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"Meersman had a lot more speed than I did in the final 200m, but I'm happy with a podium. The team has placed a lot of confidence in me this year, and I would have liked to pay them back with a victory. After Tirreno-Adriatico last...

Photo: Liquigas-Cannondale






18.03.2013 @ 22:46 Posted by Jesper Johannesen

Valerio Agnoli (Astana) was on domestique duties in today's first stage of the Volta a Catalunya where his work should set up sprinter Andrea Guardini for a victory. In the end his position near the front of the peloton meant that he was left to fight for a personal result.


Astana is one of very few teams to have brought a pure sprinter to this year's Volta a Catalunya, and even though today's first stage contained a number of climbs, an in-form Andrea Guardini looked for an opportunity to showcase his impressive speed. As a consequence, he asked his team to contribute to the chase of the day's early break.


One of those tasked with the pace-making duties was loyal domestique Valerio Agnoli. Hence, he stayed near the front of the peloton on the final climb of the day to make sure that no surprise attack could detroy Guardini's chances.


That position ended up handing him a chance to go for his own success. When Bradley Wiggins (Sky) put the hammer down on the subsequent descent, he was well-placed to join the 13-man group which ended up in the front. Known as an excellent descender often seen escorting former team leader Ivan Basso, he stayed in contact with the leaders as the only member of his team.


According to the Italian, a crash caused the decisive split.


"Sky was protecting their riders after a small crash, and they got away with two or three other really important guys before anybody could react," Agnoli said after the stage.


With the team's original plans ruined, Agnoli was left to fight for himself. He produced a solid sprint effort and was only beaten by renowned sprinter Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).


The Italian was one of a select few teammates to follow Vincenzo Nibali from Liquigas to Astana. He was happy to pay back the confidence shown by his new squad.


"Meersman had a lot more speed than I did in the final 200m, but I'm happy with a podium," he said. "The team has placed a lot of confidence in me this year, and I would have liked to pay them back with a victory. After Tirreno-Adriatico last week I feel good and will look forward to another day in Spain and another chance tomorrow."


Sports director Dimitri Sedoun was happy to see Agnoli be competitive among a number of highly skilled GC favourites.


"Wiggins, Rodriguez, Gesink, Valverde - these riders can all win in the mountains," he said. "Bravo to Agnoli for sticking in with them and playing his cards smartly with second place today."


While the team was happy to see Agnoli step onto the podium, their GC chances were dealt a heavy blow as team leader Jakob Fuglsang remained in the main peloton and lost 28 seconds to a number of his main rivals. It will be hard for the Dane to get back into contention for an overall top result.


Tomorrow the race continues with a 162 km stage. Finishing with a number of laps of an almost flat circuit, the stage seems suited to sprinters, and Guardini will get a chance for revenge. Starting at 15.15, you can follow all he action on



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