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Vuelta News forSeptember 5, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

González ready for Vuelta defense

2002 winner Aitor Gonzalez
Photo: © Sirotti

As defending champion, Aitor González will pin on the number one dossard in tomorrow's first stage of the Vuelta a España, a 30 km team time trial in Gijon. The 28 year old rider won the race last year after crushing Roberto Heras in the final time trial, donning the golden leader's jersey only after the last stage in Madrid. This year his ambitions of winning have been tempered by the fact that he has performed fairly anonymously in the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France.

Gonzalez told Spanish magazine Meta 2Mil that winning isn't his main objective. "My first aim is to recover the sensations that I had during the 2002 Vuelta. Then we can start to think about winning."

"I see [the route] as being very balanced," he continued. "There are two long time trials, but there are also seven mountain top finishes. If a time trial specialist such as myself wishes to win this year's Vuelta, he'll have to put in a good performance in the mountain stages."

Gonzalez pointed to 2001 winner Angel Casero (Bianchi) as the man to watch this year. "I have a hunch that it will be Casero," he said. "I was surprised during the Tour of Burgos to see that neither Sevilla nor Heras were able to keep up with the best riders during the climb of Lagunas de Neila, they are usually very quick at picking up form, but they still have time to improve. I also saw that Casero was riding very well indeed. It wasn't a case of him outperforming everybody else, but we cyclists pick up on these things quickly and it was easy to see that he was going well, very relaxed, and this makes me think that he's going to be the man to beat."

Click here for Cyclingnews' full Vuelta preview, stage descriptions and start list, with live coverage each day from 14:30 CEST/08:30 EDT/05:30 PDT/22:30 AEST.

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