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Vuelta a España Cycling News for August 29, 2006

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Cyclingnews will cover the 60th edition of the Dauphiné Libéré live as of stage 4 on Wednesday, June 10, at approximately 15:00 local Europe time (CEST)/ 23:00 Australian time (CDT)/ 9:00 (USA East).

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Edited by John Stevenson, with reporting from Shane Stokes in Cordoba

Vuelta stage 3 wrap-up

Another surprising sprint

Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval)
Photo ©: AFP
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Francisco José Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir) has pulled off victory in stage 3 of the Vuelta in Almendralejo, which, as expected, finished in a bunch sprint. Ventoso was not the expected winner, but rode a smart sprint on the uphill finish to beat golden jersey wearer Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC) for the honours. Hushovd therefore extended his lead in the general classification, and O'Grady now sits in second spot at 11 seconds.

The 220 km stage from Córdoba to Almendralejo was the longest in the race and was ridden in bakingly hot 40+ degree conditions. It was dominated by a three man breakaway that escaped after the first climb at km 13. David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Enrico Franzoi (Lampre-Fondital) and Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis) were the riders involved, and they gained 7'46 over the bunch before the sprinters teams started to flex their muscles.

The inevitable happened with 7 km to go, when the survivors De La Fuente and Franzoi were caught by the peloton, and the stage was set for a bunch sprint. David Millar (Saunier Duval) had other ideas and attacked inside the technical final kilometre. He was caught by the Milram train, before Fred Rodriguez led out for McEwen at around 400m to go. Once again, McEwen found himself in the wind too early, and faded to fifth as Ventoso powered up the left to take a fine win ahead of Hushovd and O'Grady.

Click here for the Full results, report & photos, and live report from stage 3.

Pereiro: Hot and boring

Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne)
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Tour de France runner-up and victor-in-waiting (pending the outcome of the disciplinary process against Floyd Landis for his testosterone positive) was unimpressed with the was the third stage of the Vuelkta unfolded. "The stage was a very long one and to tell you the truth in a way a boring one because everything happened exactly as everybody expected: a long breakaway and a massive sprint," he said in a team newsletter.

Another factor shaped the stage as well as the predictable racing, according to Periero, and it will have effects for the next couple of days. "The heat was terrible during the whole stage," said Periero, "and I think that many riders will pay the consequences, probably already the day after tomorrow in the first mountain stage that ends at the top of la Covatilla. Personally I tolerate such high temperatures rather well but of course that it affects me too, like everybody."

Sastre enjoys spell in maillot oro

CSC leader aiming to get it back in the mountains

By Shane Stokes

Carlos Sastre (CSC)
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Carlos Sastre had just one day as race leader due to the bonus seconds earned by Thor Hushovd on Sunday, but the Spanish rider said before the start of stage three that the experience was a very enjoyable one. "It was really nice because it was very important for the team and it was certainly a special day for me…it was the first time as a professional that I had a leader's jersey. It meant a lot to me.

"I was in the yellow jersey yesterday but it was really the yellow jersey of everybody on CSC, because it came from the team time trial. Everybody did a sensational job - the riders, the staff, the whole lot. In that way it was really important for everybody...the yellow jersey is a part of all of us.

Sastre punctured close to the finish in Córdoba and so finished behind the bunch, but didn't lose any time. "I had a flat tyre two and half kilometres before the finish line. I know the rules, that it was no problem because I was inside three kilometres to go. I would end up getting the same time as the peloton. It was okay.

"The goal now is to avoid any problems, maintain the opportunity that I have and wait for the right moment. With these kind of stages, it is normal that a sprinter will take the jersey with the bonus which are on offer. I cannot fight that. However I will do my best once the race moves to the mountains and see if I feel okay."

Between the spell in the maillot oro and his strong ride in France last month, this summer has probably been the best of Sastre's career. He's consequently enjoying an even higher popularity than he had before. "I got a good reaction from the public yesterday, but I think after the Tour de France everything has changed for me in Spain… I think that many people like how I ride the bike and also how I am. They were certainly happy when I got the yellow jersey."

His goal now is reclaim that golden tunic a little later on in this Vuelta.

McEwen relaxed about stage two result

By Shane Stokes

Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
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Although Robbie McEwen missed out on a chance to win the second stage of the Vuelta a Espana, hitting the front with about 150 metres to go but fading before the line, he gave the impression Monday morning in Córdoba that he was relaxed about what happened. Rather than fret about placing fourth, he seemed confident that things would click in the next couple of stages.

"Perhaps I went a little bit too early," he told Cyclingnews. "I wanted to stay on the wheel of Rodriguez a little bit longer, but somebody started on my left. I didn't want to get boxed in, so I went too. I hit the front but then with about 50 metres to go I felt like I had nothing left. I couldn't really push anymore. I was still in front with 30 metres to go but then suddenly Bettini came from behind.

He feels the result was influenced by the conditions of the finish. "It was a really, really fast sprint, it was like a false flat downhill. It was really easy to follow on the wheels, but as we were doing over 70, to ride on the front was much harder. I went with about 200 metres to go, or maybe it was a little bit more, 210, and it was probably 30 metres too far. I was trying to hold on - I could see the line, I was getting closer, and then I couldn't push any more. I just didn't have anything left.

"Thor [Hushovd] started at about the same time as me, a few lengths in front of me, and he blew up at the same time. Bettini came past us both. I will just try again today; I don't often win the first stage in a tour anyway. I tend to feel a little bit better after a couple of stages."

The Italian and Olympic champion is not known as a big bunch finisher, yet McEwen said that the result was understandable. "It was not a huge surprise, Paolo did well in the Giro too… he finished second on a stage behind me there. He is a fast guy, he is an exceptional rider. He can climb like he does and he can still do a good finish as well. It is amazing. My first reaction was like, 'huh, Bettini?' But it wasn't a huge surprise because if he gets the wheel and if you start to slow down, he is going to be able to come around you."

The Australian was in dominant form during the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France, taking three stages in both and winning the points jersey in the latter, but a lack of racing recently means that he was also feeling a bit rusty. "It felt like it had been a long time since I had done that [a big gallop], and that was actually the first real sprint I had ridden since the Tour," he explained. "I haven't really raced, I have done some criteriums and two one-day races. In one of those I pulled out after halfway, and in the other I rode on the front for the team and just finished it. It has been a long time since I have ridden a final and done the sprint - I felt that yesterday.

"I think that I should be a little bit better today [stage three to Almendralejo]. I have to get the engine up and running! It depends on the race too, it is a very long stage. As regards the finish, it is fairly flat and the last 500 metres is more like a false-flat upwards. That should suit me better."

McEwen also talked about his collaboration with leadout man Fred Rodriguez, plus his tactics when getting close to the line. "It was good yesterday, we have good communication. I just told him what to do and he did it. Going into the last kilometre I said to him "move up a little bit,"so he moved up three or four places. I said, "slot in here," and he did that, then I said "wait for it, wait for it…now go!" We are quite calm - if you scream at each other, you can't understand. You just have to talk to each other.

"The only thing yesterday was that in the sprint itself, he wanted to pull off to the left but I was trying to pass him on that side. So as a result I had to go around him. But things generally work well between us."

Backstedt gunning for a stage, considering another shot at Hour Record

By Shane Stokes

Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
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Liquigas' giant Swede Magnus Backstedt has two aims at the Vuelta a Espana. The first is a stage win, something which would make up for disappointments earlier this season. And the second is to build form for a possible repeat attempt at the world motor-paced hour record this November. He discussed both these goals at the stage three start in Córdoba on Monday.

"I am feeling good thus far, I felt strong yesterday. I had a little bit of cramping coming in close to the finish but I suffer physically in the heat the first day or two before I get used to it. But I am feeling strong and I am hoping to catch a stage at some point."

Backstedt said that it was equally likely that he would chase a victory in a bunch sprint and in a breakaway. "Anything goes for me, I am not fussy like that," he said. "We will just see how it goes, but the sprinting is definitely a possibility... We did intermediate sprints yesterday and if I can beat Hushovd in that kind of sprint, I am sure that I can beat him at the finish, which is nice. I just have to pick the right stage for me and hope that things go smoothly."

Looking further ahead, he has a set plan in mind. This doesn't include the world road race championships, which are probably on a course that would be too hilly for his liking. "I will race to the finish in Madrid and then that is the end of the [road] season for me. I will take it very easy for a couple of weeks and then I will be doing a couple of six days and a few world cups on the track.

"After that, I will probably go for the hour record again. If we get the sponsors then I can go for the record, probably sometime in mid to late November. It depends on getting the backing together."

Last time round Backstedt was confident of surpassing the 66.114 kilometre paced hour record set by Dutch rider Matthé Pronk in November of 2004. However things didn't go to plan on the day, the Wales-based rider saying afterwards that the Derny rider didn't get the pacing right, missing out on the required balance between straight line velocity and speed around the bends. He will make a switch as a result.

"I will definitely be changing the pacer this time," he told Cyclingnews. "The guy last year was experienced but he let the pressure get to him, I think. It is one thing doing it in training when you have got three people there, but when you have got 1500 people shouting at you, it is completely different. I have nothing against him, it can happen to the best of us…the pressure gets to you. I think I will have to look around, to shop around a bit more and see who I can find."

Backstedt had been confident heading into his October 29th record bid. "Beforehand, I was going well… For example, I did 73 kilometres per hour for 40 minutes in the buildup. As a result, I walked in thinking that I was certain to get the record, that it was just a case of by how much. But it just goes to show that with the sport we do, things can go wrong on the day. Everything has to go according to plan.

Wegelius: Di Luca to play it by ear

By Shane Stokes

Following his strong performance in last year's Giro d'Italia, Liquigas team leader Danilo Di Luca has shown that if he gets things right, he can be a contender in Grand Tours. Although his attempt to win this year's Tour of Italy didn't work out, he has the necessary ability to climb and time trial well enough to chase success here in Spain.

However, as top domestique Charly Wegelius said this morning, it is not yet sure what the Italian's aims are in the race. "Danilo is riding good but he is going to decide as he is going along what he is going to do in the race, with regards to the worlds. He might go for the classification, he might not do it. He might do it and then decide to switch off. The worlds is his big goal. Of course, that has quite a big effect on the race I ride."

The Briton said that it is difficult to tell how you are going early on in this event. "The Vuelta is good but these first few days are always a bit confusing, in terms of understanding what your body is telling you. We have been hanging around the hotel for four or five days, which we don't usually do. Some people feel really good the first few days and some people feel really bad. It is not indicative of how you are going to go. After the fifth stage, things will be a bit clearer and maybe some breakaways will go away and stick then, because until that point it is not really going to happen."

Unlucky start for George

By Shane Stokes

Tour de Langkawi winner David George is currently riding his second Vuelta, having participated in the race before during his time with US Postal. He's glad to be riding the race with his Relax-Gam team, but as he told Cyclingnews at the stage three finish in Almendralejo, luck hasn't really been on his side thus far

"I crashed yesterday and have had four punctures, including one in the time trial. The crash happened when I slipped going around a roundabout, I lost traction. Today was very hot and long…a survival day, I guess. My legs are all right, I am taking it easy after my fall, just riding myself into it.

"I am going to take things day by day. I will see if I can get up there at some point…obviously I would like to do one or two good stages."

George said there might be some surprises, presumably referring to the fallout of the scandals earlier this summer. "Everything is changing in the sport…who knows how the race will turn out?" he said.

Kashechkin looks to the mountains

Kazakhstan champion Andrey Kashechkin believes he and his Astana team will do well in this Vuelta, but most of all he is simply pleased to finally start a three-week race after his team was excluded from the Tour de France because the expulsion of riders implicated in Operacion Puerto left it with too few riders. "The best thing that I can say about these first stages is that we have taken the start. To do a three week race is always difficult, normally you do it only once per season and because of that we want to do a good Vuelta," he said in a team newsletter.

The parcours of the Vuelta, with hills early in the race, suits Kashechkin. "I like specially that there are mountain stages in the first week, not as in the Tour, where the first 10 days it is not possible to do a selection. Here, on the other hand, the selection will happen soon."

Kashechkin believes his form is good after the Tour of Germany, but he is not making and predictions. "I must wait for the mountains to know what I can do. I prefer to take things from day to day."

While he's cagey about his own chances, Kashechkin tips Spain's Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) and Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank) as the "most important" favourites. As for his team-mate and countryman Alexandre Vinokourov, "he must also see how he is in the mountains."

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