34-year-old Jason McCartney took what may well prove to be one of Discovery Channel?s final victories on European soil on Saturday, as he cruised home alone for victory on stage 14 of the Tour of Spain.
Part of a break of 11, McCartney finished 28 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer, Sweden?s Thomas Lovkvist (Francaise des Jeux) and 50 up on the favourite to win the extremely hilly stage, Amstel Gold ?07 champion Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner).
However, it was McCartney who put in a powerful attack 10 kilometres from the finish in Villacarrillo. Better known as a time triallist, after over five hours of riding through rugged terrain of eastern Andalusia, the American struck paydirt as the road suddenly smoothed out for the first time since the race had left that morning Puerto Lumbreras.
The 34 year took full advantage of the slightly less technical terrain to churn away on a large gear and open up a strong gap on the 10 other breakaways, finally crossing the line with more than enough time to celebrate his first ever victory on European soil.
His post-stage press conference was brief to the point of non-existent, but the taciturn McCartney did make one important point: that he is out of a job at the end of the year and hopefully this success will help him get another contract.
Discovery Channel?s imminent demise will indeed see McCartney and a large number of his team-mates loooking for work, and his victory will quite possibly be the last for the American squad in a three-week stage race.
The main bunch trundled across the line 10 minutes later, with Denis Menchov in 19th spot after the slight uphill finish caused a few skirmishes in the final metres and the Russian wanted to avoid getting caught on the wrong side of a split.
Sunday?s stage is far more of a challenge. The first category climb of Monachil, close to the finish in Granada, is where Alejandro Valverde lost the Vuelta last year and hopes are high that there will be a major battle on the same ascent this September.
But that is not the only danger. The descent immediately prior to Monachil, twisting, narrow and badly surfaced in places, could also see attacks go clear. It's at that point we'll find out how tired Menchov and his team are after holding the race together for the last week.
Stage 14 Tour of Spain Puerto Lumbreras - Villacarrillo 207km
1 Jason McCartney (USA) Discovery Channel 5-21-21
2 Thomas Lovkvist (Swe) Francaise des Jeux at 28sec
3 Stefan Schumacher (Ger) Gerolsteiner at 50sec
4 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Quick Step
5 Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas
6 David Garcia (Spa) Karpin-Galicia
7 Xabier Zandio (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne
8 Christian Vandevelde (USA) CSC
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
10 Phillip Deignan (Ire) Ag2R all st
106 Magnus Backstedt (Swe) Liquigas at 10-05
Overall after 14 stages
1 Denis Menchov (Russia) Rabobank 57-45-47
2 Vladimir Efimkin (Rus) Caisse D'Epargne at 2-01
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) Predictor-Lotto at 2-27
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC at 3-02
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Karpin-Galicia at 4-35
6 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 4-42
7 Vladimir Karpets (Spa) Caisse D'Epargne at 5-49
8 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Liquigas at 5-56
9 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel at 6-28
10 Carlos Barredo (Spa) Quick Step at 6-39
137 Magnus Backstedt (Ita) Liquigas at 1-26-08
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