Aitor Gonzalez, team captain of Fassa Bortolo, commented on the Vuelta
route at today's presentation in Madrid.
Joking, Gonzalez said, "I would have liked it more if all the stages were
flat, and there were two more time trials just in case. The mountain time trial
at Abantos [Stage 20 on 27th September] will be good for time trialists and
climbers, but I think it will be more suited to time trialists."
Gonzalez was relieved by the absence of the Lagos de Covadonga, but more
particularly the Angliru, stating that he had enough of the Angliru for a while,
and that while there are more mountains in this edition, they are more
accomodating. He said that it is a route for all, but that he would have to say
later who might be a candidate. He also noted that so far he is only slated to
ride the Giro.
Manolo Saiz, director of ONCE-Eroski commented that the first week, in
the Pyrenees, will be key, with a team time trial, an individual time trial and
three mountain stages in a row (Stage 7, Cauterets-Pla de Beret; Stage 8, Vielha
-Andorra; and Stage 9, Andorra -Sabadell), stating that the one who performs
strongly here will surely dominate the tour but that this is a race for the
complete cyclist. Saiz also said it serves him team well that there are two time
trials near the end - Stage 13 and Stage 20.
Commenting on Beloki and Galdeano, Saiz said that while the route is
well-suited to Beloki, it is a big race, and that Galdeano is a great rider who
does more every year. He also said that in spite of criticisms after last year's
Vuelta that his team did not perform up to par, his team gave one hundred
percent and that ONCE is a team that has won the most Vueltas since Unipublic
began putting on the race in 1979.
Rabobank's Oscar Freire will be at the next edition of the Vuelta and
says the mountain time trial at Abantos is the tour's most outstanding feature.
Freire said that while the route does not favor him, he will try to win stages
and prepare for the Worlds, which has been his primary objective for several
years. But he said, he will win some stages and finish the Vuelta. In his first
season with Rabobank, the Worlds and the World Cup are what he plans for, and if
he does not make a substantial mark in the World Cup over the next few years,
then he will plan differently.
Vincent Belda, Director of Kelme-Costa Blanca is satisfied with the
next Vuelta route, but thinks it's premature to pin everything on Oscar Sevilla,
stating that last year the Angliru was a trap for his team. He says Sevilla has
grown as a time trialist, but what Kelme needs to do is perform well in its
homeland and to be in good condition after the Tour. To name Sevilla as a
favorite is premature.
Kelme Team Captain Oscar Sevilla pointed out that there are more
mountains, and that one of the keys is the Pyrenees - that although those three
mountain stages [Stages 7, 8 and 9] are not excessively hard, the fact that they
are on sequential days will be critical. Sevilla said that while the Angliru it
is not, these Andorran stages will do nicely.
He said this edition has a lot of mountains - Fito, the Andorrans which will
be key, plus La Pandera and Sierra Nevada, "where something always happens." As
for favorites, Sevilla says, "Sevilla, also Aitor; Heras, Casero. Mainly the
Team Coast Director Juan Fernandez pointed out the importance of the
comeback of an uphill ITT to the Vuelta. A stage that, according to his words,
could prove decisive for the final outcome of the contest. "To re-instate
the Mountain Time Trial was a guess. I think the race will be wide open until
that day, and Alto de Abantos will be judge."
Talking of the other comeback to the Vuelta, the return of the Pyrenees, the
man said that "those stages will be fascinating for the fans, and the right
places for great results, even though a few stages, like the Bonaigua one, will
not be that difficult. But riders would pay off for all their previous efforts."
As for the rest of the race, the Spaniard told the press, "There are other
important stages which could shake the overall standings, like the one finishing
up to La Pandera. And don't forget the wind; that could affect the peloton when
the race hits the Castilla region."
He also labelled the route as well-balanced, although in his opinion climbers
are the main favourites. The sport director of the German squad also expressed
the hope that his team may finally sign Jan Ullrich, but didn't elaborate a lot
"I can't talk much about this topic now. The team's patron in person is taking
care of the matter. We are looking for a second sponsor too, that might help us
to hire Ullrich. I personally hope and believe he'll be with us in the end".
iBanesto's Team Director Eusebio Unzué stated that winning the 2003
Tour of Spain, in the last year of his team as a member of the professional
cycling scene, would be the best way to say goodbye: "To win such a race would
also be the best way to thank a sponsor that has supported us for more than 14
years, sharing both our victories and misadventures." According to the
guy, the main favourite of the race should be "a time-trial specialist that can
also climb quite well".
More words from him concerning the route - "In the last years the
mountains were more selective than in the past, but in the end winners were the
likes of Casero and Aitor González. And next year we'll have even more
kilometres against the clock. But these are pure speculations." As for the
propect of his squad to stay in the peloton, although with a different sponsor,
Unzué just said that "somebody expressed his interest in us," without
He also told the press that he feels the moral obligation to rehabilitate 'Chava'
Jiménez, first of all as a person: "I still regard him as a friend, and have to
help him. The fact that he's thinking about racing the Vuelta is a good thing, a
sign that he's improving. But we still must be prudent".
ONCE-Eroski's rider Joseba Beloki has got no doubts: the Pyrenees will
be one of the key-factors in next year's Tour of Spain. More: the man wearing
the Gold jersey at the end of the Pyrenean stages might have many a chance to
keep it all way to the final podium. Much would depend on his lead over the
challengers of course. The Basque also talked of his targets for the next
season, with Tour and Vuelta once more being the main ones, and the way his
partcipation in the French contest may affect his performances in the following
Spanish GT: "The Vuelta's first week may prove decisive in this sense. You never
know what's better: to race the Tour or get a little fresher to the Vuelta
startline. But we know for sure that we are going to take part in both races,
and try to do our best in each of them."
The man, two-time podium place getter in the past season, hopes that next
year may be the good one for him to win the Tour of Spain: "I do hope that all
people telling me this route perfectly suits my skills may be right, and I can
get highly in the race final standings"
The 2000 Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras doesn't share the opinion
of those saying the 2003 edition is tailored for climbers: the Angliru's absence
(a climb where a rider can open significant gaps on his rivals) and the presence
of two large ITTs are enough for him to have a different point of view. The
rider from Béjar explained his opinions also by mentioning the 2001 edition,
that featured six top mountain finishes, but was eventually won by Casero, who
is a Time Trial specialist first.
Heras seemingly didn't share Beloki's confidence in the Pyrenees as key
factor - "The gradient of climbs such as Pla de Beret is not that high,
although an ascent always is an ascent." The man pointed out the importance of
Time Trials instead: "Even though I think it's a well-balanced parcours, you'd better not undervalue the two large Time Trials, where us climbers are going to
lose plenty of time. And it will take a huge effort for us to make up for that."
Thanks very much to Fabio for help with this article.