Road

Dauphiné offers a worthy test for Tour contenders

The Dauphiné Libéré has been a race of reckoning for many. While Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Santiago Botero and Alexandre Vinokourov have clearly demonstrated they’re in top form, other big names have failed to leave any impression at all. One name lost deep in the daily result sheet is Spanish climbing sensation Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), who hasn’t finished well in any of the big climbing stages. “There’s no reason to panic yet,” insists Heras, 52nd overall at 33:29 back. “There’s still a month to go before the Tour. I don’t come here to do anything in

By Andrew Hood

The Dauphiné Libéré has been a race of reckoning for many.

While Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Levi Leipheimer, Santiago Botero and Alexandre Vinokourov have clearly demonstrated they’re in top form, other big names have failed to leave any impression at all.

One name lost deep in the daily result sheet is Spanish climbing sensation Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros), who hasn’t finished well in any of the big climbing stages.

“There’s no reason to panic yet,” insists Heras, 52nd overall at 33:29 back. “There’s still a month to go before the Tour. I don’t come here to do anything in particular in the GC, rather to put some race miles in my legs.”

Heras is intent on avoiding the same mistake he made ahead of last year’s Tour, when he won the Bicicleta Vasca and was too strong in June only to later fizzle on the high-speed run-up to the Tour’s first climbing stages.

“Maybe I am a little behind where I thought I would be, I’m not worried,” Heras insists. “While it’s true my rivals are already strong, I am still confident that I can arrive at the Tour with my best condition ever.”

Liberty Seguros boss Manolo Saiz isn’t ready to wave the white flag just yet, but he admits that the team’s performance during the Dauphiné has been less than expected. Only German Jörg Jaksche has shown glimpses of strong form.

“The team hasn’t raced well at this Dauphine. We have to step back and try to recover the confidence,” Saiz said. “The problems with Nozal and the crash of Contador hasn’t helped things either. There’s still time to get ready for the Tour, so we’re still hopeful. We’re thinking about a special training camp ahead of the Tour to become focused.”

The T-Mobile team is happy to see Vinokourov flying to victory up Mont Ventoux, but last year’s Tour runner-up Andreas Klöden is still struggling to rediscover the form that carried him to the podium in Paris a year ago.

Klöden missed Liège-Bastogne-Liège and only returned to racing in the Bayern Rundfahrt and bagged a stage win in May, but came to France with the intention of riding the Dauphiné as a training race.

“After this race there are still two and a half weeks to the Tour, and next week I’ll decide whether I’ll do more races or just train,” said Klöden, who rode better to Morzine at 35th at less than 10 minutes down on Botero.

“It has been a difficult spring and it’s obviously not been optimal for my confidence,” Klöden said. “But I’ll just have to keep working and see where it takes me.”

Another attacker in T-Mobile’s quiver is Oscar Sevilla, Spain’s “El Niño” who says he’s in his best form since his crash-filled 2002 season. He ended up abandoning both the 2002 and 2003 Tours, and was looking good in the 2004 Tour with Phonak until he crashed and cracked his ribs.

“This year, thank God, after last year I had a lot of injuries that cost me a lot to recover, I’ve been healthy,” Sevilla said. “I’m racing with confidence again, which took a long time to recover because it’s very hard on the head. Now I want to make a good performance for the team and regain the positive sensations on the bike.”

Sevilla said his job will be to help Jan Ullrich and Vinokourov, but hinted he might have some chances in the mountains if he feels up for it.

“My Tour will be to help the leaders, but I will also have a chance here or there to hunt for a stage victory and to try to do well in the GC. But in principle my goals are to help the leaders,” said Sevilla, adding his boss is looking strong. “I was training with Jan in the Pyrenees and the Alps, he’s motivated, he’s ready to race the Tour. He’s very concentrated, he’s fit and I think he’s going to make a great Tour.”