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Photo ©: Swift

First Edition News for September 6, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry & Jeff Jones

La Vuelta gets ready

By Hernán Alvarez Macías in Gijón

2002 winner Aitor Gonzalez
Photo: © AFP

Everything is ready in Gijón for the start of the 58th edition of the Vuelta a España, with the team time trial which will take place today in the city's streets. There's enormous expectation in the city, in Spain, and anywhere where there are cycling fans. As was the case in the last few editions, Spanish riders such as Aitor Gonzalez, Oscar Sevilla or Roberto Heras seem to be the favourites for winning the overall classification.

Apart from this trio, a number of other top riders will take part in the Vuelta a España, including Erik Zabel, Mario Cipollini and Dario Frigo. They won't contest the general classification, but they will certainly add plenty of entertainment to the last of the Grand Tours of this year. "Super Mario" finally came after some problems with Unipublic, the company that organizes the Vuelta, and we will see if the Lion King can "resist" until the end of the Vuelta. It should also be added that Scot David Millar (Cofidis), French climber Richard Virenque (Quick.Step), American Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank) or top Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) will all be on the start line.

Gijón smells like cycling. The locals observed all the preparations with awe and admiration. If you walked by the sea, in the Avenida del Molinón, you could see some teams training like Rabobank, Phonak or ONCE.

Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich, the two big "gladiators" in the last Tour de France, will be absent, both tired after a season concentrating on the Tour. Joseba Beloki won't take the start either. He will be another big absence in the Spanish race after his accident in the Tour.

The official presentation of the riders took place on Thursday and was broadcasted all over Spain. The official event of yesterday was the gala dinner, reserved only for authorities and VIP's involved in the race.

Stage 1 - September 6: Gijón Team Time Trial, 28 km

The Vuelta begins with a 28 km team time trial in the streets of Gijón. It will be a great opportunity for teams like ONCE-Eroski, US Postal Service and Kelme Costa Blanca to commence the competition with the top place in the teams classification. The start and finish line will be separated by just 500 meters in one of the central regions of the Spanish city. The riders will begin near "El Molinón" Stadium and will finish in the Avenida del Molinón after 28 km. The route is very flat and it only has the third category climb of "Alto de la Providencia" (just 105m) to be overcome.

A number of riders have the chance to take the golden leader's jersey, such as Spaniard José Luis Rubiera (US Postal) or his compatriot Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE-Eroski). We can also count on Kelme's Oscar Sevilla or his team mate Alejandro Valverde to become the first leader in the 2003 edition of the Vuelta.

Kintana out of Vuelta

Labarca 2-Café Baque has lost Aitor Kintana from its Vuelta line up after the rider received a confirmation of a positive test for EPO. Kintana returned a positive result for EPO after a test at the Volta a Catalunya. Following a positive result in the requested counter-analysis, Kintana has been removed from Labarca's roster and will be replaced by Ivan Herrero. Labarca had already lost recent Colombian recruit Buenahora due to injury and will pin its hopes on another former Orbitel 05 rider, Felix Cardenas.

Saiz wants to leave on top

Facing an uphill struggle in his search for a new sponsor for 2004, ONCE-Eroski director Manolo Saiz is nonetheless looking forward to a successful Vuelta a España, a race his team has won four times since 1989. "As I have the feeling that this could be my last Tour of Spain- and ONCE's for sure- then we have to pull out all the stops," Manolo said, quoted in a Reuters report.

ONCE's Vuelta charge will be led by Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, who finished second in 1999 and wore the leader's yellow jersey in last year's Tour de France. Gonzalez de Galdeano missed this year's Tour due to a suspension preventing him from riding on French soil, and was also injured in June. Saiz noted that he hopes to see ONCE ride the Vuelta "in a way which will do honour to the team's history in this race."

Team leader Joseba Beloki will be forced to watch the race from home, still recovering from his season-ending crash in stage 9 of this year's Tour de France. Beloki remains without a contract for 2004, taking his chances for the moment by waiting for Saiz to secure a replacement sponsor.

"I would prefer to stay with Manolo, because I believe in his project and things have gone very well in the past few years," Beloki told Marca. "The idea of going to a foreign team, at 30 years old, does not entice me, but I may have no other solution."

Beloki: "The route suited me"

Joseba Beloki (ONCE-Eroski) will suffer the frustration of missing his national tour due to injury, unable to take the start as team leader. Beloki's crash in the Tour de France put an end to his season, and the ONCE leader has not hidden his sadness at missing a Vuelta that he feels could have gone his way.

"Missing it makes me terribly envious," Beloki commented in Spanish daily Marca. "Whatever happens, the parcours suited my characteristics like no other: three mountain stages in the Pyrénées, an opening team time trial, the time trials in Zaragoza and Albacete, the Pandera, Sierra Nevada, and the hill climb time trial at Abantos are the specialties that have always favoured me. The route suited me."

Even with his name out of the running, Beloki too envisions a Spanish-dominated Vuelta, with the likely winner emerging from a group including teammate Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Roberto Heras (US Postal), Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo), Oscar Sevilla (Kelme), and Angel Casero (Bianchi).

"I don't dare name a favourite," he said, adding naturally that he would prefer to see ONCE emerge victorious.

Neben announces voluntary suspension

American Amber Neben (T-Mobile) has announced to USA Cycling that she has voluntarily suspended herself from competition, pending full results of a medical control performed May 31, 2003 at the Montreal World Cup event. Initial test results revealed a trace level of nandralone, a banned substance. As a result of her self-imposed suspension, Neben is currently suspended from national team activities and is ineligible for selection to the US world championship team.

"To say I was shocked is an understatement," Neben said in a written statement. "As an athlete, I try to be prepared for anything to happen in competition, but I was not prepared for this. I am trying to figure out what happened. I have been tested 11 times over the last two years, both in and out of competition, and every time I have tested negative. In fact I had tested negative 9 days before and then again both 3 and 4 days after the alleged positive test."

Neben plans to appeal the result, and removed herself from competition in order to begin the process and focus on rejoining her team as quickly as possible.

Riders for GP des Nations

Jean-Marie Leblanc announced the participants for the 67th Grand Prix des Nations time trial, to be held September 21 in Dieppe, France. The prestigious time trial, run over two laps of a 35 kilometre circuit, is an important test for the specialists against the clock not competing in the Vuelta a España.

Heading the list will be Gerolsteiner's Uwe Peschel (defending GP des Nations champion) and Michael Rich, who together won last weekend's two-man GP Eddy Merckx time trial. Runners up at GP Eddy Merckx Michael Rogers and Laszlo Bodrogi (Quick.Step-Davitamon) will also be present, along with Crédit Agricole's Jens Voigt and Christophe Moreau.

The full list of participants is as follows:

Ag2R-Prévoyance: Inigo Chaurreau, Nicolas Portal
Cofidis: Philippe Gaumont
Crédit Agricole: Christophe Moreau, Jens Voigt
De Nardi-Colpack: Serguei Gontchar
Fassa Bortolo: Fabian Cancellara Sandy Casar
Gerolsteiner: Michael Rich, Uwe Peschel
Jean Delatour: Eddy Seigneur, Yuri Krivstov, Frédéric Finot
Landbouwkrediet-Colnago: Thomas Vaitkus, Yaroslav Popovych
Marlux-Wincor-Nixdorf: Florent Brard, Raivis Belohvoschiks
MBK-Oktos: Stéphane Barthe
Palmans-Collstrop: Bert Roesems
Quick.Step-Davitamon: Laszlo Bodrogi, Michael Rogers
Rabobank: Maarten Den Bakker
Team Volksbank: Jean Nuttli

Life Repair enters Division III

Two years after its inception, the British Life Repair Racing Team will expand to become a UCI Division III trade team for 2004. The team will feature riders based in the UK, Ireland, and Belgium, and hopes to build on its run of domestic successes as it tackles continental racing. The team will likely employ around 12 riders.

"We're looking to have an Anglo-Irish link up with the team and to break into Europe," team manager Phil Leigh explained on the British Cycling website. "Don't get me wrong, we're not looking to ride the Tour de France next year and don't have any lofty ambitions. We just want to get known there, get established and gain a foothold in mainland Europe and then hopefully, work our way into being a Division II team. We don't want to run before we can walk. Its an evolving thing where we don't have unlimited funds. We have budget we have to work to so we have to be realistic within that and build it up slowly."

His squad will include the riders who have helped make Life Repair a success in the UK, including Premier Calendar winner Mark Lovatt, John Tanner, Kevin Dawson, Graham Briggs, Dean and Russell Downing, Ben Greenwood, and Matt Brammeier.

In addition to title sponsor Life Repair, the team is supported by Litespeed, Look, Lake Shoes, Michelin, Pedros Tools, BBB Glasses, Enervite Sports Nutrition, Ciclos Computers and other current sponsors.

An orange melodrama

Comment by Martin Hardie

Basque cycling fans drew a great sigh of relief last Wednesday when the question that had been on their mind since that Sunday in July on Alpe d'Huez was finally resolved: Iban Mayo would not joining the mass migration from the Iberian Peninsula to foreign teams, but he would indeed stay at home and remain in their team, Euslkaltel-Euskadi. The massive sea of orange had thus been given a second reason to be cheerful, as Iban Mayo would join Haimar Zubeldia at the head of the Basque team in 2004.

The negotiations over Mayo's contract renewal have continued back and forth since the Tour, and intensified over the past few weeks into what seemed to be a fully blown soap opera [Ed: yes, we were sucked in]. Earlier in the week, the negotiations were at their lowest point with Mayo being reported as saying he felt undervalued. Other factors were reported as influencing the negotiations and stance of Mayo's manager, Sabino Angoitia, some going so far to suggest that he was being offered a position within Saeco as a further inducement to move Mayo to Italy.

Mayo's feeling of being undervalued wasn't necessarily a reference to the monetary side of things. It seems he may have felt slighted by EE boss, Miguel Madariaga's comments, obviously made in the context of playing his cards, that if Iban didn't want to stay, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano might want to return to the home squad. But in terms of euros in staying with EE and accepting as much as €250,000 Euros less over the term of the contract, Iban has stuck to his guns and vision of life and sport as he told Cyclingnews before the Tour: "Money is not the only thing that matters in life...".

One thing Iban wanted was improving Euskaltel's potential in the team time trial at the Tour de France, which meant he wanted to see the contract renewal of other riders that have his confidence and he wanted to talk about his racing schedule before and after next year's Tour. As he and team director Julian Gorospe both admitted during the course of this year's Tour, Iban was overcooked and they were quite concerned that his early season efforts may have caused him to blow during the second half of the race.

Things began to look up as the week progressed, although EE manager Madariaga was still cautious, only saying on Tuesday that things were better than they were the day before. In addition to the major players, the melodrama was sucking in various business leaders and politicians, and the head of the Bizkaian province even was reported to have attended some of the meetings. It's clear that Mayo and co. have a special place in Basque society, being the closest thing to a national team, bringing positive news that the country desires to much.

On Tuesday night, fingers were crossed and everyone awaited the final decision of the Great Orange Hope, the Prince of Igorre, the King of Alpe d'Huez, Iban Mayo. First of all Cyclingnews reported that he was likely to go, but by Wednesday the final twist of story saw it confirmed that Iban would stay in the Basque country in the orange garb.

Since then, Madariaga has commenced the next part of the melodrama, the renewal of the backbone of the team that he, Gorospe, Zubeldia and Mayo believe will be required to realise their dreams in the coming seasons. Samuel Sanchez is locked in. Gorka Gonzalez, who has been showing some good local form of late, will sign in the next few days. Discussions have already commenced with Egoi Martínez and Iker Flores, and Madariaga's next objectives after the Tour de l'Avenir will be Aitor Silloniz and Alberto López de Munain. Lopez is known to be valued greatly by Mayo and it seems that his tireless efforts in the Tour for Mayo and Zubeldia will not be forgotten.

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