BANYOLES, Spain (VN) – Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre) kicked to a morale-boosting victory in Tuesday’s 168km second stage at the Volta a Catalunya (Tour of Catalunya) for his first win of the 2011 season.
A day after leading the bunch across the line second behind breakaway winner Gatis Smukulis (HTC-Highroad) in Monday’s opener, “Ale-Jet” made easy work of José Rojas (Movistar) to win for the first time since last year’s Vuelta a España.
Smukulis came in with the main bunch to carry his leader’s jersey into Wednesday’s decisive climbing stage into Andorra. There were no major shakeups in the overall standings and Tom Peterson (Garmin-Cervélo) retained his fifth place at 28 seconds off the pace.
“It’s been a tough start to the season. Milan-San Remo just wasn’t possible for me. I have pretty good condition. I was second in a stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and second yesterday, so it’s always good to win. As a sprinter, you have pressure to win a lot,” Petacchi said. “I just needed some luck. Today the team worked perfectly.”
A four-man breakaway peeled away in the early going to carry a lead over the day’s main hurdle at a first-category climb midway through the stage. They held a narrow, one-minute coming into five laps on a finishing circuit at Banyoles and the sprinter teams finished off the work to set up their fast men.
Smukulis defends the lead
Smukulis hung tough to keep the jersey and HTC-Highroad did its work to defend his 28-second lead that he carved out in Monday’s breakaway victory.
“With 28 seconds, of course we were going to work to defend the leader’s jersey. Gatis was very tired from yesterday’s effort, but today’s stage wasn’t as hard, so he was motivated to keep the jersey if he could,” HTC sport director Allan Peiper told VeloNews. “Yesterday was a good day to try a breakaway. I told the guys, if you get into a breakaway, ride to win it because we knew there wouldn’t be a lot of organization in the group. Gatis got in the break and he rode it perfectly. It’s a huge win for him.”
The main GC riders were holding back their fire ahead of Wednesday’s important summit finish in Andorra. Brent Bookwalter (BMC) said the team rode to protect team captain Cadel Evans and keep his GC options open.
“It was relatively uneventful today, a breakaway went early and the peloton set a normal tempo. It was a pretty technical circuit, so we got lucky with the rain, because it would have been pretty bad in the wet,” Bookwalter said after the stage. “This is my first race back with Cadel, so it’s good to be back with him again. We’re getting used to each other again and I am looking forward to working with him the rest of the week. Tomorrow will be a big test, with that big climb at the end.”
The Volta turns north Wednesday for the decisive, 183.9km five-climb stage that concludes high in the principality of Andorra. The uphill finale will likely crown the overall winner of the 2011 Volta.
The stage starts in the rolling Catalan hills at La Vall d’En Bas and gets steep right away, with two first-category climbs in the opening 80km. After a long descent to the valley at La Seu d’Urgell, the course hits a first-category climb before the final “especial” summit at 1865 meters at the Coll de Pal at the Vallnord ski area.
“You can win the Volta tomorrow, but you can still lose it somewhere else,” Chris Horner (RadioShack) told VeloNews. “I know the climb from the Vuelta a few years ago. It’s hard enough to make some differences. Whoever wins there should have enough of a lead to hold it to Sunday. It depends if they will have the team to defend it.”
Most of the main GC contenders are knotted up at 28 seconds behind Smukulis, with the exception of Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre (Geox-TMC), who both lost time in Monday’s first stage.
Smukulis knows his dream run in the leader’s jersey is all but over.
“Everyone in the peloton knows that tomorrow we will not be riding to defend the leader’s jersey,” Peiper said. “We’ll see who has the legs tomorrow to take the jersey. It’s not an easy stage.”