News for September 7, 2000

55th Vuelta a Espańa news

Part one wrap up

At the official end of the first half of the 55th Vuelta a Espańa the riders have more than earned their rest day in Zaragoza, September 6. Despite the relative shortness of stages this year, the Vuelta has easily rivaled the other Grand Tours in severity as 145 survivors out of 180 starters can attest. The leader's "Maillot de Oro" rests on 28 year old Angel Casero's shoulders, and this rider from Festina has a lot of work ahead of him to keep it there.

The most likely challenger at this point is Kelme's Roberto Heras. Already the winner of one stage, the climber from the "green train" has been steadily eating away at the deficits that he incurred in the time trials so far. He is second overall at 1'15 and has four mountain stages to try and increase this, and just one time trial to exercise damage control. The course profiles in the coming 11 days certainly suit climbers and you can be assured that Kelme will continue their non-stop attacking to unseat anyone above Heras in the GC.

Vitalicio's Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano was second in this race last year and currently lies third overall at 1'42. An accomplished climber and excellent time trialist, he has let Heras slip ahead of him in these last few stages. If he can hold Heras to a couple of minutes in the coming week and a half, then he might have a chance in Madrid, however it should be noted that he only gained 17 seconds on Heras in the stage 9 time trial in Tarragona.

Pre-race favourite and defending champion Jan Ullrich is still in the race, 4th at 2'21. However the German has admitted to struggling so far, and during the rest day reaffirmed his goals for the Olympics. "I've noticed gradually becoming tireder. I don't want to risk anything for the Olympics," he said after yesterday's finish.

His team boss Rudy Pevenage said that there was no cause for concern, as "Jan was already the rider of old even though he lost time in Tarragona. He has raced at a very high level since the Tour and it is normal that he would lose something. We are looking at his recovery but we don't want to give everything for a win in the Vuelta," he said.

However, a win in the final time trial in Madrid would be "beautiful," according to Pevenage.

Further down the standings (although not too far at 2'37) are Mapei duo, Pavel Tonkov and Manuel Beltran, 6th and 7th respectively. They and the Mapei team have come here to win the GC but have not had the easiest of starts, each losing time in the crosswinds of week one. Both are accomplished climbers and time trialists, but Tonkov is always questionable on the steeper climbs and stage 16 to Angliru may be his nemesis.

Fernando Escartin will certainly be lamenting his losses in the first week, as he now is 13th at 4'53. Escartin as been on the attack with his team in the mountains since then, and made up a considerable amount of time. Expect more to come from the Kelme top man.

ONCE's best rider may end up being Carlos Sastre Candil, 14th at 5'25. Although he has two other teammates in front of him (Olano at 3'39 and Gonzalez at 2'44), these two have both suffered in the mountain stages, despite each holding the leader's jersey. However, Sastre would have to do something quite special to put himself into the lead.

Stage results so far

Stage 1 opened in Málaga in Spain's south with a 12 kilometre individual time trial on a warm summer's evening. Swiss rider, Alex Zülle won from Abraham Olano and Jan Hruska, with the biggest surprise being Jan Ullrich's 20th. A sign of things to come perhaps although the German has certainly not cracked.

Stages 2 and 4 saw World Champion, Oscar Freire show his stripes as he won two bunch sprints. The Spaniard later had to withdraw in stage 8 due to a nagging back problem but had posted several top five finishes and was well up in the general classification. Stage 3 saw Dutchman Jans Koerts record a win in a bunch kick, although he too has now bowed out. In addition, the strong cross winds on the early stages resulted in unwanted time gaps for many of the pre-race favourites as they were forced to chase after ONCE put the hammer down a couple of times. Big losers were the Kelme team as well as riders like Beltran, Virenque, Camenzind, Peńa, Gotti and Klöden.

The first mountain test on stage 5 ended in a win for Banesto's Jimenez. Not Jose Maria, who was suffering at the back of the peloton and later abandoned, but Eladio who also took over the climber's jersey. This stage was held in very wet and slippery conditions, resulting in innumerable falls although only one rider recorded a DNF. However, before the stage even started, Saeco's Mario Cipollini was ejected from the race after an incident involving Francisco Cerezo (Vitalicio). Super Mario punched the latter in the eye and was subsequently given a suspension by his team as well as disqualification from the race. He is reported to be looking for work elsewhere.

Stage 6 from Benidorm to Valencia saw a surprise winner in Paolo Bossoni (Cantina Tollo) who suck under Freire's and Lombardi's guard to win in a sprint. This was another day where crosswinds resulted in more time gaps for Kelme. The following stage 7 saw an about face though, as Roberto Heras won the sprint to the top of Morella, a few seconds ahead of Patrice Halgand and Jan Ullrich. This was an omen of things to come as it turned out, although Alex Zülle still looked quite comfortable in the leader's jersey at this point.

Stage 8 was another bunch sprint, this time going to Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) who outsprinted Biagio Conte (Saeco) although the latter was later declassified for pushing Koerts into the barriers. Following this, stage 9 was the first long time trial of 37.6 kilometres, held on a technical circuit in Tarragona. The winner and new golden jersey was ONCE's Abraham Olano who turned in an impressive 50+ km/h for his ride. The loser was Alex Zülle who finished 15th, conceding two minutes to Olano and losing the jersey completely. Not a good sign for the Swiss with the tough mountains to follow.

The final two stages of Part One were in the mountains, and Kelme finally had a chance to make up for their poor first week. They certainly did that, attacking relentlessly and putting Olano out the back, followed by his teammate Santos Gonzalez, who held the jersey for a day after he finished 5th in stage 10. The winner of that day was Colombian Felix Cardenas (Kelme) and Heras managed to make up good time. Olano was looking shaky and plummeted to 9th after stage 11, again due to Kelme's pressure on the mountains. Euskaltel's Roberto Laiseka won into Arcalís, while Festina's Angel Casero gained the leader's jersey. Heras did enough to become 2nd overall and that is the situation at present.

Coming up...

Tomorrow's 131.5 kilometre stage in Zaragoza will be a chance for the riders to work out their legs after the long transfer there today. However, another rest day immediately follows with the action resuming on Saturday, September 9 in Santander. The mountains strike the day after with a 146.5 kilometre stage from Santander to Lagos de Covadonga and stage 16 from Oviedo to El Angliru (168 km, September 12) is sure to be an epic. There are two mountain stages after that, stage 18 and 20, both of which present tough challenges for the tired riders. The final time trial in Madrid on September 17 could well produce an exciting finish as the power riders try and regain the time they lost on the climbers on the final day.

Zarrabeitia update

ONCE's Mikel Zarrabeitia was the most unfortunate of the crash victims during the first eleven stages, crashing in yesterday's 11th stage on the descent of the Alt de la Rabassa. He severed the top of his ring finger and injured his little finger after he tried to fix his computer magnet and put his hand into the spokes of the front wheel.

After the crash, he passed out and was taken to an emergency medical centre in Zaragoza, where doctors amputated his ring finger and stitched the other. They said that the injury would not affect his professional cycling career however.

Echavarri goes back to l'Avenir

Banesto's manager, Jose Miguel Echavarri, today left his team in the Vuelta to look after his young 'uns in the Tour de l'Avenir (the Tour of the Future). After Banesto dropped out of contention in the Vuelta, Echavarri may be looking in France for some riders to boost their prospects for next season. Currently, Hungarian Laszlo Bodrogi (Mapei) leads with three stages to come. Banesto's best rider there is Oscar Garcia in 22nd place at 4'10 - can the Bank pull off a win as they did last year with Unai Osa? It seems unlikely at this point.

Team news

Beloki for five

Festina's rising star, Joseba Beloki has put an end to rumours surrounding his team for next year. In fact for the next five, after he signed a contract until 2005 with Juan Fernandez. Beloki had not finalised his 2001 contract with Festina, and after the Tour had several good offers from ONCE and various Italian teams. However, during the rest day of the Vuelta, his manager, Juan Carlos Gonzalez discussed things with the Festina management coming up with a five year plan.

A lengthy contract is quite rare in professional cycling, as riders are subject to form changes and injuries. It's a risk for both parties: the team because they might get lumbered with expensive baggage for several years, and the rider because he might outgrow his value if he improves. 27 year old Beloki is certainly talented and his team have put a great deal of faith in his ability to perform in big stage races. A contract until 2005 may even see him to the end of his career, although top riders are known to change teams in their closing years.

Beloki finished an impressive third in this year's Tour de France, despite suffering a fractured rib during the Mont Ventoux stage about halfway through the Tour. He is paying for that now, and that was the reason he couldn't start in the Vuelta. However his teammate, Angel Casero has gained the golden jersey and is keen to keep it until Madrid. Beloki's main lament was that he couldn't be there to help Casero try and keep it.

Mercury news from Holland

As mentioned yesterday, Mercury are looking to finalise their lineup for 2001 by September 10 when All Shall Be Revealed. Two strong Dutch riders (Koerts and Van Bon) have signed with the team prompting rumours in the Dutch media about who the rest will be. Dutch weekly "Sportweek" published a story tenuously linking Pavel Tonkov (Mapei) and Richard Virenque (Polti) with the team, however John Wordin refused comment on those names.

"We want to form a well established team for certain, and believe me, that will happen. Otherwise we wouldn't have made contracts with Koerts and Van Bon," said Wordin to Sportweek.

"To start in the World Cups and the Tour de France you need UCI points, and we have to buy these points at the moment."

Wordin raced in Holland in 1990 where he was with the team Westland Wil Vooruit. He rode with Danny Overgaag and John Den Braber. "Jans Koerts and Tristan Hoffman were with Koga Miyata. Nice time."

Koerts' manager, Orlando van den Bosch and Patrick Wouters (Van Bon's manager) both confirm that Wordin has serious plans. "Within two to three years he will have a well known team. Ford is behind this team, and they can spend a lot of dollars."

Vermaut and Dekker

Ex-US Postal rider for next season, Stive Vermaut (Bel) will ride in 2001 for Lotto-Adecco. He also had another offer from Cofidis which he turned down.

Erik Dekker has snagged a longer contract with Rabobank, despite signing for just one year before the Tour de France. In light of his Tour and more recent performances, the Dutch team offered him two years instead of one which he happily accepted. "Where else would I go?," said Dekker.

"After his strong performances, an improved contract was correct for such a rider," said manager Jaan Raas.

VDB 'slight chance'

Frank Vandenbroucke's manager, Paul De Geyter (SEM), was quoted in Belgian press saying that there is "only a very small chance" that VDB will start in any races for the rest of the season.

However, he didn't gave a reason: "I can say that within two weeks VDB will announce his new team for next year. There are still several candidates, but no ONCE, that's over," added De Geyter, referring to an article in Het Laatste Nieuws linking VDB with the Spanish team.

In the mean time Cofidis are paying his salary as normal. The Cofidis boss said that "He can justify his inactivity".

No Paris-Brussels for Spar

Gaspard Van Peteghem's Spar-OKI team will not be starting in this Saturday's Paris-Brussels, it was confirmed today. Van Peteghem was previously quoted as saying that he may pull the plug on sponsoring the team if this was the case.

Univest boost

The Univest Grand Prix, September 16 is one of the USA's last major races this season. Taking place in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, the 160 kilometre men's and 52 kilometre women's events have attracted large starting fields already. The women will see defending champion, Annie Gariepy and her Elita team take the start, including Erin Carter, Karen Dunne and Cybil Di Guistini. They will be up against the powerful Charles Schwab team, with US Criterium Champion, Laura Van Gilder (second in last year's Univest GP) in attendance. Elizabeth Emery, Marie Holjer and Leigh Hobson will be there in support of Van Gilder to help her to the top this year.

In addition, San Diego based Team Jane Cosmetics will enter Jenny Eyerman, who recently competed in the Women's Tour de France as well as former Saturn standout Sue Palmer-Komar. Mina Pizzini, silver medallist in the 2000 Olympic Trials, will be heading up a strong Procter & Gamble/Women's Health contingent that also includes Heather Cole from Canada. Trek/CYBC will be counting on local teen sensation Sarah Uhl, winner of gold at this year's Junior Pan-American Games to do well, while current New Zealand National Criterium Champ, Tania Duff-Miller will be leading the way for the HDK/ARBC team.

Almost 100 riders will comprise the women's field, including the Altoona Bicycle Club, CRCA/RLX Polo Sport, Independent Fabrications/Wheelworks, and NCVC/Spokes Etc., Team Kiro and several independent riders.