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58th Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, September 6-28, 2003
Plenty of depth for Vuelta España 2003
By Jeff Jones
Organisers Unipublic have attracted a strong and deep field for this year's Vuelta España, which takes place between September 6-28 and is the third grand tour of the season. There are 22 nine rider teams registered for a total of 198 riders who will compete for the overall honours in the Spanish race.
The number one dossard will be worn by Aitor Gonzalez, who won the Vuelta in the final time trial last year and will lead a strong Fassa Bortolo team this year. In principle the squad contains Dario Frigo and Alessandro Petacchi, and looks to be well balanced for the flats and mountain stages.
Challenging them will be US Postal-Berry Floor, which will try to put Roberto Heras in a winning position again. Heras won the Vuelta in 2000 riding for Kelme, and finished second last year behind Gonzalez. He will be supported by Manuel Beltran, George Hincapie, Floyd Landis, Benoît Joachim, Michael Barry, Jose Luis Rubiera and Victor Peña, with Max van Heeswijk in there for stage wins.
ONCE's top riders include Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Jose Azevedo and Jörg Jaksche, with Gonzalez de Galdeano the nominal captain. Kelme-Costa Blanca will see the return of Oscar Sevilla, who has suffered for most of the season from a cyst. Sevilla has never won the Vuelta, but finished as runner up in 2001 and was fourth in 2002.
Team Telekom looks to be a strong team on paper for the Vuelta. Erik Zabel will head the team in the sprint stages, while Cadel Evans, who missed the Tour due to a broken collarbone, will probably feature as the team's GC rider. Mario Aerts, Torsten Hiekmann, Bobby Julich and Steffen Wesemann are the backbone of the team, with Gian Matteo Fagnini there to lead out Zabel.
Domina Vacanze has (finally) entered World Champion Mario Cipollini, who will have a strong team behind him including Giovanni Lombardi and Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero. It's a team that has the strength to control the race and carry Mario to the line, preferably in front.
Cofidis will start with David Millar, who is certainly a chance in the time trials and can climb well enough to finish in the top 10. Euskaltel will not feature Tour de France stars Haimar Zubeldia and Iban Mayo, however Roberto Laiseka should be able to perform well in the mountains, along with riders like Gorka Arrizabalaga and Gorka Gonzalez.
iBanesto will front up for its last Vuelta with climbers Francisco Mancebo and Leonardo Piepoli, as well as strong man Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta and Aitor and Unai Osa. Labarca 2-Café Baqué has a couple of recently signed Colombians in its ranks, with Hernan Buenahora and Felix Cardenas (ex-05 Orbitel), who should be able to make an impression in the mountains.
Francesco Casagrande will lead the Lampre team, with Wladimir Belli and Juan Manuel Garate in support and Jan Svorada for the sprints. Portuguese Milaneza-MSS will have Claus Möller, Txema Del Olmo, Joan Horrach and Fabian Jeker as GC riders, with Angel Edo for the sprints.
Paternina-Costa de Almeria's Jose Antonio Pecharroman is a dark horse, having won the Volta a Catalunya and Bicicleta Vasca this year. He showed then he could both climb and time trial, but it remains to be seen what he can do in a major tour.
Phonak's Alex Zülle could well be in his last Vuelta this year, as he has hinted at retiring at the end of the season. Zülle won the race on two occasions in 1996 and 1997, but it's likely that Phonak's younger riders such as Oscar Pereiro Sio will be the ones to watch.
Quick.Step-Davitamon will be taking a fairly young team, with Tom Boonen, Aurélien Clerc and Patrik Sinkewitz likely to play a support role for Frank Vandenbroucke, Kurt Van de Wouwer and Richard Virenque. Rabobank will start with high hopes for Levi Leipheimer, who finished third in the 2001 Vuelta but crashed out of the Tour de France this year in stage 1. This race will be important for Leipheimer, who will have Danish climber Michael Rasmussen as a helper in the mountains.
Saeco looks to be going with a team aimed at stage wins, with the likes of Igor Astarloa, Ivan Quaranta and Juan Fuentes. Team Bianchi will feature 2001 winner Angel Casero, along with Felix Garcia Casas and Aitor Garmendia.
Team CSC has Spaniard Carlos Sastre and Austrian Peter Luttenberger for the GC, with Julian Dean in there for the sprints. Finally Vini-Caldirola-So.Di will be looking to do something with Fred Rodriguez, Oscar Mason, and Gabriele Balducci.
The 2003 Vuelta unveiled
By Chris Henry
The 58th Vuelta a España features a full parcours that promises to keep the 2003 edition exciting. Although the organizers' two-peloton plan was snubbed early on, this year's race will be anything but formulaic, including four time trials and six mountain top finishes, complete with a foray into the French Pyrénées. Two rest days will offer the peloton a chance to recover between the numerous challenges.
The race opens, as it did in 2002, with a team time trial, this year covering 30km around Gijon. Moving across the northern coast to Santander, the stages move inland for a few days before returning to the north for the first individual time trial, followed by several tough days in the Pyrénées. The race will also visit Andorra for the finish of stage 9 and the start of stage 10, a transitional stage to the Sabadell on the Mediterranean.
After a transfer south to Utiel, riders face two stages in central Spain before the next individual time trial, a 53km test around Albacete. The race winds its way further south to the Sierra Nevada mountains and even more climbing. Finally, moving back north to Madrid, four stages will wrap up the Vuelta, but not before the penultimate stage gives one more chance for a GC shake up with a 12km uphill time trial.
Following recent tradition, stages will remain relatively short, often between under 170km and with a maximum length of 190km (stage 7). The final stage individual time trial has been replaced by a traditional road stage based around Madrid, however the uphill race against the clock promises to keep the riders and fans anxious until the end.