of aggression. Danilo Di Luca didn't have the legs and finished outside the ProTour points, but still leads the rankings by a comfortable margin over Armstrong, Vinokourov, and Julich. Rebellin didn't gain any more points today and is still in seventh overall, trailing his Italian rival by 83 points with just a handful of races to come.