First Edition Cycling News for September 8, 2005
Edited by Jeff Jones & Hedwig Kröner
Vuelta rest day wrap up
Menchov looking good as gold
By Les Clarke
After a hot and arduous first ten days of the Vuelta, riders get to enjoy a much-anticipated rest day. Overall contenders have raised their hands to be counted, including Francisco Mancebo, Denis Menchov, Roberto Heras and Carlos Sastre. Alessandro Petacchi has shown that skipping the Tour doesn't harm your ability to win stages, and Brad McGee spent four days in gold, becoming the only Australian to wear the leader's jersey in the three grand tours.
Rabobank's Denis Menchov and three-time Vuelta champion Roberto Heras, however, are looking like the men to beat, and after a victories in both time trials for Menchov and a win on stage 6 for Heras, it appears the battle will be between the little Spanish climbing ace and the Russian surprise packet. But maybe we're jumping the gun a little! Heras will certainly have his hands full if he wants to take a fourth Vuelta, with the likes of Menchov and Mancebo keeping him company on these early climbing stages, as seen on stage 10, where Mancebo rode a strong stage to take the win.
But with Beloki and Scarponi working well for Heras during the stage to the ski station at Ordino Arcalis, last year's winner is definitely the man to beat - again. And with riders such as Floyd Landis, Iban Mayo, Isidro Nozal, Aitor Osa and Angel Luis Casero abandoning the race, it could be a case of surprise or confirmation of greatness for the winner of this year's Vuelta.
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Heras talks on the rest day
The Liberty Seguros team held a press conference on the first rest day of the Vuelta with Roberto Heras and Manolo Saiz talking about the situation so far. Heras, the pre-race favourite and triple Vuelta winner, is currently second overall behind Denis Menchov on the general classification, and will need to make up 47 seconds on the Russian in order to win in Madrid.
Heras explained that the last three days had been the most important in determining the balance of the first half of the Vuelta. "The key has been the time trial in Lloret, where the first part favoured me and there were no differences, but in the second, Menchov extracted time. Then, he defended itself very well in the mountains, though these climbs were not excessively hard and a strong guy can't be dropped."
Did you expect to be in this position after the first rest day? "Yes, because I know Menchov, who is not a rider that has come out of nowhere. We have tried to look for the failure, but it has been no surprise that he has not yielded in this terrain, because they are climbs that - if you are good - you can get over them on the wheel.
"My race has been very good [up until now], I did well in the prologue, also in the Lloret time trial, in spite of losing the leadership and then in the Pyrenees, I tested Menchov, saw that he wasn't yielding, and tried to save strength to use it on the harder climbs. But even better than me is the performance of the team. It has been super and has demonstrated that it is clearly the strongest of the Vuelta. We are the most aggressive and we are giving life to the race, no more, no less."
Heras said the outcome of the rest of the Vuelta will depend on Menchov. "If he doesn't yield, it's possible that we'll have a repeat of yesterday in Cerler, although Sastre said that he misunderstands both Mancebo and me. But if Menchov bends, the race will be much more aggressive and everyone will go hard without holding back."
Heras maintained that the 14th stage to Lagos de Covadonga will be the most important for him. "It's the only critical climb (and Pajares a little) like the Angliru that decided the race without a doubt in the other years... I am going to take advantage of the opportunities that I have."
After Lagos and Pajares, Heras said that the Vuelta won't have finished. "No, there are still the mountains of Madrid and Avila, but there the key will be the team. Us and Illes Balears have a better team than Rabobank and CSC...[Menchov] will find it very tough, because there the team is fundamental. I have great confidence in being able to do something, because I feel strong and, especially, very good mentally."
Liberty Seguros team manager Manolo Saiz commented, "The race is still open. It is true that there are 47 good reasons that the balance is not in our favour, but we will try to compensate for it." Saiz added that Liberty would try to crack Menchov: "Team discipline is fundamental, so we'll continue trying to do a fast race and to look for Menchov's failure."
As for Heras, Saiz said, "He looks good to me, very good. He comes to the finish very fresh and has a good mindset for what is coming up.
Reactions to Armstrong "comeback threat"
Lance Armstrong hasn't ruled out a possible come back to the Tour de France 2006 - causing the cycling world to react, as well as the French paper L'Equipe, which initiated the controversy by reporting it was in the possession of evidence that the seven-times Tour winner took EPO in 1999.
"Armstrong threatens to come back" was the headline of the article published in Wednesday's edition, which detailed the news to the French readers. "Publicity? Bluff? Or simply provocation?," it asked. "If ethics, the essence of sports competition itself, wasn't concerned, one could almost smile about it," the paper continued, reporting that Armstrong said he would consider a return to racing "to piss the French off."
"Armstrong has thus definitely chosen to put the affair in the context of Franco-American hostilities," L'Equipe replied, reminding its readers that the American cycling legend had spoken of a witch-hunt by the French media, the Ministry of Sports and other institutions.
Tour de France race director Jean-Marie Leblanc didn't want to make a statement. "I'll react when it's official," he said. Vice-director Christian Prudhomme, who will be the head of the Tour after 2006, added, "For us, Lance Armstrong is retired since the evening of July 25. If he lets us know officially that he's willing to compete in the Tour de France again, we will listen to him."
As for Armstrong's former colleagues in the peloton? His biggest rival, Jan Ullrich, does not believe that Armstrong was serious about his statements. "After his farewell party in Paris, I can't imagine that he'll participate in the Tour once again," Der Kaiser said. "I'm certainly not putting myself under pressure."
But former team-mate and Spanish Vuelta victory contender Roberto Heras welcomed the news. "A comeback is the only good answer," he said. "But then there will be the problem that the French will undoubtedly produce new accusations after that season."
CSC still good in Avenir
Lars Bak and Team CSC retained the yellow leader's jersey in stage seven of Tour de l'Avenir from Guéret to Mauriac, which was won by German rider Alexander Gottfried.
"It was a tough stage, but the team did brilliantly," said CSC's DS Scott Sunderland. "A large break went, but we never let them get too far. On the final climb an attack was launched by some of the main rivals for Lars' jersey, but Andy Schleck stepped up and delivered a first rate performance, and in the end Lars himself neutralized the attack.
"Tomorrow is another tough stage, but if we manage to retain the jersey it looks pretty good from then on. One drawback is that we'll have to do without Christian Müller; he unfortunately had to abandon due to stomach problems."
(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2005)