Fran Ventoso (Movistar) sprinted to victory Wednesday and snagged the leader’s jersey to open the five-day Vuelta a Castilla y León in northern Spain.
Movistar took over from Saxo Bank and Euskaltel-Euskadi in the 179km opening stage from Rioseco to Palencia to reel in the day’s seven-man breakaway and put Ventoso in position to kick to victory. Manuel Belletti (Colnago-CSF) crossed the line second, with Marco Kump (Geox-TMC) claiming third.
The victory was good for Ventoso’s third of the season and Movistar’s seventh.
“You could say that Castilla y León is my lucky charm. With this, I have won five times here, so it fits me right,” Ventoso said. “I was going to race Roubaix, but Eusebio Unzué decided to change my calendar at the last minute for Amorebieta and Castilla. It appears he has a magic wand … today the team was once again sensational. We spoke at the team meeting to try to break the race apart on the final climb. The final sprint was a little long for me, because there was a headwind.”
Most of the GC favorites finished safely in the front group that did split under pressure from Movistar on the final circuits into Palencia. Finishing last was Juan Maurico Soler (Movistar), who faded out of contention at 3:04 back after crashing just before the final climb.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) finished 15th with the same time as the winner in his first race since winning the Volta a Catalunya last month.
“Today started off easy, then there was a break of seven riders that cost us a little, but we saved the day without too many problems. I had two flats, which doesn’t happen very often, but it’s better to have them now on a quiet day,” Contador said. “You cannot draw any conclusions today. I didn’t really have to go at the maximum at any point today. I still have a little bit of the cold I was suffering from the other day, but we didn’t push hard enough today to make any conclusions.”
Ventoso and the sprinters will another chance in Thursday’s 213km stage from Valladolid to Salamanca.
“Now we can look at tomorrow,” Ventoso said. “I won in Salamanca in 2007. It’s a finish that climbs a little bit at the end and that’s good for me. I hope we’re up for the job tomorrow.”