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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta Notebook: Beloki’s comeback, Schleck dreamin’ rainbows

Beloki plots his own comeback Joseba Beloki is plotting a return to the professional peloton, but he won’t be trying to regain his spot as one of the top challengers for the Tour de France. Beloki, 35, has given up hope of ever racing as a pro again. Instead, the Basque rider is hoping to become a sport director in the coming years.

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By Andrew Hood

Beloki plots his own comeback

Joseba Beloki is plotting a return to the professional peloton, but he won’t be trying to regain his spot as one of the top challengers for the Tour de France.

Beloki, 35, has given up hope of ever racing as a pro again. Instead, the Basque rider is hoping to become a sport director in the coming years.

“I want to return to the cycling world to help young riders, to help them develop, to work on training programs and physiology,” Beloki told VeloNews. “So many teams just tell their riders to show up at a race and win. That’s the old way to develop talent. Modern cycling demands attention at all levels because the margins between winning and losing are so narrow.”

Beloki was once one of the most consistent Tour performers, posting a string of top-3 Tour placings, with third in 2000 and 2001, and second in 2002.

The Spanish climber admits he was never the same after his infamous crash in stage 9 of the 2003 Tour, when he broke his right femur in two places as well as his elbow and wrist.

Beloki tried in vain to come back, but could never regain his winning edge.

“No, there’s no comeback for me. I still have titanium plates in my leg,” Beloki says. “I could never regain full strength. Every time I would regain the necessary muscle strength in my leg I’d begin to have problems. The legs were unbalanced and I could never produce the same power.”

After his crash, he raced for a half season with French outfit Brioches La Boulangere, and left after a fall-out over prescribed asthma medications which were banned in France. He later joined Saunier Duval before rejoining Manolo Saíz at Liberty Seguros in 2005, when he finished 75th at that year’s Tour.

Beloki’s name was mentioned in the Operación Puerto doping scandal, but a Spanish judge later cleared him of all wrong-doing. Puerto’s stigma kept him from finding another team and he finally decided to move on with his life.

He’s now working with a start-up Web site and has been penning articles for a Spanish cycling magazine, but he says his real passion is cycling.

“I don’t want to work in publicity and not necessarily as a sport director,” he said. “I want to work directly with developing young talent and I am looking for an opening with a team. For me, the example on how to run a team is Garmin. They’re doing everything right.”

Schleck has rainbows on his mind

Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) said he doesn’t know what to expect from the Vuelta a España, but he’s certainly not holding his breath with aspirations of overall victory.

Second at the Tour de France and winner at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Schleck told Spanish journalists at the Vuelta that the road to Mendrisio goes through the Vuelta.

“I am waiting for the mountains, where I will judge on how my legs are going during this Vuelta. I had a high level at the classics and a high level at the Tour, so I don’t know what to expect in the Vuelta,” he said. “The real reason I came to the Vuelta was to prepare for the worlds and for the Giro di Lombardia. I don’t really have any pressure to perform, but if I am doing well, we’ll see what happens.”

Second in the 2007 Giro d’Italia and second at the 2009 Tour de France, the younger of the Schleck brothers said his long-term goal is to win the Tour, though he admits he will have to improve if he expects to beat Alberto Contador.

“Contador is the best grand tour rider right now. He’s a complete rider and he won this year’s Tour not by a small margin, but by four minutes, so that shows how much he dominated,” he said. “This year’s goal wasn’t necessarily to win the Tour. I am still young and I have room to improve. I can become better in the time trial. I don’t know how far I can go. Next year, the goal will be to win the Tour.”

He brushed off queries about rumors that he would join Lance Armstrong at RadioShack and said he will always race alongside his brother, Frank.

“I have one more year of contract with Saxo Bank,” he said. “It’s a question of family. The family is more important than cycling. We will never race against each other. Never.”

Follow Andrew Hood’s twitter at twitter.com/eurohoody