Another 1-2 for a French team this week-end. While the Cofidis boys dominated the Grand Prix Lugano in Switzerland (see link below), Brioches La Boulangere did the same in Spain, courtesy of Jérôme Pineau and Thomas Voeckler, who took spots number one and two in the 19th "Clásica de Almería", in a winning time of four hours, 50 minutes and 37 seconds.
This 187.2 km. race was held in the south of the country (from Vera to the coastal town of Almería in Andalusia) on Sunday afternoon, and marked by the low number of riders -only 20, out of 101 starters- that crossed the finishing line. Among them were two USPS' new signings, American Michael Creed but notably Spain's Benjamin Noval, who came in thirty seconds behind the french duo to score an excellent third place finish.
The race was marked by the early break started by the twenty finishers, and by strong winds, headwinds in the first part, crosswinds on the last ascent of the day, the second category Puerto de Alhama, a newcomer to the race route, where the peloton gave up the chase.
It didn’t take long for the fugitives to build up a solid gap, which went up to more than seven minutes by the first hour of racing. And by the time they hit the top of the first climb (Mirador de Carboneras, km. 44.1), the gap had increased to some ten minutes. David Muñoz (Comunitat Valenciana-Kelme) was first across the top, slightly ahead of teammate Juan Miguel Cuenca and “orange warrior” Joseba Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
More of the same in the following kilometers. When the escapees reached the first Sprint Especial at Carboneras (km. 52.5) the gap was further increased. And with close to all teams having at least one rider in the break, such race dynamics were no surprise at all. Germany’s Olaf Pollack (Gerolsteiner) won the Prime (he would be winner of the Special Sprint Classification at the end of the race too) ahead of Spain’s Julio López (Relax-Bodysol) and “Postie” Noval. On the way to the top of the third category Puerto Cajamar-Rio Ague, the front-runners extended their lead to more than a dozen minutes, but no member of the breakaway group managed to ride away from the others.
As the race progressed, both the break and the (not) chasing group slowed the pace, such that the average speed (no less than 42 kph after one hour of racing) was brought down to some 37 kph. But the gap didn’t go down at all. Quite the opposite, as it actually went up to 21’28” by km. 135, when the above mentioned Cuenca won the Hot Spot Sprint at Rioja, with De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir) second, and Cuenca’s team-mate David Muñoz (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) snatching third and securing overall victory in this minor classification.
On the next and final climb, the aforementioned Alto de Alhama, while the “chasing” peloton was “shrinking” the gap to 19’30”, there were some attacks in the leading group. José Angel Gómez Marchante believed that, after the Illes Balears team won "Challenge Illes Balears", and Comunitat Valenciana-Kelme captured the "Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana", Costa de Almería-Paternina could win the "Clásica de Almería", and consequently went on the attack; but the man’s attempt to turn his squad into the third one able to score a early season “home win” failed.
And so did successive attempts to go on a solo break from Pineau, Czech Republic’s Tomas Konecny of T-Mobile (Tour of Spain stage winner in 2001) and the previously mentioned Julio López of Relax-Bodysol. The ascent continued to break the leading peloton into pieces anyway, and Joseba Zubeldia took the KOM Prime at km. 152.8, right ahead of Gómez Marchante, Pineau, Konecny and López, leading their closest pursuer by seventeen seconds, and the main peloton by some 18 minutes. The man in orange was also crowned "King of the Mountains" of this contest.
On the following descent into Almería (most of) the leading peloton regrouped, but after they hit the finish line for the first time, and embarked on the 6.5-km. final circuit, the French duo made their winning move, and opened a winning gap over the rest of the break. Such that Jerome Pineau and Thomas Voeckler reached the finish line hand-in-hand, with the former crossing first by a few centimeters, thus winning the first edition of the race that didn’t end in a sprint.
19th Clásica de Almería (1.3; 187.2 km): Full Results
1. PINEAU, Jérôme FRA BRIOCHES LA BOULANGERE - 04h50'37" (38.649 kph)
2. VOECKLER, Thomas FRA BRIOCHES LA BOULANGERE - s.t.
3. NOVAL, Benjamín ESP U.S. POSTAL SERVICE - at 13”
4. LOPEZ, Julio ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - at 15”
5. LEUKEMANS, Björn BEL MR BOOKMAKER.COM-PALMANS - at 29”
6. GOMEZ, José Angel ESP COSTA ALMERIA-PATERNINA - at 32”
7. GARCIA, José Vicente ESP ILLES BALEARS-BANESTO - at 35”
8. DE LA FUENTE, David ESP SAUNIER DUVAL-PRODIR - at 35”
9. ZUBELDIA, Joseba ESP EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI - at 35”
10. KONECNY, Tomas CZE T-MOBILE - at 35”
11. CUENCA, Juan M. ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - at 37”
12. KLIMOV, Serguei RUS LOKOMOTIV MOSCOW - at 01'16”
13. MUÑOZ, David ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - at 01'16”
14. HIERRO, Alberto ESP CAFES BAQUE - at 01'41”
15. POLLACK, Olaf GER GEROLSTEINER - at 02'33”
16. GUERINI, Giuseppe ITA T-MOBILE - at 02'33”
17. PEÑA, Aketza ESP EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI - at 02'33”
18. LAGUNA, Oscar ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - at 02'33”
19. HARDTER, Uwe GER GEROLSTEINER - at 05'59”
20. CREED, Michael USA U.S. POSTAL SERVICE - at 05'59”
Mountains - Results
1. ZUBELDIA, Joseba ESP EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI - 16 p.
2. MUÑOZ, David ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 15 p.
3. GOMEZ, José Angel ESP COSTA ALMERIA-PATERNINA - 11 p.
4. CUENCA, Juan M. ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 10 p.
5. PINEAU, Jérôme FRA BRIOCHES LA BOULANGERE 5 p.
6. LOPEZ, Julio ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - 2 p.
7. KONECNY, Tomas CZE T-MOBILE - 1 p.
8. HIERRO, Alberto ESP CAFES BAQUE - 1 p.
Hot Spot Sprints - Results
1. CUENCA, Juan M. ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 6 p.
2. DE LA FUENTE, David ESP SAUNIER DUVAL-PRODIR - 4 p.
3. MUÑOZ, David ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 1 p.
4. LOPEZ, Julio ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - 1 p.
Special Sprints - Results
1. POLLACK, Olaf GER GEROLSTEINER - 6 p.
2. GARCIA, José Vicente ESP ILLES BALEARS-BANESTO - 3 p.
3. LEUKEMANS, Björn BEL MR. BOOKMAKER.COM-PALMANS - 2 p.
4. LOPEZ, Julio ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - 2 p.
5. CUENCA, Juan M. ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 2 p.
6. HIERRO, Alberto ESP CAFES BAQUE - 1 p.
7. NOVAL, Benjamin ESP U.S. POSTAL SERVICE - 1 p.
8. KLIMOV, Serguei RUS LOKOMOTIV MOSCOW - 1 p.
Combined Classification - Results
1. LOPEZ, Julio ESP RELAX-BODYSOL - 4 21 p.
2. CUENCA, Juan M. ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 4 21 p.
3. MUÑOZ, David ESP COM.VALENCIANA-KELME - 3 20 p.
4. HIERRO, Alberto ESP CAFES BAQUE - 3 29 p.
5. PINEAU, Jérôme FRA BRIOCHES LA BOULANGERE - 2 6 p.
6. LEUKEMANS, Björn BEL MR. BOOKMAKER.COM-PALMANS - 2 8 p.
7. GOMEZ, José Angel ESP COSTA ALMERIA-PATERN - 2 9 p.
8. GARCIA, José Vicente ESP ILLES BALEARS-BANESTO - 2 9 p.
9. NOVAL, Benjamin ESP U.S. POSTAL SERVICE - 2 10 p.
10. DE LA FUENTE, David ESP SAUNIER DUVAL-PRODIR - 2 10 p.
11. ZUBELDIA, Joseba ESP EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI - 2 10 p.