Spain for the World's in a nutshell? Lookin' good.
The Spanish squad's number one man is Oscar Freire, who has won the World Championships twice before: in 1999 and 2001, in 2000, he placed third. All indications are that Freire is in threatening form right now, and heads into Hamilton fresh from two stage wins and an overall victory in the Giro della Privincia di Lucca. He won those stages out of bunch sprints, but Freire has shown himself as a winner out of small breaks as well. He's been quiet this year, but when he's on, he's on, and historically, he's done pretty well for himself at the World's. Freire's a sprinter who can handle a bit of climbing. If he can hang in for the duration, Freire seems to be right on target, and he has a great and dedicated team backing him up.
Freire triumphant in Lisbon, 2001
Despite the fact that the course may not be ideally suited to Freire, reports are that the two-time World Champion has the unstinting support of all of his teammates. It was indeed the solidarity of the Spanish team that led him to victory in 2001, while the favored Italians squabbled on the road; and while his teammates have all vowed to give everything for Freire, Spain does have a few more cards to play. Most notable among them is this year's Vuelta revelation, 23 year old Kelme man Alejandro Valverde. Valverde is a tough climber with plenty of gas left for the sprint even after a tough day in the mountains, and this course should suit him well. Valverde's stellar performance in the Vuelta makes him a somewhat protected rider for the Spanish team, and he will be a strong contender on this course. Like the other Spanish riders, Valverde has pledged his help to his team leader, but told Spanish daily Marca that if Freire falters, he will play his cards.
Valverde and Sevilla in La Vuelta
At positions three and four in the Spanish team's pecking order sit Saeco's Igor Astarloa and Kelme's Oscar Sevilla, both strong men with plenty of gas for a course like this one. This year's Fleche Wallone Champion, Astarloa has put in strong rides all season, and could surprise on this course. As for Sevilla, he has spent the year on the ropes due to illness, injury and mishap, but found his form in an aggressive last week of the Vuelta. Sevilla has proven himself time and again to be a consummate team player, and will be motivated to shine in Hamilton after a season spent largely on the sidelines.
Gonzalez de Galdeano & Nozal enjoy hat day at La Vuelta
The supporting cast is all quality, as well. ONCE men Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and Marcos Serrano showed their strength and sportsmanship with incredible rides in support of Isidro Nozal during the Vuelta this year. Serrano, always there when the chips were down for Nozal, was responsible on more than one day, for shepherding a flagging Gold Jersey through tough days when the ONCE leader was besieged and suffering. Gonzalez de Galdeano lost steam by the end of the 21 days of this year's little jaunt around Iberia, but he has had time to recover, and should be ready to perform worthy service in the road race. Likewise, Cofidis men Luis Perez and Iñigo Cuesta have had very strong rides in both the Tour de France and the Vuelta, and iBanesto.com's Francisco Mancebo has had a great year with a victory in the Classique des Alpes, a strong Dauphine, 10th in the Tour de France, and 5th in the Vuelta. By any estimation these are deluxe domestiques.
No domestique has been more deluxe this year than Manuel Beltran. Beltran was a late addition to the US Postal squad, lifted out of the ashes of the Coast team. Beltran rode strongly enough in the Tour to put his inimitable leader for that race on the ropes, and looked for awhile to be the man to watch in Postal's Vuelta when he out-gunned eventual winner Roberto Heras handily in the first ITT. Beltran is a great climber, and if there's some form left in him after two grand tours of yeoman's work, Freire will be lucky to have him. Rounding out the impressive support roster are are Euskaltel's Gorka Gonzalez, who took his first professional win on stage 5 of the Vuelta a Burgos out of a strong breakaway, and iBanesto.com's Aitor Osa, who was strong and in the action for nearly every tough day of the Vuelta.
Courtesy of USPS/Berry Floor
Beltran hauls ass in Spain
The characteristics of the course in Hamilton suit the hard man, with 21 laps up two biting, but short hills on a short course, the pace should be hot. The climbs are not particularly long or steep, but are on the docket 21 times in Hamilton, will hit hard and fast, leaving little room for recovery, and should prove selective. By all accounts, there is no rest for the wicked on this circuit. Italian 2003 World Cup Champion Paolo Bettini is the heavy favorite, but there's no doubt that this Spanish squad is well-stocked with men who can tough it out, follow moves and make an aggressive bid for victory.
Meanwhile, time trial specialist Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and recent Vuelta hero Isidro Nozal take on the Time Trial for Spain. Gonzalez de Galdeano took the bronze in Zolder, and hopes to improve on that result this year in Hamilton. Gonzalez de Galdeano ended the Vuelta looking pretty spent, but has given ample time to recovery. "I have not forced the preparation," he says, "I have dedicated many days to rest to replenish forces." Meanwhile, Isidro Nozal, ONCE's Vuelta revelation, took two stage victories in the Vuelta, both of them against the clock. Said Nozal: "it's my first Worlds, and I want to do well in it." However, the ONCE man spent a lot of his forces in the Vuelta, and though he believes he has done enough to maintain that form, he told Marca that he may have "more desire than energy."
Igor Astarloa Askasibar (SAE)
Manuel Beltrán Martinez (USP)
Iñigo Cuesta Lopez (COF)
Oscar Freire Gomez (RAB)
Igor González de Galdeano (ONE)
Gorka González Larranaga (EUS)
Francisco Mancebo Perez (BAN)
Aitor Osa Eizaguirre (BAN)
Luis Pérez Rodriguez (COF)
Marcos Serrano Rodriguez (SPA)
Oscar Sevilla Ribera (KEL)
Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (KEL)
Isidro Nozal Vega (ONE)
Igor González de Galdeano (ONE)