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The last three winners of the Vuelta a España, Ángel Casero, Roberto Heras and Aitor González, are all to take the start of the race this Saturday with a common objective: to join the select group of riders that have won the Vuelta on two occasions.
This exclusive club is formed of Belgian Gustave Deloor (winner of the first two editions in 1935 and 1936), Spaniards Julián Berrendero (1941 and 1942) and José Manuel Fuente (1972 and 1974), Frenchman Bernard Hinault (1978 and 1983), Spaniard Pedro Delgado (1985 and 1989) and Swiss Alex Zulle (1996 and 1997), with only Swiss rider Tony Rominger having obtained three outright victories (1992, 1993 and 1994).
Heras and González figure among the majority of the experts’ predictions, whilst Casero must return to the form shown in 2001 in order come out on top in Madrid. Zulle is to lead the Phonak team, although his form is some way short of that demonstrated during the last decade and his options of equalling countryman Rominger’s record are remote.
The bookmakers make the “Terminaitor” and Roberto Heras joint favourites for the race . Gonzalez will be riding his third major tour of the year while Heras once again proved to be Lance Armstrong’s right hand man in France .
The Salamanca rider has not hidden his interest in wearing the leader’s Golden jersey and has admitted that he would dearly like to win the Vuelta once more. Heras exudes self-confidence, calm, motivation and a clear determination to see himself once more as overall victor of the Spanish race.
The rider himself is very aware of his condition as a favourite. “Yes. If I thought that I wasn’t in good enough form to try and win the Vuelta, or if I lacked the ambition to win, it would perhaps be better for me not to take part. My aim is to fight for overall victory”.
Heras doesn’t care to rate the course of this year’s race as beneficial for any specific type of rider. “I would say that there is a 50% chance of a climber winning and a 50% chance of non-climber winning. The course presents good opportunities both for climbers and for time trial specialists. Those of us that are climbers can’t complain, but neither can the time trial specialists. What I like most about the route is that there are the stages in the French Pyrenees that take in long climbs, such as Aubisque, Cauterts, Aspin, Peyresourde, etc. They are all long passes that are capable of causing a lot of damage, although we will have to wait and see if the damage that we climbers are able to provoke will be enough to counteract the time we will lose in the Albacete and Saragossa time trials. Given the absence of El Angliru, we must be grateful for the Pyrenees stages, which is where we will be able to establish the greatest differences”.
Heras believes that the final podium will be occupied by Spanish riders. «Oscar Sevilla, Angel Casero, Aitor González and Igor González de Galdeano. I don’t think that any of the foreign riders will be in the running for the overall victory”.
Additionally, Heras would like to win an individual stage, given that he doesn’t have too many outright wins to his name. “I am an ambitious rider and I like to win. I look forward to taking the winner’s place on the podium again. I came very close last year and I was disappointed not to win, although it was clear that I was able to stay close to the best riders, which was very positive for me. When you make a tremendous effort, when you give it all you’ve got and you are unable to come close to winning, you feel bad, which is what happened to me in 2001”.
The ONCE team, which has suffered the loss of Joseba Beloki through injury, is to place its hopes on Igor González de Galdeano, who is rated third favourite by the bookies . The entire team will be working to obtain the best overall placing for the Basque rider, whilst individual victories will be sought be sprinter Ángel Vicioso, time trial specialist Jan Hruska and climbers José Azevedo and Marcos Serrano.
Kelme-Costa Blanca once again pin their hopes on “El Nino” although this has not been the best year for the oldest squad in the international peloton, mainly as a result of Oscar Sevilla’s injury problems. Although the Albacete rider has done everything in his power to hit top form for this year’s Vuelta, Sevilla himself will have to wait and see whether his preparation is able to return him to the top placings. Alejandro Valverde, the Alicante team’s most offensive rider so far this season, will be out to look for sprint victories.
Like Roberto Heras , Ángel Casero enters the race having supported his team Captain in the Tour de France . Last year a knee operation and the aftermath stop of 3 months did not allow him to reach important goals. His 6th place in general ranking at the Tour of Spain, after training for 18 days only, is an evidence of his class. This year he has had better luck with injuries and should not be discounted .
Francisco Mancebo has had a great season so far winner of the Vuelta Castilla y Leon and Clásica Alpes the former white jersey winner of the Tour de France and his Banesto team mates will be highly motivated to do well in what will be the famous teams last Vuelta .
The forgotten American Levi Leipheimer , makes a welcome return to the big time after a torrid season . Disaster in the Tour de France , saw Levi out with injury and now he realises he must have a great ride in the Vuelta to restore his confidence . The bookies clearly remember his performance in the Vuelta 2001 and make him 7th favourite .
Very similar could be written for
Cadel Evans . His move to Telekom has also been injury plagued , but the climbs could well suit his style and at last the “Wizzard of Oz” could make a dramatic comeback .
José Antonio Pecharromán has burst onto the scene this seaon with a series of great rides . Winner of the Euskal Bizikleta and then of the Volta a Cataluña. His previous managers has said he is a very good timetrialist. Now he is the leader of the Paternina-Costa de Almería, managed by Miguel Moreno. The bookies make him 9th most likely to win at 15 to 1 .
GONZALEZ J. Aitor (SPA - FAS) 4.25
HERAS Roberto (ESP - USP) 4.25
GONZALEZ DE GALDEANO Igor (SPA - ONC) 4.75
SEVILLA Oscar (ESP - KEL) 5.00
CASERO M. Angel-Luis (SPA - TBI) 7.00
MANCEBO Francisco (SPA - BAN) 10.00
LEIPHEIMER Levi (USA - RAB) 13.00
EVANS Cadel (AUS - TEL) 14.00
PECHARROMAN José Antonio (SPA - ALM) 15.00
FRIGO Dario (ITA - FAS) 16.00
AZEVEDO José (POR - ONC) 18.00
SASTRE C. Carlos (SPA - CSC) 18.00
MILLAR David (GB - COF) 26.00
VIRENQUE Richard (FRA - QSD) 26.00
AERTS Mario (BEL - TEL) 100.00
VANDENBROUCKE F (BEL - QSD) 100.00