By Andrew Hood
Evans believes in Vuelta chances
Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) was the big question mark coming into this year’s Vuelta a España.
Would the Tour de France runner-up come to Spain intent on winning the Vuelta or was he here instead to prepare for the world championships? Evans admitted he didn’t even know the answer to that question until Tuesday’s climbing stage at Lagos de Covadonga.
Despite having the Spanish Armada and Russian émigré Denis Menchov ganging up on him, Evans held tough and enters Saturday’s decisive time trial as the heavy favorite to ride into contention for overall victory.
“I came out of the Tour pretty well, but I still don’t have the focus and commitment as in the Tour. I wanted to see how I went (Tuesday) before I made any decisions, whether or I am going to do GC or just do half of the race. It was a good sign,” Evans told VeloNews. “That what was I interested to see how I could do against the Spanish climbers, so that was a good sign.”
Evans is within striking distance at seventh overall at 1:28 back of race leader Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d’Epargne). More importantly, he’s only 22 seconds off the pace set by Menchov, Carlos Sastre (CSC) and four others ahead of him in the GC.
“I think I’m might be able to get better as the Vuelta goes on,” he continued. “I haven’t come here so prepared. I went to the race in China (in mid-August) and after the Tour, I was on the telephone to Australia for five hours. I’ve been busy after the Tour, but it’s all been for good things.”
Evans became the first Australian to finish on the Tour podium with second overall, a result that underscored his dogged tenacity and overall consistency.
The big Tour result suddenly put Evans under the media spotlight, something he’s admitting he’s adjusting to. Dozens of Australian journalists poured into the Tour after it became apparent he was about to make history.
“It’s been a little bit of a lifestyle change for me. People look at me in a different way now I suppose. A few more people in Australia are paying attention to me now,” he said. “One thing I’m really happy about is that there are a lot more fans of cycling in Australia, that’s a great thing.”
In the short term, Evans wants to continue to test his form at the Vuelta. If he has a chance of winning, he certainly won’t pass up the opportunity.
The Tour, however, will remain his focus. Evans believes he can come back next year to aim for overall victory.
“Being so close to win, then to lose it, it was like oh shit, but when I started out at the year, the objective was to be on the podium. That’s not an easy objective, so when you look at it that way, I’m very satisfied,” he said. “Absolutely, I can hopefully come back to the Tour next year to win.”
Horner world’s-bound, still waiting on contract
Chris Horner said he wants to stay with Predictor-Lotto for at least another season, but said the details of a contract still have yet to be hammered out.
Horner, 35, joined the Belgian team for the 2006 season and has been one of the key members to help team captain Cadel Evans in the Tour de France. Horner has also enjoyed his own success since returning to Europe in 2005, winning a stage at the 2005 Swiss tour and a stage at the 2006 Tour de Romandie.
“I want to stay with the team, we’re just working out the contract stuff. Maybe we’re getting there, maybe we’re not. It’s always funny with contracts. You say you’re worth one thing, they say you’re worth another,” Horner told VeloNews. “I’m really happy with the team, but at the moment, I am looking every where I can for a team for next year.”
Horner also confirmed he’ll likely race the 2007 world championships in Stuttgart.
“My plan is go to do the world’s,” he said. “I’m here until Lombardia, so I might as well pop in there and do the Lombardia.”
Horner also believes that teammate Evans has a good shot at winning the Vuelta.
“We have to wait and see how his form comes along. Cadel had a lot of travel after the Tour, but he’s still good. We’ll see if he comes through in a few more days,” Horner said. “If he can win, he will try to win it. He will not hold anything back. Just look at (Tuesday), he’s laying it all on the line. The difference is, of course, four weeks between here and the Tour, there’s a difference in mentality and training. But now that he’s here, he’s going to give 110 percent, there’s no doubt about it, absolutely.”
Horner said he’s also hoping to see his form improve over the course of the Vuelta. He returned to serious training a week ahead of the Vuelta and quickly worked himself into the winning breakaway in the key climbing stage up Lagos de Covadonga in stage four, but Horner admitted he wasn’t a threat to win the stage.
“It wasn’t a good day for me. I wanted to hit the bottom of that climb, go easy and see if I could help Cadel somehow and then ride it into the finish. You know if you have the legs in advance in a climb like that, you can’t fake it. If it finished at the bottom, maybe you can lose some time and take some crazy risks on the descents and have a chance for the win, but when it finishes at the top, there’s no faking,” Horner said, before adding with a laugh. “I pulled 25 to 50 meters for Cadel, I had a fresh bottle for him though! He didn’t take it, no! Which means I carried it for no reason. Here, dammit, I was carrying this thing for 10 minutes before you got here. Cadel was having a good ride. In all honesty, maybe I rode 50 meters for him.”
Menchov still peeved over Tour
Rabobank’s Denis Menchov is a man of few words.
The Russian was cornered by Spanish television after Friday’s stage at the Vuelta a España and a TV reporter asked him about the controversial departure of Tour de France race leader Michael Rasmussen with just four days left to race.
His Rabobank team fired Rasmussen over a growing controversy about the Dane’s whereabouts in critical pre-Tour testing periods.
“I don’t know why they removed (Rasmussen). We were going well,” Menchov told Spanish television. “The situation is very complicated, I cannot say if we were cheated or not.”
An angry Menchov, who entered the Tour as Rabobank’s GC leader before Rasmussen rode into the yellow jersey, quit the Tour a day after Rasmussen was fired.
“The life doesn’t end there, we have to keep going. The Tour was very hard at the moment. When you have the leader’s jersey, you have the pressure, things were hard,” Menchov said on Spanish TV. “At the moment, I didn’t have the motivation to stay in the race. I didn’t want to continue in the race. I didn’t want to be there until Paris. It was better for me to rest to be ready for the Vuelta.”
Spanish feds defy UCI over Valverde world’s status
The Spanish cycling federation has openly defied the sport’s world ruling body by registering Tour of Spain runner-up Alejandro Valverde for the upcoming world road race championships, AFP reported Friday.
Valverde’s participation at the event, to be held in Stuttgart, Germany on September 25-30, is currently up in the air because of growing suspicions over his alleged links to the ‘Operation Puerto’ doping affair in Spain.
Operation Puerto erupted in May 2006 after police raided the premises of Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, recovering bags of stored blood and banned doping substances.
Since then Italy’s best cyclist, Ivan Basso, has been handed a two-year ban for his involvement in the affair.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) said earlier this month they were in possession of new documents, which appeared to implicate Valverde. After another drug-tainted Tour de France, in which Valverde finished sixth overall, the UCI requested the RFEC to open an investigation into the Spanish ace, and ruled him out of participation in the event, considered one of the highlights of the cycling season.
Aside from three-time world champion Oscar Freire, Valverde has been Spain’s most consistent performer at recent world championships.
And on Friday the RFEC said they had every intention of sending the Caisse d’Epargne rider to the event.
“The RFEC would like to inform the UCI of its opposition to the disciplinary proceedings against Valverde, and that he will be present at the world championships in Stuttgart,” said a statement from the RFEC.
A statement by the UCI earlier this month said Valverde was innocent until proven guilty, but added: “According to UCI regulations, and to safeguard the reputation of the world championships, Alejandro Valverde will be prevented from participating in the forthcoming UCI Road World Championships in Stuttgart.”
Valverde has vehemently denied any involvement with the affair, or Fuentes.
At the world championships last year Paolo Bettini claimed the coveted rainbow jersey ahead of German Erik Zabel, with Valverde finishing third.
Agence France Presse