ROBINSON EQUAL 2nd AFTER 4 DAYS
AFTER four of the 17 stages of the 1956 1,990-mile Tour of Spain, biggest event in the country's cycling history, with the top professional roadmen from most of the leading Continental nations, Britain's hero of last year's Tour de France, Brian Robinson, lay equal second on time along with Van Steenbergen and Impanis, of Belgium; Louison and Jean Bobet and Bauvin, of France; Bahamontes, Lorono and Botella, of Spain; and the great Swiss all-rounder, Hugo Koblet. All these men were 2 min. 53 sec. in arrears of race leader Conterno, of Italy
Britain's two other representatives, Ian Steel, star of our full team in Spain last year before his retirement due to loneliness, and Tony Hoar, Lanterne Rouge of the 1955 Tour de France, fared not so well. Steel was thirty-third at 16 min. 17 sec., and Hoar was .at his old familiar job of bringing up the rear, seventy-fourth, 1 hr. 35 min. 21 sec. behind Conterno.
One of the most incredible aspects of this newest of great Continental tours, now rivalling the Giro d'Italia for second import behind the Tour de France, is the strength of public support. Ninety thousand people saw the start at Bilbao on Thursday and many hundreds of thousands lined the roads for the 125-mile first stage to Santander.
But although the crowds turned out the sun stayed in. Rain pelted the riders all the way and on the slippery roads there was not one decisive move before a group of 51 charged up for the final sprint.
As was be expected, it was a day for roadmen-sprinters, and from the Melee came daddy of them all, Van Steenbergen, for a familiar-style victory over Spain's leading exponent of the mad last dash, Miguel Poblet.
Two of the Britons performed well on this first day,Robinson and Steel finished equal sixth with the main bunch in the same time as the winner, Robinson especially being impressive in recovering after a puncture at 10 miles.
As on the first day. Spain did not live up to its reputation for burning skies and temperatures near the hundreds on the second. Rain fell with dreary steadiness as the field swung from Santander over the 155 miles to Oviedo.
Equally dreary was the racing; all the breaks were initiated by riders of secondary importance. and the only man to deserve any plaudits during the bulk of the stage was the Spaniard Escolano, who went away at 60 miles, piled up a 9 min. lead and was only pulled back 24 miles before the finish suffering considerably from the effects of rain and cold. More logical on such a day was the move of the eventual winner, Conterno, with only 15 miles to go—he sped away alone and quickly increased his lead to finish I min. 12 sec. ahead of Spaniard Bover, with 35 riders, including Robinson and Steel and the star names, placed equal 6th.
Things livened up considerably on the third day, a 113-mile stage from Oviedo to Valladolid. Conterno was wearing the yellow race leader's jersey, but it was not to be expected that he would retain it until the end, and the activities of the big men gave an indication of what was to come after the early settling-in stages with the advent of more encouraging weather.
Fourteen men got clear and finished 4 min. 35 sec. ahead of the main bunch. They were Koblet, Robinson, Poblet, Bahamontes, Lorono, Botella, the Bobet brothers, Bauvin, Italians Conterno and Falacci, Van Steenbergen and Impanis, and last year's winner Jean Dotto, and it was widely anticipated that from these will come the eventual winner of the 1956 Gran Primo."
Robinson, although be has ridden respectably already on the Continent this year, surprised everybody by his strength and tenacity at speed. He remains always at the heels of the Swiss-British team captain Koblet, who is very satisfied with his performance so far.
Steel could not hold the pace of the big men once they got moving, and finished with the main group at 4-35, as did Hoar.
The decisive move began with 30 miles to go through the efforts of Louison Bobet, who found that he had a string of 13 firmly attached behind and intent and seemingly capable of staving there. But with 18 miles to go Bobet attacked again, taking this time only brother Jean and Van Steenbergen on his wheel. The trio gained a 300-yard lead, and during the last six miles there was a superlative battle. which ended in them being pulled back after a desperate chase instigated and maintained notably by Robinson and the four Spaniards. Came the final sprint and Poblet, by a little rough riding, managed to gain the verdict over Van Steenbergen.
Odd note for Spain : the first category Puerto de Pajaces climb was cut out due to the amount of snow at the summit!
Two men made the biggest interest of the fourth. stage, 137 miles from Valladolid to , the capital, Madrid. They were Dotto - who this time last year was riding himself in and gradually building up for the grand slam that was to bring him victory - sick, dropped, more than 10 min. down; and Robinson, still among the leaders, still strong and staying with Koblet and Bobet in the attacks.
Robinson eventually finished sixth on this day, 10 sec. behind Le Ber, of France, who beat Spaniard Bover in a two-up sprint, and in the same time as Poblet, Padovan and Van Steenbergen, with the big bunch behind.
Again the stage was comparatively dull. Even the major climb of Alto de los Leones with 30 miles to go produced no decisive move, although on it Steel dropped back, losing a lot of time and crossing the line eventually 9 min. 1 see. down on the winner. Hoar had fallen behind before the climb and finished last. Another man to -fall back on the ascent was Van Steenbergen, but he was immediately waited for ' and shepherded by team mates Impanis and Sorgeloos, and the trio got back to the leaders 10 min. before the finish.
STAGE 1 (Bilbao-Santander, 126 miles). - Van Steenbergen, Belgium, 5-47-26, 1; Poblet, Smin, 2; Boyer, Spain, 3; Iturat, Spain, 4; Botella, Spain, 5; Robinson, Steel, Bobet, Koblet, Impanis, etc,, equal 6; Hoar, at 24-52, 78
STAGE 2 (Santander-Oviedo, 155 miles). - Conterno, Italy. 8-14-15, 1-, Boyer, at 1-12, 2; Marigil, Spain, at 2-9, 3; Padovan, Italy, at 2-53, 4; Sorge-loos, Belgium, 5; Robinson, Steel and 33 others including favourites, equal 6. General classification - Conterno
STAGE 3 (Oviedo-Valladolid, 113 miles). - Poblet, 4-26-8, 1; Van Steenbergen, 2; Koblet, 3; Conterno, 4; L Bobet, 5; Falacci, Italy, 6; Robinson, 10; Steel and Hoar, at 4-35, equal 18. General classification - Conterno, 18-27-49, 1; Robinson and 10,others, at 2-53, equal 2; Steel. at 7-26, 14; Hoar. at 1-8-26, 81
STAGE 4 (Valladolid-Madrid. 131 miles). - Le Ber, France, 5-39-25, 1; Boyer, 2; Poblet, at 10 sec., 3: Padovan, 4; Van Steenbergen, 5; Robinson, 6; Steel, at 9-1, 58; Hoar, at 27-5, 74
ROBINSON’S BAD LUCK
THE Tour of Spain became a race of violent action after a calm, and much criticized, first week, and Yorkshireman Brian Robinson, already among the leaders, was playing a notable part when a puncture checked his effort to gain an advantage over many great men of stage racing. This occurred on the second-half stage of the tenth racing day, 133 km. from Barcelona to Tarrega. The battle flared up at 60 km., on the Alto Los mountain climb. when Spaniards Botella and Lorono attacked with Bauvin, Robinson and Conterno, who had been leader on general classification from the end of stage 2. But on the climb Robinson punctured—the other four stayed ahead to the finish and Bauvin won from Botella and Conterno, who thus drew away from several key challengers. Impanis was in the next group of six at 56 sec., but the main peloton, with Robinson and his Swiss captain Koblet; Poblet and Louison Bober were 4 min. 50 sec. in arrears. Bobet was suffering from sickness.
General classification Sunday night was : Conterno, 56-12-33,1; Bauvin, at 2-56, 2; Bahamontes, at 3-47, 3; Botella and Lorono 'at 4-19; 4; Im- panis, at 4-44, 6; J. and L. Bobet, at 7-48, 7; Falaschi, at 7-57, 9; Koblet, at 8-25, 10; Van Steenbergen, at 8-46, 11; Robinson, at 8-50, 12.
THE first part the Tour of Spain finished at Tarragone, where the riders got their first rest-day. During the early stages it was practically impossible to start a decisive move because the speed was too high and because of the active supervision by the "stars" Therefore, only the first-class riders could maintain place and follow day after day.
The final victory should be disputed only among these 10 riders, the strongest of the field. They are : Conterno, Falaschi, Van Steenbergen, Impanis, Louison and Jean Bobet, Bauvin, Bahamontes, Koblet and Robinson. Everybody is surprised to find Brian Robinson in such. a first-class tried field, including Tour de France and Tour of Italy winners, world champions, winners of the most important classic road races, kings of the mountain. etc. Many of the well-known riders dropped back during the first stages, but Robinson is always there, discreet, circumspect but very strong and efficient. He is always in the first places of the group and he always follows easily when the big bosses are starting violent battles during the last 30 km. of the stages, writes our foreign correspondent.
Robinson is in excellent health, always smiling and confident.. If he is not too unlucky in the future, he will certainly finish the race in an excellent position. His team manager, the Frenchman Raymond Louviot, and the road captain, Hugo Koblet, are quite sure he will -be placed in the first 10 at the final classification.
Of course, the Vuelta da Espana will really begin only at the 13th stage. From Bayonne to Bilbao, during the last five stages, the riders will find each day at least two mountains and also a 42-km. time trial. Louviot, who is an excellent technical director (he was a good-class rider and managed from after the war the well-known French trade-team " Gitane ") will certainly give good advice to Robinson concerning the gears to be used in the mountain and he is quite sure that the British rider will climb in good condition.
From Madrid (terminus of the fourth stage), the Spanish sun shone again, and the stages finished always with a sprint between Van Steenbergen and Poblet, the two fastest riders of the field.
During the first part of the race Van Steenbergen and Poblet each scored three victories, and the caravan of followers had the impression of assisting at a point-to-point race on a track with sprints every two laps.
However, the Belgian rider was very unlucky. In the fifth stage, from Madrid to Albacete, Rik got a puncture with only 10 km. to go in the height of the battle. The other riders did not await the dangerous Belgian, and Rik had to start a violent chase to catch them with only 1 km. to go. After this violent effort, Van Steenbergen was too tired, and he couldn't do better than finish second, half a wheel behind Poblet. In this stage, Ian Steel seemed to be very exhausted and finished about 2 min. behind the group, after he had dropped back when the violent battle began after Rik's puncture.
During the sixth stag--, from Albacete to Alicante, Van Steenbergen was still unlucky.This time he punctured with only 2 km. to go. He immediately took Couvreur's bicycle, but it was too late for him to dispute the final sprint and he could only finish at the end of the first bunch. Again Ian Steel dropped back in the last kilometres. Tony Hoar is the perfect "domestique". Tony has only one instruction: when he is too tired he has to reach the finish without effort on the condition that he remains in.
In the seventh stage, from Alicante to Valencia, nothing happened to Van Steenbergen, and he won easily from Poblet after Koblet had started a violent battle, with 30 km. to go, when Louison Bobet got a puncture. The three times Tour de France winner, awaited by all his team mates, had to chase for 20 km. before he could reach the group. In this stage, Ian Steel, absolutely exhausted and with stomach trouble, retired.
Nothing happened during the eighth stage, ridden at a very low speed. Van Steenbergen beat Poblet by inches. Not one rider dropped back during this stage, and all the field was placed in the same time as the winner.
Tarragona, Spain. May 4. The 67 racers left in the Tour of Spain received a warning that this has been their last resting day of the 17-stage race! The organizers said they would not tolerate any more days like the last three, which were marked by a total absence of action. The racers just pedalled along the sunny Mediterranean coast with the aces in firm control of the race and jealously suppressing even the smallest attacking action 'of outsiders.
Faced with total failure of the famous Vuelta, it was announced that prizes would be suspended if the pace did not liven-up in the next Ian. Ten per cent. of all prize-money on Stage 8 was cancelled.
Although the 9th stage from Tarragon to Barcelona (138 km.) produced another big sprint finish, it was by no means tame, and fierce attacks were made, but were always broken down throughout. Ace finishers Van Steenbergen and Poblet were watching each other while Koblet burst through to win. Robinson was equal 6th in a 40-strong group, and Hoar 63rd at 6-57.
A 21-km. team time trial opened the day's racing on Sunday (stage 10), and Hoar and Robinson were in the Swiss/British team 4th, at 37 sec., to the Frenchmen, whose 31-36 beat Spain by 1 sec. The race to Tarrega followed, as described in the opening paragraphs.
Tony Hoar completed nine stages, but withdrew on Sunday.He had dropped to the tail of the field, not unexpectedly in view of his lack of early-season racing.
STAGE 5 (Madrid-Albacete, 151 miles) Poblet, Spain, 6-4-15, 1; Van Steenbergen, Belgium, 2; Muller. Germany, 3; Koblet, Switzerland, 4; Bauvin, France, 5; equal 9: Robinson with a group of 20 riders; Hoar, 6-5-37, 31; Steel, 6-6-2, 45
STAGE 6 (Albacete-Alicante, 142 miles) Poblet, 6-32-35, 1; Koblet, 2: Bever, 3; Le Ber, 4; Iturat, 5; equal 10: Robinson with 47 riders; Steel, 6-33-11, 58; Hoar, 6-34-27, 66
STAGE 7 (Alicante-Valencia, 115 miles) Van Steenbergen, 5-15-56, 1; Poblet 2; Koblet, 3; Bever, 4; Bauvin, 5; .equal 8: Robinson with a group of 30 riders; Hoar, 5-24-10, 64; Ian Steel, retired
STAGE 8 (Valencia-Tarragona, 155 miles). Van Steenbergen, 7-35-19, 1- Poblet, 2: Koblet, 3; Muller, 4; Conterno, 5; equal 15: Robinson and Hoar