26th Clasica San Sebastian - ProT
Spain, August 12, 2006
Bouygues Telecom rider surprises top favourites in taking career-best win
Spanish rider Xavier Florencio spent a lot of time in the Basque region as an amateur, riding many races here, but he admitted after today's Clásica San Sebastián that victory here was outside even his own high expectations. "If somebody told me this morning that I was going to win, I would have laughed," he told the media at the post-race press conference. Yet win he did, the 26 year old Bouygues Telecom rider unleashing a long but very powerful sprint to hold off 50 other riders on the flat, twisting finale down the Avenida de la Zurriola.
Florencio kicked for home with over 200 metres to go but in doing so was able to take the perfect – in other words, most direct – line along the curving run in to the line. Kazakh champion Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) was right on his wheel and looked set to come by, but despite a perfect leadout he couldn't match the Spaniard's raw strength. Neither could Italian rider Stefano Garzelli (Liquigas), who got by Kashechkin before the flag but could do nothing against Florencio, who romped home to take what was easily his biggest career win.
The Spanish rider has in the past achieved results such as 5th in both the Eneco Tour and the Tour of Valencia, as well as 18th in the Tour of Flanders plus 21st and 25th in editions of Milan San Remo, but nothing compared to what he did today. Even his recent good form in the Tour de L'Ain, where he was second on stage 1 and third overall, didn't give any real indication that he could top the podium in such a prestigious one day race. However the bunch contained plenty of strong riders who finished behind him, reflecting the power of his sprint and the quality of his win.
The vanquished include the likes of Garzelli and Kashechkin, as well as Mirko Celestino (Lampre, 6th), Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, 8th), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel, 9th), Denis Menchov (Rabobank, 15th), Frank Schleck (CSC, 21st), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank, 28th), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana-Wurth, 39th), Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas, 40th), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner, 43rd), Carlos Sastre (CSC, 45th) and Iban Mayo (Euskaltel, 46th). Of these, Menchov, Sastre and Mayo were the most impressive, ripping clear on the first category Alto de Jaizkibel with 35 kilometres to go and holding a 24 second lead over the other big riders. However they were ultimately no more successful than the earlier long distance move by Yon Bru (Kaiku), being brought back inside the final five kilometres and setting things up for a mini-bunch finish.
Vinokourov did what he could to spoil the gallopers' party, surging with three kilometres to go, but he was hauled back. Valverde then tried to get ready for a big result on his return to competition but he and Hincapie both found themselves in the wrong place in a somewhat chaotic sprint. Florencio had no such worries, staying out of trouble by leading from the front and surprising many – maybe even himself – in being able to hold on until the line.
"The sprint was very nervous. With 600 metres to go I went for it. It worked out very well and I am very happy to succeed and take this win," the beaming Spaniard told the press after the finish. "This result is very satisfying for me. I was the leader of the team for this race and I waited all day for my moment. When I reached the finish in a group of 50 riders I was ready to go for it, and it worked out perfectly."
Kashechkin said he was happy to take third place, a result which equals his podium finish in the Deutschland Tour. "I am very satisfied because we have done a great race", he stated. "The team is obtaining great results in recent competitions and it is very important for our future ".
His only complaint about the race was the actions of some Basque protestors, who blocked the road on the Jaizkibel. "After 3 kilometres of climb a few individuals stopped the race momentarily. Because of it Mayo, Sastre and Menchov went ahead," he stated. However, although the chase may have been impeded, those three riders were undoubtedly riding very strongly and got clear thanks to their own firepower.
Valverde was making his return after breaking his collarbone in the Tour de France. Despite his lack of racing, he impressed greatly and could possibly have won had his sprint worked out better.
"I had very good sensations during the whole day", he said. "I am really satisfied because it was a very fast race and I was well able to compete, even if I started without having the rhythm of competition in my legs. I rode the whole race in front and that is of course an excellent signal before the Tour of Spain. That starts two weeks from now from Malaga and that gives me time to find the perfect condition."
He said the final kilometre was chaotic. "The sprint was a really crazy one. In the last curve I tried to pass on the right side but I was blocked in and after that it was no longer possible for me to come back in front. I feel very sorry because my teammates did a fantastic job today and they really deserved a win to crown it. Anyway I really want to thank them for what they did for me today."
Compatriot Mikel Astarloza (AG2R Prévoyance) was one of the first to attack today and ultimately placed 26th. He said it was a tough day in the saddle. "It was a very, very hard race but it was a special race because I live here," he told Cyclingnews just after the finish. "It was very difficult and it was a very good rider who won.
"I was in the front group and that was good for the team. I tried to attack but it was too difficult."
His team-mate Simon Gerrans was also quite pleased with how he rode. "The race was good, actually," he said. "It was pretty windy, that last bit. For my first real hard race back after the Tour, I was pretty happy with how things went.
"I was in the main group until the Jaizkibel. There was a protest after about 2 or 3 kilometres and that caused a big split in pretty much the whole front group. It was Basque spectators, they blocked the road. Otherwise I was alright. I ended up going over the top in the third group or something, then that was it. But I will keep building form from here."
David Millar rode the race with dossard number one, thanks to the victory last year of Saunier Duval rider Constantino Zaballa. He said before the start that he was hoping for a strong ride, but despite his strong motivation, faded on the first category climb and came home 97th. "I just didn't have the legs on the Jaizkibel," he admitted. "The race went to bits on it. Between now and the Vuelta I will get in some training and then take it easy just before the race. I'd like to go for a stage win there."
How it unfolded
At 11:30 on a relatively cool (21 degrees) August morning, 172 riders left San Sebastian for their 225 km round trip. Six categorised climbs were on the menu: Alto de Orio (Cat. 3, km 19), Alto de Meagas (Cat. 3, km 27), Alto de Azkarate (Cat. 2, km 56.5), Alto de Udana (Cat. 2, km 99), and then the main climb of the day, the Alto de Jaizkibel (Cat. 1, km 193), followed by the Alto de Gurutze (Cat. 3, km 211).
A typically aggressive start saw Mikel Astarloza (AG2R) make the first move, but that came to nothing as the bunch reached the first climb as one unit. Over the top of the Alto de Orio, it was Yon Bru (Kaiku), who was fifth in this race last year and obviously looking to make an impression again. He was joined by Alexandre Kolobnev (Rabobank) and Angel Vallejo (Relax) in a three man escape, but that was pulled back after the descent.
On the Alto de Meagas (km 27), Jose Azevedo (Discovery) was first to the top ahead of Freddy Bichot (FDJ) and Mario De Sárraga (Relax). Discovery's Jason McCartney and Michael Barry bridged up to these three, but again, the break could not be formed. The bunch covered 46.7 km in the first hour.
Finally, the elastic broke as first Ricardo Serrano (Kaiku) and then his very active teammate Yon Bru went at km 50. Bru reached the top of 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 up to a massive 15'10 on the Alto de Udana (km 99), before Euskaltel-Euskadi and Milram took control of the chase.
From then on, Bru was fighting a losing battle against the bunch. With no-one to work with him, the small Kaiku rider defended himself as best he could, while the peloton timed its run to catch him before the Jaizkibel. In 75 km, Bru saw his lead of 15'10 cut to zero as he was finally caught with 46 km to go, having spent over 125 km alone in front.
A few kilometres later, the bunch attacked the Jaizkibel, with Quick.Step, CSC and Milram performing the final "leadout". But once the climb started, it was clear who had the legs. Carlos Sastre (CSC), using this race to test his form before deciding whether to ride the Vuelta, was the first to attack in the opening kilometre. He was quickly joined by Saunier Duval's Ricardo Ricco, then Iban Mayo (Euskaltel) bridged up together with Fränk Schleck (CSC) and Denis Menchov (Rabobank).
After 2 km of the climb, the peloton was only 10 seconds behind the leaders, and that enabled Zubeldia (Euskaltel) and Figueras (Lampre) to get across. But as they did, Sastre, Mayo and Menchov went clear again and started to ride harder - helped by some Basque protesters, who blocked the road momentarily and slowed the bunch. The bunch regrouped towards the top of the climb, with Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) looking strong in his first race back, and Luis Perez (Cofidis) also doing some good work. At the summit of the Jaizkibel, the three leaders had 20 seconds on a chase group of 25, with other smaller bunches close behind.
The descent favoured the leaders slightly, and they edged out to 23 seconds ahead of the peloton, which was growing in size to 40 or so riders. Caisse d'Epargne was well represented with four, including Valverde, and Lampre and Astana also had numbers. On the flat road before the Alto de Gurutze, Valverde's men kept the leaders at 21 seconds, with Vladimir Karpets doing a solid job. In front, Mayo was doing some strong but nervous turns, while the other two matched him. Menchov was particularly useful on the flat, his big motor able to keep the break going at a good speed.
At the top of the Gurutze with 14 km to go, Mayo, Sastre and Menchov still had 24 seconds with Evgeni Petrov (Lampre) trying and failing to get across. It was touch and go until Caisse d'Epargne got some help from Astana, and gradually hauled back the classy breakaway. With just under 5 km to go, it was all over for the three, and the race looked to be headed for a bunch sprint.
Astana's Kashechkin and Vinokourov tried to get a late breakaway happening, but it was not to be, and the bunch rolled into San Sebastian intact. George Hincapie (Discovery), who had been quiet until the finale, moved up inside the final kilometre, but had chosen the wrong side of the bunch. Instead, on the right it was Xavier Florencio, who made a beeline for the final dogleg with 200m to go and took the shortest route to the finish line. Andrey Kashechkin had his wheel, but couldn't come around the Bouygues rider, and was himself passed by Stefano Garzelli for second. Florencio won by a good bike length and took what was easily the biggest win of his career. When you're in the right place at the right time, anything is possible.
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