Welcome to this afternoon's live coverage of Round 7 in the World Cup - the Classica San Sebastian, Spain. You can find a complete preview in "Related Articles" at the end of this article.
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There are ten rounds in the competition which begins on March 23 in Italy with the San Remo and ends with the race of the falling leaves, the Giro di Lombardi, on October 19th.
The first 25 riders in each race are awarded points: The winner gets 100 points, second place 70, third place 50, fourth 40, 36, 32, 28, 24, 20, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point, respectively.
So it is a real test for the riders to prove who is most consistent over an entire season in the hardest one day races Europe has to offer.
After last weekend's thrilling Hew Cyclassic the situation was this:
1 Johan Museeuw (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites 270 pts
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 174
3 George Hincapie (USA) US Postal Service 124
4 Peter Van Petegem (Bel) Lotto-Adecco 121
5 Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua & Sapone-Cantina Tollo 120
6 Andrea Tafi (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 109
7 Michele Bartoli (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 100
8 Jo Planckaert (Bel) Cofidis 83
9 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Saeco-Longoni Sport 82
10 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Domo-Farm Frites 79
11 Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step 77
12 Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Fassa Bortolo 70
Van Petegem, Cipollini, Tafi and Ivanov are not riding today so the leader board will probably change a great deal after today's race.
The San Sebastian is a hilly course. The major difficulty awaits the riders at 119 k. with the infamous Jaizkibel.
As with the rest of Europe the weather is not good today in San Sebastian - and the race has been dominated so far by two escapees.
The weather in Spain is making coverage very difficult today, please bear with us...
Axel Merckx said this morning that he hopes to be able to help Museeuw win today - and he is happy to be riding next season with riders of the quality of Van Petegem, Verbrugghe, McEwen and Baguet.
Merckx of course, finished second in the race in 1998 to one of today's favourites, Francesco Casagrande.
Today though he will be riding for the Lion Of Flanders, Museeuw.
To many people today Bettini is favourite - and it is sure that Museeuw will be keeping a close eye on him.
Meanwhile, two men have escaped after only 8 kilometres of racing. There are 70 kilometres to go, and Constantino Zaballa (Kelme) and Juan Miguel Mercado (Banesto) now have a lead of around 8.30.
The lead was a massive 15 minutes at one stage but it is now diminishing rapidly - it is overcast and grey as Mercado talks to his team car.
Mercado, who rode originally for the Vitalicio Seguros team, has had a good season so far. He won a stage an overall of the Vuelta Ciclista a Castilla y Léon 2002 and won the Vuelta a Burgos last year.
The weather seems to be improving - but a cloudy sky is not what you expect in Spain at this time of the year.
Constantino Zaballa Guttierez, the Kelme rider, became a pro last year for the Kelme team - he has had one success so far when he won the first stage of the Tour of Portugal last season - he was born on 15 May 1978 and rode in this year's Tour de France.
The two men now have a lead of 7'50'' over the peloton with around 65 kilometres to go - it is quite surprising that a rider of Mercado's quality should be allowed to escape and build such a huge lead.
Meanwhile back at the peloton, it is Gerolsteiner at the front - they will be working for Rebellin, who gained his first victory of the season on Wednesday at the GP Citta de Camaiore - but so far the pace of the peloton is not that high.
The peloton swoops down a small wooded hill; the scenery in this part of the world is almost North European in its aspect.
Only 52 kilometres to go - and it is still Gerolsteiner doing all the work at the front of the peloton, while the Phonak and Fassa teams move up to help out the chase.
The two leaders are looking a little tired at the front - the average speed so far is around 38 kph - a little on the "slow" side but no doubt things will start to speed up very quckly as the finish looms.
Indeed, with the two leaders beginning to look a little tired, the lead has dropped down to 5' 50'' - as the Postal come towards the front and Georg Totschnig for Gerolsteiner sets the pace - 4'40 '' the lead is falling as dramatically as it grew earlier on.
Now Armstrong, Floyd Landis by his side, is up near the front of the race, just behind that mighty work horse for Gerolsteiner, Toschnig. 48 kilometres to go - the lead down to 4 minutes - specks of rain starting again.
On the foothills of the famous Jaizkibel...in the distance, the blue ocean has white Spanish horses dancing across its surface.
Museeuw has stood on 27 podiums in the World Cup series over the years - but it is the US Postal Sevice who now have all the team at the front of the peloton.
44 kilometres to go, the Jaizkibel will shortly sort the men from the boys - meanwhile not forgetting the two "foyards" Constantino Zaballa and Juan Miguel Mercado who still have a lead of around 3'30''.
Landis, White and Ekimov lead the peloton, while the camera sweeps back to last year's winner, Jaja - looking composed and comfortable near the front of the group - but now Virenque and Mapei up the pace and take over from the Postal at the front.
The lead has dropped down to 1'25'' with 40 kilometres to go - the lead has fallen like a lead balloon!
Postal mark out the Mapei men and take over the lead of the peloton - the riders are getting nervous now - the favourites must keep to the front of the nervous peloton.
And now an attack by Kivilev for Cofidis at the foot of the climb!
He will quickly catch the escapees - and now Kivilev is within sight of the two Spaniards - he goes straight past - new leader on the road - Kivilev!
Andrei Kivilev has built a lead of 15 seconds on the peloton which is now led by Gerolsteiner.
The Jaizkibel is only 476 metres - but the attacks will start quickly now - it is Jalabert putting the pressure on; he is causing all sorts of problems to the peloton.
Still Kivilev at the front - he looks determined and cool as two men have bridged the gap to him...Astarloa has made the gap, as has Jalabert.
6 men at the front of the race now - they have 15 seconds on the peloton.
Missaglia and Sastre (CSC), Igor Astarloa (Saeco), Raffaele Ferrara, Jalabert and Kivilev in the lead.
The gap now up to 18 seconds.
While it is Armstrong who takes the front of the peloton - forcing the pressure - Rebellin just behind him, Casagrande also there.
Ferrara loses contact with the leaders at the front of the race - their lead down to 12 seconds.
The peloton is now scattered over the hillside. Missaglia leads the escapees as they wind their way up the Jaizkibel. CSC will be pleased with the Jalabert-Sastre combination at the front...
The leaders are working together as they approach the top of the climb. The leaders have around 20 seconds on a group of 15 chasers - with another 30 chasers 15 seconds behind them.
Di Luca, Rebellin, Basso are in the second group of chasers as they swoop down the descent.
The leading group hit 75 kph as they sweep down towards the coast - they still have the Alto De Gurutze Cat. 3 to climb - the race is in the balance - will the peloton catch the escapees?
29 kilometres to go - big crash!!! A US Postal rider is down!
He has gone over the crash barrier - Armstrong is still chasing with Casagrande and Rebellin - three winners of the race are counter attacking.
It is Hincapie down - he is behind the crash barrier - being attended to by the medics.
He is conscious and has sat up now, so hopefully not too badly hurt.
Still the leaders sweep down. Sastre seems to have lost contact with the front men.
Missaglia, Astarloa, Jalabert and Kivilev at the front - Sastre is just behind.
41 the lead - and it looks as if Frigo has managed to cross the gap to the leaders.
48 seconds the gap, as the leaders approach the Alto De Gurutze.
Missaglia, Astarloa, Jalabert and Kivilev, Sastre and Frigo are working together to try and stretch their lead.
They are doing just that - their lead is now up to a minute.
The peloton is down to around 40 men, and a small group of around 6 men break off the front...
Sastre has again lost contact with the leaders - Missaglia is looking very lively today, as is Astarloa. The peloton is all back together with Fassa at the front.
Gerolsteiner also help out at the front of the peloton - Jalabert in the lead group - looking calm and composed as he sets the pace at the front of the race. The lead is increasing; it is now 1'10''. The breakaway is looking good to succeed.
Now at the top of the Alto De Gurutze - Cat. 3, there are just 13 kilometres to go.
And now the leaders cross the top of the climb - the sky grey and angry. Astarloa rubs his legs to avoid cramp - the lead is now 1'04'' on the peloton - 13 kilometres to go.
Through the little town of Oiartzun - red-tiled houses neat and orderly, and the escapees are working together well.
Jalabert - no expression. Kivilev, determined to prove a point after his poor showing in the Tour. Astarloa - to many a favourite for the race after his strong showing last week - meanwhile it is Mapei who lead the peloton.
9 kilometres to go - the escapees look focused and determined.
The peloton still Mapei-led with just 8 kilometres to go.
The lead is still 57 seconds while the camera looks to Freire at the front of the peloton. Cadel Evans puts the hammer down in an attempt to pull the leaders back.
1'05'' the lead now - 7 kilometres to go as the leaders press on into the outskirts of the town.
1''02'' - only 5 kilometres to go. Missaglia, Astarloa, Jalabert and Kivilev, Sastre and Frigo - who will win?
Jalabert, last year's winner, still looking very composed - Astarloa, just beaten last week by mighty Museeuw, will be looking for victory. 4 kilometres to go, the lead still one minute.
1'06'' the gap now, as Astarloa and Frigo work together at the front - while Di Luca attacks from the peloton. The 5 leaders still working together - they will not make the mistake of getting caught with only 2k to go.
It looks like they have agreed to work together until the flamme rouge.
Missaglia, Astarloa, Jalabert and Kivilev, Sastre and Frigo go under the flamme rouge - and still they work together. Jalabert drops to the back.
500 metres to go - still no move from the riders.
Kivilev at the front, 300 metres to go.
Kivilev attacks, Astarloa. but it is Jalabert who comes from the back to take the victory! Jalabert wins for the second year running!
Jalabert, Astarloa, Missaglia - what an incredible ride by Jalabert!
Meanwhile Bettini seems to be the highest placed of the World Cup contenders.
An incredible 5 man sprint - Jalabert used his experience - let the others start the move and made his late charge from the back - he even had time to touch Astarloa with his hand to tell him he was coming through!
1 Laurent Jalabert (Fra) CSC
2 Igor Astarloa (Spa) Saeco
3 Gabriele Missaglia (Ita) Lampre
4 Andrei Kivilev (Kaz) Cofidis
5 Dario Frigo (Ita) Tacconi
6 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco
7 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Mapei
Museeuw will hold onto his World Cup lead, with Bettini closing the gap, and Astarloa moving up the ratings.
We will try and post news on Hincapie as soon as we hear - thanks for reading and see you next week in Zurich for Round 8!