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Vuelta a España Team Preview: The Underdogs
By Locutus
Date: 9/5/2002
Vuelta a España Team Preview: The Underdogs

Milaneza-MSS comes into the 2002 Vuelta as the big darkhorse of the race. Though they are only a Division II team, the boys from Portugal have had some outstanding results this season that prove they are ready to make some noise on the road to Madrid. The most recent eye-opener for Milaneza-MSS (who is also known as the Maia team) was their complete domination of their recent national tour, the Volta a Portugal, where they won several stages, the points competition, the mountains competition, and the top three spots on GC. They will be led by Volta a Portugal champion Claus Michael Møller, the Danish climber who was a huge factor in last year's Vuelta: Møller won the brutal climb to Alto de Aitana in Stage 15, and came in 5th in the Vuelta's last time trial, finishing only 56" behind Santiago Botero (Kelme). He was a major presence throughout the mountain stages, and finished up 8th on GC at 7' 13" behind Casero. His victory in the Volta a Portugal, including a decisive ride in the final time-trial, shows that he is on form and ready to improve upon last year's results.

He will be supported by a very strong team as well. The designated sprinter for Milaneza-MSS is Angel Edo, who won two stages each in the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon and the Volta a Portugal; he also took the points competition in Portugal, and his climbing legs will make him a serious threat to Erik Zabel (Telekom) in that competition at the Vuelta a España. Joan Horrach is an outstanding climber who won a mountain stage and wore the leader's jersey for most of this year's Volta a Portugal before finally falling into 2nd behind Møller in the final time trial. He also placed 2nd on GC in this year's Vuelta a Castilla y Leon, and he should be right there in the mountains to support his Danish leader's bid for a high GC spot. Last year's Volta a Portugal champion Fabian Jeker is a threat for long breakaway stage wins, and will also be a great support rider for Møller. Rui Sousa was 3rd on the podium in the Volta a Portugal, and he is an another outstanding climber the Milaneza-MSS brings to the line in their quest for the Gold Jersey. Veteran Melchor Mauri will also be able to draw on his vast experience to help his Danish captain to the promised land. While some question the quality of Milaneza's victories this year, it would be a mistake to discount their chances in the Vuelta a España. From top to bottom they will have one of the strongest teams in the race, and should bring back not only some stage wins, but also a high placing in the GC. The podium is a realistic possibility for Møller, and the rest of the teams had better watch out for this dynamite underdog.

BigMat-Auber '93 comes into the Vuelta as the biggest underdog, having been given a special invite in the 11th hour due to the fact that they were the only Division 1 team not to be invited to a Grand Tour this year. This will be a swansong for BigMat, as the sponsor has pulled the plug on the team due to poor results that led to no invite for the Tour de France. That exclusion proved the last straw for the French sponsors. There has been hope recently for their Vuelta chances, as British sprinter Jeremy Hunt's win in the GP Ouest-France a Plouay shows that he has good form, and is capable of being a factor in the sprint finishes. BigMat also brings Felix Garcia Casas and Aitor Kintana, two Spanish climbers who can make a big impression in the mountains. Stephane Heulot, a quality all-around rider, is a big threat for stage wins, especially if he can get into some good breakaways. The riders will have the extra motivation of trying to attract offers for next year, so they will likely be very aggressive throughout the race.

Milaneza-MSS (a.k.a. Maia) - Vuelta Squad
151. Claus Michael Møller (Den)
152. Angel Edo (Spa)
153. Victoriano Fernandez (Spa)
154. Joan Horrach (Spa)
155. Fabian Jeker (Swi)
156. Rui Lavarinhas (Por)
157. Melchor Mauri (Spa)
158. Joao Silva (Por)
159. Rui Sousa (Por)
Goncalo Amorim (Por)
Pedro Cardoso (Por)

BigMat-Auber '93 - Vuelta Squad
41. Felix Garcia Casas (Spa)
42. Guillaume Auger (Fra)
43. Stephane Heulot (Fra)
44. Jeremy Hunt (GBr)
45. Xavier Jan (Fra)
46. Aitor Kintana (Spa)
47. Cyril Saugrain (Fra)
48. Alexei Sivakov (Rus)
49. Sebastien Talabardon (Fra)
Patrick Jonker (Ned)
Ludovic Auger (Fra)
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