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2001 Vuelta

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Vuelta News for September 30, 2002

Edited by Jeff Jones

Stage 21 wrap up

The 57th Vuelta España ended today in spectacular fashion in Madrid's San Bernabeu stadium, where an enormous crowd cheered the remaining riders to their final destination. Despite various predictions that Roberto Heras would hold onto his 1'08 lead, the winner on the day was Aitor Gonzalez, who rode brilliantly in perfect conditions to average 51.6 km/h, putting 3'22 into Heras who was relegated to second overall. Joseba Beloki (ONCE) rode well to finish fifth on the stage and move past the unlucky Oscar Sevilla to take third on GC, after Sevilla lost too much time due to mechanical problems.

For Gonzalez, it was the biggest triumph of his five year career, and he shows plenty of promise in the coming years for the big tours. For Heras it was a shattering disappointment: the rider who won the Vuelta in 2000 riding for Kelme had the tables turned on him this year, being severely outgunned in the teams department and not being able to make up enough time in the mountains, his preferred terrain. Next year?

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Aitor Gonzalez (Kelme, 1st stage and GC)

Aitor Gonzalez
Photo: © AFP
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"I started hard, as in all the stages, and it was a matter of maintaining a high rhythm to get good times. I had a great deal of confidence in myself."

"I saw myself winning when I got the time gap of 50 seconds. I was confident that if I did not suffer any mechanicals I would have a great chance to win."

"I dedicate this stage to everyone who supported me, and to me."

"I came to this race to win it. Although in three weeks a lot can happen and a lot of different factors come into play."

Vicente Belda (Kelme DS)

"I always knew Aitor could succeed. But we didn't talk up his chances so he could avoid riding under pressure. I am not surprised by his victory since at kilometre 25 we were already in the gold jersey."

"In this Vuelta I have had bad moments, because to maintain peace in a chicken coop when two roosters are fighting is very difficult. What is important is that we finished calmly and the water returned to its bed."

"It was clear that this Vuelta could be won by Kelme and that the road would decide things. For me the stage of the Angliru was decisive, and put each rider in his place."

"I am sorry for Oscar Sevilla because he was not able to make the podium, and because he has not had a good year. He could not do well in the Tour due to stomach problems and in the Vuelta he was not at the physical level that we expected. Above all we should be calm and tell him that next year we are going to have a super team so that we can win the Vuelta and go very well in the Tour if Armstrong lets us and fails."

About Aitor's departure from the team, Belda commented that "We should enjoy the victory and not think about these things. Aitor has an offer from Kelme and until two days ago it was the best we could do for him. Above all we should enjoy today and in the next few days sit down with our directors and discuss the issue."

Angel Casero (Team Coast, 2nd stage)

Casero rode excellently today to finish second behind Gonzalez and jump three placings on the rankings to finish 6th overall. A solid performance from last year's champion who has had another year plagued by injury. However he was disappointed at missing out on a spot in the Spanish World's team, with Aitor Gonzalez and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano scheduled to ride the time trial.

"To go to the World's would have been great, but it's back to where we were two years ago. It's foolish to repeat the same things since I can't go. I will go to a friend's wedding."

On his Vuelta this year, Casero said "This year my operation trashed all of my plans. I went to Portugal to race and not I am a lot better than I was three weeks ago."

Joseba Beloki (ONCE, 3rd GC)

Joseba Beloki
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"The day of La Pandera [Stage 6] was the worst of all," said Beloki, recounting his crucial time loss to Heras, Sevilla and Gonzalez. He never really recovered from that although he rode well in the mountains in the second half of the race.

On Aitor Gonzalez' performance to win today: "I congratulate him, but it is sad for Roberto Heras."


Winner's profile: Aitor Gonzalez

The 27 year old Kelme man was born in the Basque country but raised in Alicante, where his father runs a chicken farm. Kelme also has its head office in Alicante, hence there was an interest in signing Gonzalez. Most of his first year as a pro in 1998 with the Colombian Telecom-Flavia squad (Kelme's feeder team). He came back to Spain to ride for Kelme full time at the end of 1998 and continued in 1999.

In 2000 his potential started to shine through. He won a stage and the best young rider competition in the Tour du Limousin, as well as a stage in the Volta ao Algarve in Portugal. He also finished second in the GP Lodio.

In 2001 he won his first big stage race, the Vuelta a Murcia in March, mainly due to his skills as a time trialist (he won the 12.9 km TT stage). He finished 4th in the HC ranked Volta a Catalunya in June, showing that he could climb as well as time trial. Then in the Tour de France he impressed many people with his second place behind Erik Dekker in the rain sodden stage to Pontarlier, where the infamous 35 minute break was established. In the finale he was away with Dekker and Knaven, who both took turns in attacking him. He chased down every one and took a close second in the sprint.

This season he has improved another step, especially his climbing which is his only weakness. In the Giro d'Italia he won an uphill sprint stage, as well as taking the final time trial stage. He finished 6th overall after cracking badly on the same day that Cadel Evans did, when Savoldelli virtually won the Giro. He knew then that he had the potential to win a major tour, and he has now done so.

His next ambition is to win the Tour de France, and he is rapidly turning into a complete rider. What team he will ride with remains uncertain, with offers from Kelme, Acqua e Sapone, Quick Step, and perhaps Telekom. His asking price will have risen a bit today.

How the Vuelta was won

Stage 1 - Valencia Team Time Trial: ONCE win by 14 seconds over US Postal, with Kelme third at 15 seconds. Joseba Beloki takes the first leader's jersey.

Stage 2 - Valencia - Alcoy: Saeco's Danilo Di Luca wins the uphill sprint in front of Erik Zabel. Beloki survives a late attack by Oscar Sevilla to keep the gold jersey.

Stage 3 - San Vicente de Raspeig - Murcia: Regulation bunch sprint sees Mario Cipollini claim the first of three stage wins

Stage 4 - Aguilas - Roquetas De Mar: Cipollini does it again, this time raising his arms in a grand victory salute

Stage 5 - El Ejido o Almeria - Sierra Nevada: The first mountain stage is won by Cofidis' Guido Trentin, with Oscar Sevilla gaining a minute on Heras, and Gonzalez gaining 50 seconds. Beloki loses the lead to ONCE teammate Mikel Zarrabeitia.

Stage 6 - Granada - La Pandera (Jaen): Roberto Heras bounces back with a great stage win on La Pandera. Sevilla comes in third at 18 seconds and takes the leaders jersey. Gonzalez finishes 48 seconds behind Heras, rubbing out his time gain yesterday.

Stage 7 - Jaen - Malaga: SuperMario is unbeatable in the bunch sprints, winning his third and final stage in the Vuelta. He quits the next day in order to prepare for the World's.

Stage 8 - Málaga - Ubrique: A thrilling downhill finish sees Aitor Gonzalez overhaul solo breakaway Luis Perez in the final metres to win the stage. Heras loses 9 seconds to Gonzalez, while Sevilla keeps the gold jersey.

Stage 9 - Córdoba - Córdoba: A day of crosswinds and splits sees Danilo Di Luca and Francesco Mancebo in the wrong half of the peloton, with Mancebo abandoning due to his GC chances vanishing. iBanesto make up for it with Pablo Lastras winning the stage. Sevilla remains in gold.

Stage 10 - Córdoba - Córdoba ITT: The first individual time trial is held in shocking conditions in Cordoba. Aitor Gonzalez rides well to win the stage and move within one second of Sevilla's lead. Heras loses 1'34 to Gonzalez, which is not bad for him.

Stage 11 - Alcobendas - Collado Villalba: Pablo Lastras wins his second stage as all the GC favourites finish together. Sevilla still in gold by one second.

Stage 12 - Segovia - Burgos: Alessandro Petacchi records his first stage win by taking the bunch sprint in Burgos ahead of Erik Zabel and Angelo Furlan. No changes to the GC.

Stage 13 - Burgos - Santander: A breakaway group is successful at last, with Cipollini's lead out man Giovanni Lombardi making the best of the Italian presence in the break to win. No changes to the GC.

Stage 14 - Santander - Gijón: Ordinarily an uneventful stage, the 14th leg is marked by a massive crash with 32 km to go. Those out include Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Fernando Escartin. Russian Sergei Smetanine wins in a solo break. Sevilla still in gold.

Stage 15 - Gijón - Angliru: The key stage in the Vuelta. Aitor Gonzalez accelerates on the last climb, putting teammate and gold jersey wearer Sevilla in difficulty. Heras profits and attacks to win the stage and take the lead. Gonzalez is chastised a little by his team director, but he is now the only Kelme rider with a realistic chance of winning the Vuelta.

Stage 16 - Avilés - León: Santiago Botero finds his form again and wins the 16th stage, beating the luckless Luis Perez in a two up sprint. The break is not threatening to the lead of Heras, who had a few nervous moments when he found himself without teammates. He survives, with his 35 second lead on Gonzalez intact.

Stage 17 - Benavente - Salamanca: Another bunch sprint. This time it's the turn of Angelo Furlan (Alessio) to deny Erik Zabel a win.

Stage 18 - Salamanca - Estación de la Covatilla (Béjar): The final mountain top finish sees local boys Santi Blanco (iBanesto) and Roberto Heras take first and second in the stage. Heras increases his lead over Aitor Gonzalez to 1'12, although he wanted more.

Stage 19 - Béjar - Avila: Another win for iBanesto as Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta wins on the cobbles in Avila. Aitor Gonzalez attacks in the final kilometre to put 4 seconds into Heras and claw back some of the time gap. It's more a psychological blow than anything.

Stage 20 - Avila -Warner Bros Park (S. Martín de la Vega): The final mass start stage ends in a mass finish, with all 132 remaining riders recording the same time. The winner is Angelo Furlan (Alessio) who notches up his second Vuelta stage win, and shows promise for the future.

Stage 21 - Warner Bros Park - Stadion Santiago Bernabeu ITT: Roberto Heras starts the day with a 1'08 lead over Aitor Gonzalez, but loses it in the first 25 km as Gonzalez powers home to win the stage and the Vuelta. Heras loses 3'22 and must satisfy himself with 2nd overall and the white jersey of Most Consistent Rider.

(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2002)


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