Laurent Fignon — the two-time French winner of the Tour de France — has alleged in his new autobiography that his team was paid off by the Colombians in 1987 to allow climbing star Luís “Lucho” Herrera to claim overall victory in the Vuelta a Espana.
Fignon recounts that Herrera’s team approached Fignon’s sport director Cyril Guimard at Système U-Gitane with an offer of 30,000 French francs per rider if they didn’t attack and helped ease the way for Herrera’s lone grand-tour victory of his career.
None of last year’s top three are expected to be back, but the 2009 Vuelta a España will see a strong field for the season’s final grand tour.
Last year’s winner Alberto Contador – still celebrating his Tour de France victory – has confirmed he will not defend his Vuelta title.
Runner-up Levi Leipheimer, recovering from his crash at the Tour, and third-place Carlos Sastre, exhausted after racing four consecutive grand tours, are both steering clear of the Spanish tour.
That leaves a huge vacuum that several top names will be jostling to fill.
Twenty-one teams are heading to the Vuelta a España in late August, but not everyone is going to be happy.
Among the major teams left on the sidelines for the season’s third grand tour are two ProTour squads, the Russian-backed Katusha and Spanish Fuji-Servetto teams, as well as the Italian continental standout, LPR.
The Vuelta organization, which released its list of invitees Friday morning, included 16 of 18 ProTour teams among the starting lineup.
Just days after finishing second in the Giro d’Italia, Danilo Di Luca is making his case about racing the Vuelta a España later this season.
With his LPR team already overlooked for the spring classics and the Tour de France, Di Luca is pulling out all the stops in a bid to gain an invitation to the season’s third grand tour.
“After a Giro like this, I deserve a chance to race the Vuelta,” Di Luca told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “If they invite us to the Vuelta, Petacchi would race as well, and we would give them a spectacle.”
Samuel Sánchez continues to soak up the attention that comes with the Olympic gold medal. Everywhere he goes, journalists are knocking down his door for an interview.
This week, “Samu” is on vacation in Spain’s Canary Islands and told reporters there more details about his racing schedule for the upcoming season. He’ll skip the 2009 Tour de France (where he finished seventh overall last year) and focus on trying to win the Vuelta a España.
Defending Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre says he’s all but certain to skip next year’s Vuelta a España and said he’s looking forward toward a possible showdown with Lance Armstrong at the 2009 Tour.
Speaking to reporters at an engagement in Spain, Sastre reconfirmed that he’ll likely start the Giro d’Italia to prepare for the Tour and then skip the Vuelta, where he finished third overall in September.
The Vuelta a España already has a new director.
Victor Cordero, who is stepping down at the end of this season as the head of the Spanish tour, is making way for Javier Guillén.
Guillén has been the secretary general at the Vuelta for the past five years and will help steer the season’s third grand tour into the future.
Earlier this year, the Amaury Sport Organization (owners of the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and other major races) bought 49 percent of the race.