By Andrew Hood
The magic number U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel was 1:30. Bruyneel thought if Roberto Heras had that much time, he stood a chance to hold off Aitor Gonzalez in Sunday’s final time trial.
But Heras only went in with a 1:08 margin and it quickly became clear it wasn’t going to be Heras’ day.
“I had hope because the first time trial Roberto had done very well because he lost 1:36 to Aitor. I was confident he could do very well with the motivation of the yellow jersey. I knew it would be difficult because that for Roberto because this course was for specialists,” he said. “There was nothing we could do about that.”
Bruyneel admitted the strongest man won the 57th Vuelta a España.
“If Roberto did really well that would be a big difference, even with 43 seconds of Sierra Nevada, the nine seconds of Ubrique and the four seconds at Avila, it would have been the same result,” he said.
Cruz amped for worlds
U.S. Postal’s Antonio Cruz was happy to be in Madrid on Sunday to complete his second straight Vuelta a España of his career. Cruz crashed hard in the Vuelta’s second stage, slipping on an oil patch on a steep descent while chasing back on to the lead group. He received five stitches to his right knee and punctures to his left thigh when he fell on his front crank.
Pushing on despite the pain, bruises and swelling, Cruz refused to quit.
“That by far was the hardest thing I ever had to do. After a stage, you get back to your room, you’re so close to breaking down,” he said. “This is more rewarding than last year’s Vuelta. I honestly didn’t think I’d make it because I had so many things to overcome. It really strengthens your mind. I’m really looking forward to Paris-Tours and world’s, when two weeks ago I thought I would be going straight home, that’s it.”
Cruz said he hoped for bigger things when this Vuelta started, but simply to finish and help Heras in the final week was enough.
“I wanted a stage-win. I wanted to catch an early break and go for a stage-win,” he said. “I talked to Dirk (Demol, the team’s assistant sport director). He said, yeah, if it’s there, go for it.”
Cruz admitted the Posties were ravaged by injuries and illness. Only six arrived to Madrid.
“It’s obvious Roberto didn’t have the strongest team because of all these factors. The Spanish media loves to sensationalize stuff, so I just tried to put it out of my head. We all knew what we had to do and we did it,” he said.
Vande Velde rides strong
Christian Vande Velde rise to the occasion in a big way during the 57th Vuelta. Left off the 2002 Tour de France team, Vande Velde quickly got over his disappointment and set his eyes on the Vuelta.
He rode wonderfully throughout the race and was key help to Heras in all the important mountain stages, particularly La Pandera in the Vuelta’s first week. Vande Velde said U.S. Postal Service teammate Jose Luis Rubiera, aka “Chechu, was a big help.
“Chechu helped me a lot, because Chechu wasn’t going as well as usually does and he would always kill himself before. He would always tell me things about what to expect. It’s a great experience because now I know what I can do and what I can’t do that,” he said.
The question: Were you expecting Aitor Gonzalez to be as good as he was? The answer: “Hell no. No one was.” Was he worried about everyone calling the Posties a weak team? “No. We got thick skins. We’re Americans,” he said.
Zabriskie arrives in Madrid
Sunday’s final time trial was a major milestone for David Zabriskie. The young American finished his first grand tour, but it wasn’t easy.
“That was my main goal, just to finish,” Zabriskie said in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu stadium. “It’s going to take a few weeks to let it all sink in and reflect on it. Thinking back to all the days, everything just went by in a blur.”
Zabel still on top of road rankingsUCI road rankings, as of September 30, 2002.
1. Erik Zabel (Ger) – 2439 points
2. Paolo Bettini (Ita) – 2146
– 3. Lance Armstrong (USA) – 2110
4. Robbie McEwen (Aus) – 1699
5. Dario Frigo (Ita) – 1586
6. Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) – 1479
7. Roberto Heras (Spa) – 1455
8. Danilo Di Luca (Ita) – 1426
9. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) – 1414
10. Oscar Freire (Spa) – 1395
11. Erik Dekker (Nl) – 1366
12. Mario Cipollini (Ita) – 1344
13. Joseba Beloki (Spa) – 1233
14. Davide Rebellin (Ita) – 1225
15. Laurent Jalabert (Fra) – 1138
16. Michael Boogerd (Nl) – 1122
17. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) – 1071
18. Alex Zülle (Swi) – 1038
19. Michele Bartoli (Ita) – 1034
20. Santiago Botero (Col) – 1013