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Vuelta Cycling News for August 26, 2005

Edited by Jeff Jones

Bruyneel plays down talk of third Grand Tour win

By Shane Stokes in Granada

After winning the Giro d'Italia with Paolo Savoldelli in June and then Lance Armstrong's seventh Tour de France 8 weeks later, the big question before the start of the 2005 Vuelta a España is whether Discovery Channel can do the unthinkable and take all three Grand Tours this year. However, when asked by Cyclingnews earlier on Thursday if he thought that riders such as Jose Azevedo and new US hope Tom Danielson will be amongst the main contenders, Directeur Sportif Johan Bruyneel played down the team's chances of doing the treble.

"Perhaps we don't have anyone for the GC," he said. "We have other ambitions here. We have done a great Giro, a great Tour, and so we come with other objectives. We will try to win one or two stages, that is our main goal. But it will be very difficult for Discovery to take the race."

Bruyneel nominated triple champion Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), 2002 winner Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) as his favourites for the overall victory. But for now, he says, it is premature to talk about Danielson as a GC contender.

"It is his first big Tour," he stated. "Okay, he did the Giro but he had to leave the race due to knee pain. So it is case of seeing how far he can go. I don't want to put pressure on him as being our GC man. I hope he can do well in a few stages, but we are not thinking about the overall for him."

Bruyneel has arrived at the race at a time when the world's attention is focussed on the team for all the wrong reasons. Accusations this week that Armstrong used EPO to win the 1999 Tour have met with firm denials from the team, and while Discovery insist that the allegations are false, Tuesday's L'Equipe report will have brought them a considerable degree of stress.

For his part, Bruyneel appeared to be at ease today, talking to reporters at length at the Hotel Nazaríes race headquarters. The Belgian already gave his reaction to Cyclingnews, but when asked this afternoon if Armstrong was considering legal action as a response to the allegations, he said simply, "I don't know." Time will tell how the rider, and the team, will respond. But for now, the focus is on chasing stages in this year's Vuelta.

Heras optimistic

Roberto Heras, defending champion and three-time Vuelta a España's winner, will start on Saturday in Granada determined to defend his number one dossard for another year. "I feel optimistic and with a changed 'chip', because the Vuelta is a different race. It's very different to one month ago," said the Liberty Seguros captain after training with his teammates on Thursday.

Heras had a poor Tour de France, finishing 45th overall a 1:38:33 behind the winner Lance Armstrong. But he has regained his strength in the last month and is prepared for his home race. "In training I felt very good and because of that I am optimistic," he said. "I have been the whole month in Béjar, where there is a good enough area to know how you are, because it is very hard. I have worked climbing long mountains, doing motorpacing and all my sensations are very positive."

Heras is the only rider in the peloton that could break the record of three victories, which he shares with Tony Rominger. Thus, he has two things to motivate him this year. "The basic thing for me is to win, but also it would be nice to gain the record of victories and to enter into cycling history, but all that will up to the road to decide."

The Spaniard rates this year's parcours as "very balanced, because there is enough time trialing to have to do it well and, at the same time, there is also enough mountains to compensate the time that a climber could lose in normal conditions. Maybe last year was a bit harder, but if you are consistent, a climber can win this Vuelta perfectly. " The key stages are Ordino-Arcalis and Pajares, besides that of Lagos de Covadonga. These three, together with the finish in Cerler should decide the race, because those of Madrid and Avila mountains, though they are hard, usually they don't decide so much. Of all of them, first three are those that more I like, though Pajares' final climb is not so hard, but yes the whole stage."

Asked to comment on the omission of the super-steep Angliru climb in this year's race, Heras responded, "The Angliru is a climb that always has made many differences and has decided the general classification. If I am good I will miss it, and because also it has been out the race for last three years."

Heras rated the field this year as likely to be stronger. "In a three week race, at the end there is always a high level, and more since we are in the UCI-ProTour. Maybe it's not the same level of the Tour, where all teams bring his nine riders at 100 percent level, but the average is very high. Maybe there are no so many names as other years, but the level continues being high. Here we have Mancebo, Aitor Gonzalez, Landis, Mayo, Pereiro and, in general, teams like Comunidad Valenciana, without forgetting that there are always foreigners whom you don't count on and then they ride very well."

Comparing the Vuelta to the other big tours, Heras said, "Every race is different, though since the UCI ProTour has come in, they tend to look alike more in the way of riding. In spite of it, each one is different because it is done in a different way. The Vuelta has many factors that distinguish it, like the wind and its mountains.

"The fact that stages are shorter means that the race is on from the beginning. It is a race that's more nervous and aggressive than others and, when you are good, this style benefits more the small people like me than bigger men that probably feel better on a longer parcours."

Laguna out of Vuelta

By Shane Stokes in Granada

Relax-Fuenlabrada rider Oscar Laguna has tested over the UCI's 50% hematocrit cut off point and been ejected from this year's race. Along with the other riders due to line up in the Vuelta on Saturday, the 27 year old Spaniard was tested between 7:30 and 9:30 on Thursday morning, and was the only one to display blood readings above this mark.

Laguna won a stage in the Tour of Aragon last year and was second on the 14th stage of the Vuelta in 2002.

Testing above the UCI's 50% limit is seen as suggestive - rather than proof - of possible EPO use. Laguna will now have an enforced two week 'holiday' from racing, after which he will be re-tested by the UCI in order to determine if he is fit to return to competition.

Bäckstedt leads Liquigas-Bianchi in Vuelta

Swedish giant Magnus Bäckstedt, who won Paris-Roubaix in 2004, will captain the Liquigas-Bianchi team in the 60th Vuelta a España. Bäckstedt is about to ride the Spanish Grand Tour for the first time: "I love Spain for its landscapes and its weather: I'm glad about riding my first Vuelta."

Bäckstedt hasn't had an ideal lead up though: "During the Tour de France I was suffering from bronchitis that forced me to withdraw from the race, to take two courses of antibiotics, and even to stop riding altogether for 20 days. I think I have trained hard in spite of the setbacks. I'm lacking racing rhythm but I felt good during training in the last few days . I expect to be competitive already in the first week. I'm going to get in a breakaway as soon as the legs are alright. As for the bunch sprints, I will have many well known rivals but I'm not going to hold back at all."

Liquigas-Bianchi is an international mix, featuring riders coming from Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, England, and Slovenia. "We are a complete group and are certainly able to aim at more than one stage win," team manager Stefano Zanatta said. "We are likely to show ourselves both in the bunch sprints, with Bäckstedt and Zanotti, and in the breaks. On the climbs, we will follow young riders Mugerli and Wegelius with interest. There isn't one stated leader: we are going to ride with courage and imagination."

Full team roster: Magnus Bäckstedt, Patrick Calcagni, Mauro Gerosa, Marcus Ljungqvist, Oscar Mason, Devis Miorin, Matej Mugerli, Charles Wegelius, Marco Zanotti. Team directors: Stefano Zanatta, Dario Mariuzzo.

Fantasy Vuelta game strategies

This year's Fantasy Vuelta is under way, and you can begin building your teams now. Be a professional team manager, with many opportunities to win prizes in this year's game. You will take up the challenge of using your knowledge and tactical skill as a race team manager to compete with managers from around the world. For more info go to fantasy.cyclingnews.com.

Highest scoring Vuelta strategies

To help your selection for this year's game go to the [ downloads section of the site to find useful statistical profiles of last year's riders. See how well the riders performed within the context of the game. Below are some of the highlights:

Top 10 highest scoring riders

HERAS HERNANDEZ Roberto
PEREZ FERNANDEZ Santiago
VALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro
MANCEBO PEREZ Francisco
ZABEL Erik
PETACCHI Alessandro
SASTRE CANDIL Carlos
NOZAL VEGA Isidro

Top 10 best value riders (highest scoring vs least cost to buy in UCI points)

JULIA CEGARRA Jose Cayetano
PEREZ FERNANDEZ Santiago
ZABRISKIE David
IVANOV Ruslan
BUENAHORA GUTIERREZ Hernan
FUENTES ANGULLO Juan
PASCUAL RODRIGUEZ Javier
HERAS HERNANDEZ Roberto

Find out more in the downloads section.

New Rules

In conjunction with feedback and suggestions from players of the game over three years, we have developed a new points system for all the Tour games. We've awarded more points to a greater number of riders and given back more emphasis to GC placings. Thanks to all of you who helped us develop the new points system. Have a look for yourself in the [ points section.

How to play

You can begin creating your team/s now. You can play the first five stages for FREE! We will be making additions to the start list on a daily basis. The Tour games are easy to play, all you need to do to manage your own team is select 15 riders from the live start list then select 9 of these riders to race each day throughout the Vuelta. You score points according to how well each of the riders place each day in the Vuelta. So try your team today and see if it's for you. It's a great way to follow the Vuelta. Create your teams now at fantasy.cyclingnews.com.

Good luck!

The Fantasy Cyclingnews Team

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