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By Andrew Hood
Frayed nerves and frustration poured out of Carlos Sastre at the finish line of Tuesday’s hilly 10th stage, opening up raw wounds between Team CSC and Caisse d’Epargne dating back to the 2006 Tour de France.
An exasperated Sastre – third overall at 44 seconds back – couldn’t believe that it was left up to his Team CSC troops to lead the chase to trim the nine-minute difference a 15-man breakaway held midway through Tuesday’s stage.
“Caisse d’Epargne wants to win the Vuelta without working,” Sastre told reporters. “We were the ones who had to prevent Karpets and Paulinho from getting back into the race. It’s strange what (the team) did, but it’s not the first time.”
The growing gap reminded everyone of the Phonak folly in the 2006 Tour, when Caisse d’Epargne’s Oscar Pereiro regained nearly 30 minutes and jumped into the overall leader’s jersey on the flat stage into Montélimar.
Team CSC was represented by worker Nicki Sorensen while Astana put stage-winner Sergio Paulinho and Caisse d’Epargne put Russian Vladimir Karpets among the 15-man break and stood to gain the most by slipping away.
The mullet-man started the stage 15th overall at 6:50 back and, at one point rode into the virtual leader’s jersey, taking all the pressure off race leader Alejandro Valverde and putting it on Sastre’s shoulders on the up-and-down rollercoaster across Spain’s hilly Asturias region.
“We didn’t want to happen like it did during the Tour de France,” said Team CSC sport director Kim Andersen. “If you look at how the teams have worked so far in this Vuelta, we are the strongest team by far. We are not afraid to assume this responsibility.”
Andersen ordered five of his Team CSC riders on the front to trim the lead to three minutes with the final run into Santillana del Mar (the final split was 3:54) to ensure no major shakeups among the overall leaders, though Karpets did bounce into ninth overall and Paulinho into 10th.
“I’m not here to enter into polemics,” Valverde said before the start. “What we did was logical. We had a strong GC threat in the break and they didn’t have anyone. It’s their problem if they had to work.”
Caisse d’Epargne’s sport director Eusebio Unzue firmly defended his team’s tactics.
“The best defense sometimes is a strong offense,” Unzue said. “We put one of our riders into the break to take the pressure off the team. That is basic cycling tactics.”
Sastre and Unzue spoke by phone ahead of Wednesday’s start to try to clear the air.
The “polemica” reminded everyone of the farcical end to the 2006 Tour, when Pereiro was gifted nearly 30 minutes by Phonak. Later, when Floyd Landis attacked into Morzine to vault back into overall contention, critics pointed fingers at Caisse d’Epargne and Team CSC for not collaborating soon enough to reel in the hard-charging American.
Team CSC accused Caisse d’Epargne of not working and when CSC did put up a chase, it was too late to reel in Landis. Sastre pulled within 12 seconds of the yellow jersey, but faded in the final time trial to finish fourth. Pereiro lost the Tour in a final TT battle to Landis.
Doping tests would eventually do the work that Caisse d’Epargne didn’t do and Pereiro – back to gregario duty in the service of Valverde – is poised to become outright Tour winner if Landis cannot demonstrate his innocence before USADA.
Most observers agreed Sastre simply lost his nerve at the end of the nervous stage.
“I think what they did was a good tactic,” said Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel. “Part of defending a race leader’s jersey is doing as little work as possible when you don’t have to. They had Karpets in the break and he was the best-placed in the group, so what they did was very smart.”
Menchov pulls out
Russia’s defending champion Denis Menchov (Rabobank) pulled out before the start of the Wednesday’s 11th stage at the Vuelta a España.
Team officials said it was stomach problems, but Menchov was showing none of the form that carried him onto the podium last year, languishing in 67th at 47 minutes behind race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne).
Menchov was awarded overall victory for the 2005 Vuelta after Roberto Heras was disqualified for testing positive for the banned blood-booster EPO.
Astarloa, Jalabert move on
Former world champion Igor Astarloa has signed a two-year contract to ride for Milram, the Italian-German team announced Wednesday.
Astarloa, 30, who won the rainbow jersey in 2003, won the Milan-Turin race this year for Barloworld. Astarloa will give the team a solid classics base to go along with sprint specialists Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel.
Nicolas Jalabert, meanwhile, is the latest Phonak rider to find a new job for next season with Agritubel.
With the Phonak team folding as a result of the Floyd Landis doping scandal at the end of this season, riders and staff are scrambling to find contracts.
Season over for DeanThe season is over for Kiwi sprinter Julian Dean (Credit Agricole) after crashing in Tuesday’s stage at the Tour of Poland. Dean, 31, suffered fractures to his right hand and ligament damage that will likely require surgery, his team announced. –Agence France Presse