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The weekend before the start of the Tour de France is traditionally the time for national titles to be contested, with riders setting out in races all over Europe and beyond in the hope that they can carry their country's colours into next week's big race. But this year things haven't gone the way of the favourites, with unexpected winners cropping up all over, nowhere more so than in Germany, where 18-year old Gerald Ciolek took the bunch sprint ahead of Gerolsteiner's Robert Forster and T-Mobile veteran Erik Zabel.
A flat course in Mannheim was always likely to produce a sprint finish, but no one surely could have predicted Ciolek getting the better of much more experienced riders from the ProTour teams. Add in the fact that Telekom/T-Mobile have provided the winner for this title every year since 1993, and it seemed a good bet than one of Andreas Kloeden's team-mates would succeed him as champion. T-Mobile had no less than 15 riders lining up, and worked all day to set up the finish for Zabel, only to see Ciolek come from nowhere to steal the show.
1 Gerald Ciolek (Akud Arnolds Sicherheit) 204km in 4.25.21
2 Robert Frster (Gerolsteiner)
3 Erik Zabel (T-Mobile)
4 Sebastian Siedler (Wiesenhof)
5 Lars Teutenberg (Sparkasse)
Alejandro Valverde was the overwhelming favourite for the Spanish title on home ground in Murcia, but he and his Illes Balears' team-mates were upstaged by Juanma Garate, who took the title easily in a two-up sprint with defending champion Paco Mancebo.
Garate attacked the lead group 5km from the finish, but Mancebo got across to him. The Illes Balears rider led out the sprint, but Garate, fifth in the recent Giro, breezed by for a timely win for his Saunier Duval team going into the Tour. Balears had some consolation in Ivan Gutierrez's successful defence of the time trial title on Saturday.
1 Juan Manuel Garate (Saunier Duval-Prodir) 231km in 5.55.27
2 Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears)
3 Jordi Berenguer (Catalunya-Angel Mir) 0.18
4 Koldo Gil (Liberty Seguros)
5 Sergio Dominguez (Spiuk)
6 Adolfo Garcia Quesada (Comunitat Valenciana) 0.31
7 Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval)
8 Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears) 0.37
9 Angel Edo (Saunier Duval)
10 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak)
Better news for T-Mobile in Kazakhstan where Alexandre Vinokourov won his national title ahead of Capec's Andrei Mizourov and Crdit Agricole's Andrei Kashechkin.
Davitamon-Lotto's Leon van Bon was one of two big winners for his team. The Dutchman took his second national title a couple of seconds ahead of Rabobank's Steven de Jongh, with Discovery Channel's Max van Heeswijk third. In Belgium, the jersey went to Serge Baguet, who beat MrBookmaker's Kevin van Impe, with Nico Sijmens a few seconds back in third.
Phonak took the top two places in Switzerland, where Martin Elmiger repeated his victory of 2001, this time finishing ahead of team-mate Alexandre Moos, with Gerolsteiner's Marcel Strauss third.
procycling columnist Frank Hoj was denied a podium finish in Denmark by a dominating performance from Team CSC. Lars Ytting Bak took the title, with Lars Michaelsen second and the very promising Matti Breschel third.
An extremely tough course in Boulogne saw climbers to the fore during the French championship. Bouygues Telecom had no less than 25 starters in the race and weight of numbers meant they kept control throughout and ended with the top two finishers on the podium. Victory went to Pierrick Fedrigo, who broke clear on his own late in the race, with Laurent Brochard second and Nicolas Jalabert third. Sandy Casar, who crashed heavily in Thursday's time trial was a creditable sixth - a good sign for him before the Tour.
1 Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom) 232km in 5.48.59
2 Laurent Brochard (Bouygues Telecom) 1.38
3 Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak)
4 John Gadret (Jartazi) 2.46
5 Sbastien Joly (Crdit Agricole) 3.07
6 Sandy Casar (Franaise des Jeux) 3.27
7 Christophe Moreau (Crdit Agricole) 6.58
8 Christophe Mengin (Franaise des Jeux)
9 Sylvain Calzati (Ag2r) 7.00
10 Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) 7.21
There was another surprise winner in Italy, where 23-year-old Liquigas-Bianchi sprinter Enrico Gasparotto relegated Filippo Pozzato to second place in the bunch sprint, with Massimo Giunti third.
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