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2002 Vuelta

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Vuelta News for September 12, 2003

Edited by Jeff Jones

ONCE versus US Postal showdown looming

By Jeff Jones

ONCE vs USPS
Photo: © AFP
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After the first individual time trial in Zaragoza, the general classification of the Vuelta is starting to take shape. Six stages have been completed, and the top eight riders are separated by five minutes. It's likely that the overall winner will come from one of these riders, with the rest being considered outside chances at best.

With six uphill finishes (including the final time trial) and one long, flat time trial to come, the balance will now be shifted in favour of the climbers in this year's Vuelta, and that points to riders like Manuel Beltran (3rd at 2'42), Roberto Heras (5th at 4'35), Francisco Mancebo (8th at 5'02), Luis Perez (14th at 6'13) and Juan Miguel Mercado (17th at 6'17). The time trialists such as Isidro Nozal, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE), Klaus Möller (Milaneza), Dario Frigo and Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa) and Angel Casero (Bianchi) will have their work cut out defending their leads.

Tactically, ONCE-Eroski hold the cards at the moment with Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano in the first two GC positions. However they are not considered pure climbers like Heras or Mancebo, and US Postal also has the Manuel Beltran card to play. Beltran can certainly climb, as he showed in the Tour, and it's clear that he can time trial. He currently holds a two minute lead over his teammate and captain Heras on GC, but whether he keeps that over the next three stages remains to be seen.

Although early days yet, it does seem that Oscar Sevilla (30th at 7'26) is too far down to be a threat to the overall. The Kelme rider came into the Vuelta with just 4000 km in his legs after a long layoff due to injury, and combined with his crash in stage 3 he has been suffering so far.

"It knew it wasn't going to be my day that important thing was to finish. The wind punished me a lot and I was in terrible pain. It was more important to get to the finish than worry about the time gaps."

The next three stages in the Pyrenees will be crucial. Beginning with today's 190 km stage between Huesca and Cauterets, the riders face three mountain top finishes in a row. Saturday's eighth stage is from Cauterets to Pla de Beret/Val d'Aran (1920m), and Sunday's ninth stage is between Vielha and Envalira, finishing at the dizzying altitude of 2,410m. This last climb is 26 km long at an average of 5.1 percent, and the differences created in the time trials could easily come to nought on this mountain. And there are still 12 stages to come after this one.

David Millar has Hamilton in mind

Flying in stage 6
Photo: © AFP
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David Millar added an unexpected podium finish to his palmares when he finished second in yesterday's stage 6 time trial in Zaragoza. A Vuelta stage win is still part of the Scottish time trial specialist's game plan, and then there's a bigger target, as he told Hernán Alvarez Macías.

David Millar showed his ability in the first individual time trial in the Vuelta a España 2003 in the streets of Zaragoza yesterday. Sitting at 172nd on GC meant that Millar was one of the first riders away in the TT, and his extraordinary time made him virtual stage winner for almost three hours. In the end, only Isidro Nozal, with an amazing tempo, could beat him in the last ride of the afternoon.

Even though he didn't win the stage, Millar seemed very pleased with his second place and showed once again that he is among the top three specialists in this discipline. Although he missed out this time on the flowers and the kisses from the podium girls that are the stage winner's reward for vanquishing everyone, Millar knows the sweetness of success in the Vuelta with two victories here in 2001. His next opportunity will come on stage 13 in Albacete with the Vuelta's second ride against the clock, and as he told Cyclingnews in an interview, that's just one of his remaining objectives for the season.

Three down for Saeco

The Saeco team, which has so far lost Giosué Bonomi, Nicola Gavazzi and Ivan Quaranta during the Vuelta, is the team that has suffered the most retirements during the first six stages of the race. In addition, Quaranta abandoned during the first stage team time trial, being the first rider to retire from the race.

Telekom is next on the retirement list, with seven riders left after the departure of Cadel Evans and Jan Schaffrath. Mario Cipollini (Domina Vacanze-Elitron), David Plaza (Team Bianchi), Oscar Mason (Vini Caldirola) and Alessandro Cortinovis (Lampre) are the other riders to have abandoned the race so far.

Courtesy: Lavuelta.com

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