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Vuelta Cycling News for September 18, 2006

Edited by Hedwig Kröner

Riis: Sastre can win a Grand Tour

By Shane Stokes in Madrid

CSC rider Carlos Sastre has had the best season of his career, taking fourth in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España. Team directeur sportif Bjarne Riis told Cyclingnews today that he believes Sastre can progress even further, with the top step of the podium within reach.

"I think he can win a Grand Tour, yes," he said. "It has been a very good season for Carlos. You can see he is very stable [in a stage race], and that is what is important. He has many possibilities.

"We are happy with how the Vuelta went," Riis continued. "All the guys rode very well. It would have been nice to have been on the podium but apart from that, the team has been great and Carlos has been excellent. We had a strong team here, they performed well, were aggressive and were able to take good decisions in the race. That is very positive for us."

Sastre was one of the most popular riders in the Vuelta, and not only because he is Spanish. For journalists and fans alike he is one of the most approachable of those in the peloton, and this makes him a natural leader, with his teammates keen to help him achieve the highest result possible.

Today he and the others were riding for someone else. "The team were working for Stuart [O’Grady]," Sastre said after the finish. "We tried to help him for the sprint, it was nice to do.

"I am happy to finish the Vuelta, for sure. I have had a long season, a hard race, and it is always nice when you finish something like this. After this, I only have the world championships left, that is my last race of the year. Then I will take a nice rest."

Sastre will be just one of the team riding the World's. "I think we have thirteen or fourteen riders going there," said Riis. "All of them are in good condition and it will be interesting to see how they do."

Zabel looking forward to autumn

Evergreen Erik Zabel, just as everybody thought that he would never again be able to win a bunch sprint on the highest level, showed at the Vuelta that he was still one of the most gifted sprinters in the bunch. By winning two stages, the Milram rider proved that his nick name 'Mr. Consistency' was well-chosen as he reached his peak after a very long 2006 season.

"I've always raced a lot," said Zabel, who started out last winter with 6-Day track events and the Tour of Qatar in January. "I feel better now than at the beginning of the season." Last year, Zabel was able to score at the autumn classic Paris-Tours when he was still riding for T-Mobile - this fall, the German hopes to perform similarly well, especially at the World Championships next Sunday.

"The course resembles the one we had in Lisbon, which brings back good memories," the 36 year-old continued. "It's a hard course, but open to many tactical possibilities." Zabel took third place at the World's in 2002, and became second in 2004, so the victory would at least be numerically logical... but he knows that he will have many rivals: "We will have to watch out the most for Paolo Bettini and Alejandro Valverde." Even though the Olympic champion abandoned the Vuelta early, he "worked a lot here. He and Valverde are on the same top level," Zabel added.

Martinez to plan future

By Shane Stokes in Madrid

Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel)
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Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel) won the Tour de l’Avenir back in 2003 but it is this year’s Vuelta where he finally confirmed that talent, taking the mountains classification and performing strongly in the overall standings. He finished with 129 points in the KOM ranking, as compared to the 117 amassed by Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole) and the 98 gathered by Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) Team Astana duo Andrey Kashechkin and Alexandre Vinokourov ended the race on 84 and 82 points respectively.

Martinez finished the three week 12th in the general classification, 15 minutes and 10 seconds behind Vinokourov. He was pleased with how the race went. "For me it was a special Vuelta," he told Cyclingnews at the finish. "At times my shape was good [in the pro ranks] but here I had one stage victory, the mountains classification, 12th in the general classification and was part of the best team. So for me it was a very good Vuelta."

When asked what his future direction and goals will be, he said that that would be decided in time. "I don’t know. I think now I have to be happy with this Vuelta result, take satisfaction from it first. This winter I will speak to Johan and see what he wants. Then we can think about next year. Right now, it is time for a holiday!"

Brajkovic: I will come back stronger

By Shane Stokes in Madrid

Martinez’ teammate Janez Brajkovic had a sensational first week, finishing second on a mountain stage and then taking the leader’s jersey for two days. The former espoir world champion is just 22 years of age and that youth eventually took it’s toll, with the Slovenian becoming more tired as the race progressed and eventually finishing 30th, 50’49 off the maillot oro.

However, his performance is undoubtedly a sign of a very bright future; most riders reach their optimum shape after 27 or 28 years of age, so it is clear that Brajkovic is one to watch.

He told Cyclingnews today that he was tired but happy at the end of the Vuelta. "For me the race was good. The first week was amazing, I was pretty much okay in the second week but the third week was hard for me. Anyway, I think I will be back next year, more experienced, stronger, and I should be a little bit higher in the GC. But I still need a few years to improve myself.

"This has of course been good for my confidence. That said, I am not surprised what happened with me [riding so well early on].. I have one goal and I will do everything I can to achieve it."

Caisse d'Epargne unhappy about missing ceremony

By Shane Stokes in Madrid

The ongoing spat between the organisers of the Grand Tours and the UCI meant that Alejandro Valverde was not presented with his jersey as leader of the ProTour at the Vuelta finish in Madrid, contrary to normal procedures. His team voiced its displeasure with this on Sunday evening, sending around a strong press release.

"Because of the quarrels between the organizers of the Grand Tours and the UCI ProTour, the Spanish public was prevented from seeing the awards ceremony where the jersey of leader of the UCI ProTour was handed over to the rider Alejandro Valverde, the leader of that classification," stated the release.

"We regret the incoherence that the organizers commit by accepting the rules of participation of the ProTour obliging the rider to comply with all the requirements that his condition of leader imposes (namely the controls and the obligation to wear the white jersey of leader) but later, at the end of the race, once he consolidated his position, not to allow the UCI ProTour on the official podium to hand over the leader’s jersey that honours him.

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