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SALAMANCA, Spain (VN) — Every world champion over the past decade has come out of the Vuelta a España and put three weeks of hard racing to good use, winning the rainbow.
This year’s scorcher of a Vuelta, however, is proving disastrous to more than a few of the favorites going into the 2011 worlds, slated for a sprint-friendly course in Copenhagen on September 25.
Five major world’s candidates are already out of the Vuelta, either by crashing out or succumbing to illness and poor form.
The big names taking an early exit are Matt Goss, Mark Cavendish, Matti Breschel, Tyler Farrar and three-time world champion Oscar Freire.
“I just couldn’t breathe anymore,” said Freire, who caught a chest cold that he blamed on hotel air conditioning at the start of the Vuelta in Benidorm. “It’s better for me to quit the Vuelta, get back to full health and resume training for the Vuelta. I should be OK for the worlds.”
Goss pulled out of the Vuelta early after coming down with a stomach bug and is expected to rebound without any problems.
Cavendish abandoned after struggling with his fitness early in the Vuelta after racing just one day — and winning at the London Olympics test event — since the conclusion of the Tour de France.
Cavendish traveled to Girona, Spain, to train with compatriot David Millar and get back in top shape for a run at the world title on a course that should give the Manxster his best chance ever to win the rainbow jersey.
Freire, Cavendish and Goss are expected to regain world’s form.
Things are more complicated for Breschel and Farrar.
Breschel, last year’s runner-up, crashed in a bizarre fall in the neutral start in stage 6 when he fell hard on his hands and face after slipping on cobblestones.
Rabobank reported that a planned surgery for Breschel has been postponed until next week to see if he can recover without it and still be able to race the worlds.
VeloNews spoke to Breschel that morning just minutes before he crashed and said he was optimistic about his chances.
“It would be a dream to win the world title in my home country. I believe the course is harder than people are talking about,” he said. “I have trained on it several times and the final kilometer is not flat, but rather it slowly rises. It won’t be a pure sprinter who wins.”
Farrar crashed heavily in the bunch sprint at Talavera de la Reina in stage 7 and suffered serious blows to his elbow, leg, gluteus and back. Luckily, he did not break any bones and even started Saturday’s stage only to pull out at 35km.
Farrar was set to captain the nine-man U.S. team. His recovery over the next week or so should show whether he can resume serious training ahead of Copenhagen.
Garmin-Cervélo teammate Heinrich Haussler, who will race with the Australian squad in Denmark, says this year’s Vuelta is tougher than usual.
“The idea here is to gain fitness for the worlds, but it’s been a very hard Vuelta. It’s been harder than the Tour de France,” said Haussler, who rode in the breakaway Saturday. “I want to be fresh coming out of this Vuelta. You cannot push it too hard because it could knock you back. It’s better this year that there’s an extra week between the Vuelta and the worlds.”
Others here to gain fitness have not had much of a chance to show what they have. Tom Boonen, Alessandro Petacchi and Daniele Bennati have not figured highly in the two sprints so far in this Vuelta.
It’s the fitness that the sprinters want to carry out of Spain that matters most. But surviving the Vuelta seems to be the matter of most urgency so far.