Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) has won the 28th Clásica San Sebastián with a furious sprint down the Donostia Boulevard to easily hold off Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC-Saxo Bank) and Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) in an 11-rider sprint. Rebellin tried several times to escape in the finale, but the winner of 1997 could not shake Valverde, and neither could world champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) who made an impressive move over the final climb of Alto De Arkal but eventually finished fourth.
Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team had the numbers in its favour with Joaquin Rodriguez and Vladimir Karpets pulling hard for their captain in the finale. Valverde will now travel to the Olympic Games with renewed confidence after his hopes of challenging for Tour de France victory went up in smoke.
During a brief interview at the finish line a fresh looking Valverde said he was relieved to have won Spain's biggest one-day classic. "It was very important for me. Last year I finished third and now I really wanted to win."
Things didn't look so good early on when the Spaniard was separated from his team-mates, but half the Caisse d'Epargne team dropped back to pace Valverde up to the lead group. "I felt guilty when I wasn't featuring in the big group despite having six team-mates there," he said.
The changed course with its new final climb of Alto De Arkal impressed Valverde, and his attack there together with Bettini, Rebellin, Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and David Moncoutié (Cofidis) was the decisive one. "It's a tougher finale now with the new climb. I thought we were gone with the five of us but eventually it came down to a sprint. I knew it would be hard against Bettini and Sanchez but I managed to win it."
Despite seeing his man come up short, Gerolsteiner's directeur sportif Reimund Dietzen was full of praise for Rebellin. "That was a super performance from Davide, who really raced exceptionally. Davide tried consistently to get away, but he was closely watched. When the rivals attacked, Davide went with them. That was awesome."
Rebellin himself was happy with the result. "I have seen that my form for the coming events is good," the Gerolsteiner captain said.
Damiano Cunego (Lampre) lost his ProTour lead after finishing almost ten minutes down. The Italian abandoned the Tour de France after a heavy crash and was still feeling the effects today. "I had headaches," said Cunego, who promptly withdrew from the Italian Olympic team after the race.
David De La Fuente (Scott-American Beef) did what he does best and collected an impressive 31 points over the six climbs, taking out the mountains classification for the day. He won the first four climbs, the Orio, the Garate, the Azkarate and the Udana. Many of those who had gathered points in the early part of the race didn't actually finish. However, De La Fuente fought on to 16th place, 1'33 down on the winner.
After only 70 kilometres a group of 46 riders broke away. What was left of the peloton was soon discouraged and abandoned in its entirety! The next selection came on the category one Alto de Jaizkibel where Kolobnev was the first to attack. Others followed and the jumping took its toll until a decimated group of less than 30 approached the final climb of the day, the Alto De Arkal.
Bettini made an impressive jump near the top while several favourites, including Alberto Contador, were dropped and a group of 12 formed. On the descent Bettini tried once more and he was joined by Rebellin, Sánchez, Moncoutié and Valverde, but the quintet was brought back on the flat run-in to San Sebastián.
Several quick attacks followed, often involving Rebellin. First the Italian joined Moncoutié, then went again with Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto). But Caisse d'Epargne had the numbers and quickly reeled in the attackers. A group of 11 (Caisse's Joaquin Rodriguez had dropped back after pulling hard for Valverde) arrived at the sprint together and Valverde was clearly the strongest.
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