‘I will be a ‘gregario’ of a special caliber’
By Andrew Hood
Manuel Beltran hasn’t been with U.S. Postal Service very long, but he already feels at home just three days into his debut as one of Lance Armstrong’s blue and white Posties.
“There are a lot of riders right now who’d like to be in my skin,” Beltran told VeloNews on Tuesday evening just before dinner at the team hotel along the Rhone. “I am honored that I am racing with Armstrong. Who wouldn’t be?”
Just a month ago, Beltran was riding with Team Coast and was wondering whether his next pay check would show up. When the UCI finally pulled the plug on the troubled German team, it didn’t take long before U.S. Postal came calling.
“Johan Bruyneel called me and said Lance was interested in my situation,” Beltran said. “When Lance asks about you, it’s a great feeling. I am very motivated to demonstrate they made a good decision to sign me.”
Beltran will likely make the Postal’s Tour de France team and provide Armstrong with extra artillery in the decisive climbing stages in the Alps and Pyrenees.
“We added Beltran, which came late in the game,” Armstrong said during a press conference before Sunday’s start of the Dauphine Libere. “He can climb very fast, set a high tempo in the mountains.”
Beltran, a lithe climber who’s ridden with Banesto, Mapei and Coast, signed with Postal through the remainder of the season. In just his first race with Postal Service, Beltran says he’s already noticed a difference.
“It didn’t take much time to see things are different here. When I rode with Mapei, there were 40 riders and they all thought they should be the winners,” Beltran said. “Here, it’s very clear who the leader is. When you have a rider like Armstrong, you have to respect his abilities. Everything is very clear.”
Nicknamed “Triki,” Beltran said he realizes he’s been given a rare opportunity by joining Armstrong’s team on the cusp of the Texan’s run at a fifth Tour title.
“I hope Lance wins the fifth and the sixth Tour,” Beltran said. “I’ve been given a magnificent opportunity to show what I can do. I will be a ‘gregario,’ but of a special caliber; one that can help Lance in the highest mountains, when you can really make a difference.”
That’s just what Armstrong and Bruyneel like to hear.