US Postal Service Team Report
Pena and Armstrong Shine at Murcia
It was a successful final two stages for the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, at the Tour of Murcia stage race, which concluded today in Murcia. Yesterday, Victor Hugo Pena delivered the team's first victory of the season by taking the difficult 167 kilometer fourth stage to Alto de la Santa while today, Lance Armstrong displayed his early season form by placing second in the fifth and final stage, a 12.9 km time trial - two seconds back of stage and overall winner Javier Pascual Llorente of Kelme.
Pena, who won the event last year, finished sixth overall, 49 seconds back of Llorente. The USPS' Roberto Heras was next for the team in 18th place, 2:53 back, while Armstrong finished in 32nd place overall, 9:42 back. The team's only other finisher was Steffen Kjaergaard , who placed 40th, 11:15 back. Three other USPS riders - George Hincapie , Michael Barry and Dave Zabriskie - were unable to finish the event.
"Overall, it was a good week for us," said the team's director sportif, Johan Bruyneel. "It was big relief to get our first win of the season after such a tough start with all of our injuries and sickness. Victor rode really well yesterday and today, Lance was only beat by the rider in the leader's jersey. It was a good performance for Lance for this time of the year and it was a good course for him for a first big test.
"We decided that in all the time trial events he races, Lance would go 100% simply because there are not many opportunities to do a test in a time trial this year. He will do another one in Circuit de la Sarthe and then at the Dauphine Libere, which gives him only three time trials before the Tour."
Armstrong was also pleased with his performance at Murcia.
"It was good to get back to Murcia after missing last year," Armstrong said. "It's a great race to start the season with although I admit that this year was much harder than my previous experience. The riders were more aggressive and the courses were hillier and windier. Overall, I'm happy with the way it went.
"My fitness is where it needs to be if not a little ahead. I'll have another chance to test it in the Semana Catalana in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I'll spend my time training hard."
Armstrong was also impressed with Pena's winning effort yesterday in a stage that included five climbs, including the third category Alto de la Santa to finish the race. "For the second year in a row, Victor gave us our first victory," Armstrong said. "I've never seen him look so good. Whoa...he deserved this victory."
Meanwhile, Max Van Heeswijk led the team's effort in the 4.8 km prologue of Paris-Nice today in Issy-les-Moulineaux, placing 16 seconds behind winner Nico Mattan of Cofidis.
FINAL GC, TOUR OF MURCIA
1. Javier Pascual Llorente, Kelme-Costa Blanca; 15:58:18
2. Jan Hruska, ONCE-Eroski; at :17
3. Haimar Zubeldia, Euskaltel-Euskadi; at :23