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Vuelta a España Cycling News for August 30, 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 & John Kenny, with reporting from Shane Stokes in Cordoba

Vuelta stage 4 wrap-up

Zabel at last!

Erik Zabel (Milram, left) wins at last
Photo ©: AFP
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Milram's Erik Zabel was first across the line in the fourth stage of the Vuelta a espana, a 142km dash from Almendralejo to Cáceres through gently rolling country near the east coast. Another scorching hot day, with temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s Celsius, peaked with Zabel out-sprinting race leader Thor Hushovd Crédit Agricole) and Jean-Patrick Nazon (AG2R) in an uphill finish that clearly suited the German's combination of fast legs and climbing competence.

Zabel credited his Milram team-mates with helping him to the win, "above all Sacchi, Ongarato, Velo and Petacchi too. They have been fantastic."

With a stage win to finally add to his tally of second and third places this year, Zabel said he wants "to finish this Vuelta a Espana because I love this race and because I think it's the better race to prepare the world championship."

Looking forward to that event, in Austria on September 24, Zabel added, "I think that the course in Salzburg is perfect for riders such as Bettini and Di Luca, but I think it's good for me too. I think the course is similar to the world championship in Lisbon [in 2001]."

As well as winning the stage, Zabel appeared to have mastered a language in four hours, telling a journalist before the race that he didn't speak English but then holding his post-race press conference in that very tongue!

The day's only significant breakaway consisted of lone rider Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam) who escaped after just a few kilometres of racing and stayed away until 16km to go. It was a typical flat-stage 'suicide break' and was followed immediately by an escape by De Mateo's team-mate Jorge García. But the peloton was having none of it and AG2R, Davitamon and Crédit Agricole took the front to keep García's advantage to no more than 20 seconds.

See also Full results, report & photos, and live report from stage 4.

Valverde will put up a fight

By Antonio J. Salmerón

Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
Photo ©: Unipublic
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Alejandro Valverde is ready to put up a fight on La Covatilla, today's first major climb of the Vuelta. The Caisse d'Epargne-IB leader told Cyclingnews that the hot weather and mountainous terrain should suit him.

Valverde abandoned hope of a high overall finish on la Covatilla in 2004 but said that this year would be different. "In 2004, the timing of this stage was very different from today's edition. In 2004, La Covatilla climb was more decisive, because it was in the final part of the Vuelta. I also had an accident in the first week on the stage to Caravaca, Murcia.

"This time is also different because I am in form and will be ready to fight. I also did not yield much time to the pure climbers in 2004 [just over two minutes - Ed]."

There are other decisive climbs to come says Valverde, "I believe that the following stages should be more decisive for the general classification: El Morredero and La Cobertoria, especially the latter.

"The Morredero does not hold any particular fear for me. I won there in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon. This first week will be very important to the final outcome. But, the stages to come will be more decisive. The climb of La Pandera in the final week is very hard, although it animates me because I also won there. Calar Alto will also dictate the outcome of this Vuelta".

Valverde said that there are a number of rivals to worry about other than defending champion Dennis Menchov and Andre Vinokourov. "I do not discard anybody: Menchov, Iban Mayo, Haimar Zubeldia, Tom Danielson, Vinokourov, Andrei Kashechkin…, without forgetting a possible surprise. I do not know how Vinokourov's form is and how he will respond in the mountains, but I know Menchov very well. I fear him in the mountains. On the other hand, after my improvement in the race against the clock, I know that I can be near them."

The weather has not affected Valverde, who lives in Murcia in the south of Spain, to the same extent as some other riders. "Personally, I feel very well, physically and mentally. It is with great hopes that I will face the first mountains.

"It will be the first occasion that I can get an idea of the state of form of my rivals! The heat that accompanied us until now has made these first stages harder and more difficult to manage than we expected them to be when started in Málaga."

Horner: "Sastre is the only guy focused on winning"

By Shane Stokes

Chris Horner (Davitamon-Lotto)
Photo ©: Shane Stokes
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After three days of the 2006 Vuelta, Davitamon Lotto rider Chris Horner has noticed that one general classification rider is a lot more focused than his rivals thus far. "So far everyone seems very calm. The only person who is racing like he is focused on winning this thing is Carlos Sastre. There are a lot of favourites out there, by all means, but he is the only guy who is really concentrating. He is racing here like he would at the Tour - he is at the front the whole time, not taking any risks.

"I'm not sure if that is really necessary, given the way things have been going here, but he is the only guy who is doing that. The whole CSC team is fully behind him, that is for sure."

When Cyclingnews caught up with Horner this morning, the American and several other riders were sheltering from the sun under an orange tree. Needless to say, the heat was the first topic of conversation. "It is crazy hot here," he said with a smile. "It was 41 yesterday, we were out there in that day and everyone was creeping. At the end, we were all thrashed just from going through 20 bottles each…that was a lot of fluids.

"We really felt it in the evening. Actually, if you just sat out on the beach in that heat for the same length of time you would be tired! You just couldn't keep up with what you needed, fluid wise. We had a couple of guys working on the front, and at one point I thought that one of them was going to pass out!"

Wednesday's stage will see the riders tackle the first big mountains of the race. They will climb to the summit finish at the La Covatilla ski station, an altitude of 1,960 metres. Horner admitted that he is in the dark as to how he will get on. "I am not sure how I am set for tomorrow. We will see... We haven't really done anything hard enough to know what to expect. I felt good at the finish the day before yesterday, but yesterday I felt terrible at the end. But I think everyone felt that way yesterday.

"It is my first two days of racing since the Tour…hopefully the legs open up really soon (laughs). It is not like the Tour where you have eight or nine days to open up the legs and find some form - here you need to find the form right away, or maybe you will be just racing for stage wins. Anyway, if the form doesn't come for tomorrow, hopefully it comes later on and I can go for a stage or something."

Millar: Stage wins likely target

By Shane Stokes

Scottish rider David Millar is clearly coming into some good form, as evidenced by his cheeky last kilometre attack on stage three of the Vuelta. The Saunier Duval rider was caught inside the final kilometre but vowed to try again during the race.

"I felt good yesterday at the end," he told Cyclingnews this morning at the start in Almendralejo's Avenida de la Paz. "I had felt good the day before so I figured out that I may as well do something, but the bunch was going a bit quick [to stay away]. I almost crashed into that motorbike as well…that was a bit dangerous.

"The run in wasn't too bad, it was just those last two corners that were risky. It wouldn't have been too bad but the motorbike misjudged it and cut the apex, which made me go right out. I was already on the limit so I honestly thought I was going to crash.

"I was really pleased with Frank [Francisco José Ventoso - ed.], he did a good sprint. The team were awesome, they covered everything. I am feeling good so far. I just keep feeling better [as time passes]. I am very happy where I am. I am not deliberately chasing form right now, so it is a good sign that it is coming despite that."

Although the team has José Angel Gomez Marchante as a possible GC contender, it is not sure whether the team will concentrate on him or chase stages. "Marchante is our climber so we will see how he gets on. But I think we are more taking an opportunistic approach, going for stages and stuff. We ride well together - as you can see yesterday, the team effort on the whole was brilliant.

"Now Frank will be more respected as a sprinter, so that should make it easier for him to be up there when he is trying to get placed [before the sprint], not being knocked off wheels or anything."

Millar moved to the team after his ban ended this June and said that it is very different to his former setup at Cofidis. "I am used to a French team and obviously being on a Spanish team is really different. They are so laid back and relaxed, but when it comes to the actual race they are really disciplined, once you are out on the road. It is funny the way they switch…they are very relaxed and then boom, they are totally switched on and really professional. It is really good."

Now that he is racing again and fully motivated, he is planning on moving closer to the team [and the sun]. He is currently living in Manchester but that will change soon. "I am going to move to Girona at the end of the year," he said, "in November or December. It is time I got back over here, it is better for training. There are lots of guys to train with there. The team are based in Santander so I will be a lot closer to them there."

Kemps settling in nicely

By Shane Stokes

Another rider who would very much like to get up on a stage of this race is first year pro Aaron Kemps. The 22 year old Australian has shown good form in recent weeks and said that he is not afraid to fight it out alongside more established sprinters.

"I am hoping to get up there in the sprints on a couple of days, although the last two days have been pretty fast," said the Astana rider. "Yesterday was a little bit slower at the end than the first day, but it was a lot more hectic. Because it was a bit slower I think a lot more riders were trying to get up there to the front and stay up there, but two days ago the finish was really fast.

"Hopefully I can up there and get a top five, top ten in the next couple of days anyway. This is my first big Tour so I was a little bit nervous heading into it. I wasn't even really sure if I was going to race here, it was a last minute sort of thing. But I have had pretty good form lately, landing a win a couple of weeks ago and being in the top ten heaps in the last two months. I am not scared to mix it with the best.

"The victory was in the Vuelta a Burgos. It was good to get the win under my belt but I am still only 22, so I was pretty happy with that. I got second on a stage of the Vuelta Catalunya behind Bennatti, so… I am not scared to go for it against the best sprinters. When you get older you start winning a lot more too, so that is promising."

Fantasy Vuelta - Still time to join and win!

Vuelta Fantasy Game
One pair of BBB Winner Quickstep glasses
Photo ©: BBB
(Click for larger image)
One pair of HED Bastogne wheels
Photo ©: HED
(Click for larger image)
10 sets of Maxxis Courchevel tyres
Photo ©: Maxxis
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Three sets of Speedplay CSC edition pedals
Photo ©: Speedplay
(Click for larger image)
$200 worth of Sockguy socks
Photo ©: Sockguy
(Click for larger image)

There's still plenty of time left to join in the Fantasy Vuelta game. You can join and change your riders right up until stage 7 begins this year. There is no disadvantage in joining now that the Vuelta has begun. If you are new to the idea of Fantasy Sports Games then please have a look at the tips on strategy and gameplay in last year's winners pages on the main Fantasy site.

First Fantasy winners announced!

The first four winners of daily stage prizes have been confirmed. Winning a pair of BBB Parts Winner Quickstep glasses. Their teams had the highest cumulative stage points for the first stages of the Vuelta.

Daily Stage Prize winners

Stage 1 winner - team Stage Winner (Manager - Mountain to Climb, GBR)
Stage 2 winner - team The Empire (Manager - Zeeman, AUS)
Stage 3 winner - team 3VueltaStimul (Manager - Stimulleke, BEL)
Stage 4 winner - team www.FitnessCT.com (Manager - Jon Durham, USA)

There are plenty more prizes to win in the overall prize competition. The Fantasy game is a great way to get to know the Vuelta in more detail, as you take on the role of being a team manager during each day of the Vuelta, making the best of your team selections as the Vuelta unfolds stage by stage. Depending on how the riders finish each stage in real life you will score points for your Fantasy team to win some great prizes. You'll get a much more intimate knowledge of the lesser seeded riders as you watch their progress in your own teams and in other Fantasy manager's teams each day. You'll also get a much more in depth insight into how the riders perform over the coming weeks through the sprints and the mountains.

BH Bikes are providing us with the Grand Prize in this year's Fantasy game! The L75D Global Concept G-1 Ultegra D bike worth 3499EUR/4499US$ comes with an impressive component list worthy of the some serious competition performance fantasy or otherwise. In addition to the Grand Prize the prizelist so far is as follows:

- Grand Prize BH Bikes L75D Global Concept G-1 Ultegra D bike
- Daily Prize 21 pairs of BBB Winner Quickstep glasses
- Runners-up Prizes 1 pair of Hed Bastogne wheels, special silver edition
- Runners-up Prizes 10 sets Maxxis Courchevel tires
- Runners-up Prizes 3 sets Speedplay CSC edition pedals
- Runners-up Prizes $200 worth of Sock Guy vouchers
- Runners-up Prizes 3 Giro/Bell helmets

Register now!

Create your teams today. Be a professional team manager for the 2006 La Vuelta and create your own dream team from any of the real life riders in this year's Vuelta. Based on the live racing action, you will take up the challenge of using your knowledge and tactical skill as a race team manager to compete with other virtual managers from around the world. Follow the races live and use your skill and knowledge to win some great prizes.

Play for FREE in La Vuelta 2006 game

Remember you can play for free for the first 6 stages! Try your teams out and see which rider combination is best.

We hope you enjoy this year's game and look forward to seeing your winning team online soon.

Good luck!

The Fantasy Cyclingnews Team

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