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An interview with Joseba Beloki
What lies beneath
Joseba Beloki, twice third and once second at the Tour de France, believes the time has come for him to seek victory. While the majority of the press has focused on riders like Ullrich, Simoni, Botero or Mayo, the 29 year old has quietly gone about his business of preparing for the Centenary Tour. Eloi Corres and Martin Hardie find out what lies beneath.
Translated from Castellano by Martin Hardie
Cyclingnews: To start, you haven't competed much this season, but up you've had three victories [a stage and the overall in the Clasica de Alcobendas and a stage in the Euskal Bizkleta]. How do you rate your performance so far this season?
Joseba Beloki: Good, I have worked well and I haven't had to give way to injuries. I have worked well and picked up the wins in Alcobendas and the Bicicleta Vasca, so with that I am pretty happy.
CN: After three consecutive podium places in the Tour, what objective do have you set for yourself in this edition?
JB: The objective is to win. After being third two times and second last year, I believe that it is time for me to seek the victory. Armstrong could falter at any moment and you have to be ready to take advantage of that.
CN: Despite the three podium places we've mentioned, the press seems to be at pains to dub you as an aspirant, and centre more on others like Ullrich, Simoni, Botero or Iban Mayo. What do you think about this?
JB: It's not very important to me. To me this relives the pressure and above all, we have to take into account that it benefits me in that my rivals haven't got much of an idea about my form.
CN: Have you felt underestimated by the international press at any time?
JB: No, and if I had been, it is absolutely unimportant to me.
CN: Despite showing that you are a very consistent rider, you haven't won any stage on your own [Beloki won the team time trial with ONCE last year). Have you marked out any stages that you would really like to win?
JB: Well, I believe that what is important is the final classification. I will concentrate on the general classification before trying to win a stage. Maybe a stage is more valued, although that may cost you later, so now my objective is to fight for the overall; I believe that this is more important.
CN: Speaking of the route, what do you think of the route in this year's Tour?
JB: Well, it seems to turn out the same as every year. The first section we will do the Alps; the stages of Alpe d'Huez and Gap will create the first differences and we will see which favourites are ahead and which are not. Later the Pyrenees will decide the race. After Luz Ardiden, the race will be decided.
CN: Returning very early this year is the team time trial. Last year, it was Igor that wore the yellow for many stages. Could it be you this year that wears the yellow after this stage?
JB: It could be. If we overcome the first stages which are always dangerous it could be. It is not important to me to be the leader. For one thing you have more pressure from the media, but the popular recognition is also great.
CN: Will we see a more ambitious Beloki this year, attacking Armstrong, or have you still not found a way to drop the American?
JB: It is difficult to attack Armstrong, because right now he his far superior in relation to any of the other rivals. Between the others there is a level of equality, but it is difficult to cut out a great advantage on Armstrong, and if you try to split the bunch, you could pay for it.
CN: Finally, this year your contract with ONCE-Eroski finishes. The team only has one more year guaranteed in the peloton, and you have said that you want a two year contract. Do you hope that ONCE may be able to offer this or, as so often happens in cycling, if a good offer comes along from another team, would you accept it?
JB: I am very sure that I want to stay with Manolo Saiz. But I am also sure that I can't secure my future with a contract of less than two years. If Manolo Saiz makes me such an offer to sign with them, yes; if not, I will have to consider the offers and decide from one of them.