By Andrew Hood
Hamilton goes home
Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton did not take the start to Friday’s 13th stage at the Vuelta a España. Hamilton won stage eight to become the first American to win stages in all three grand tours, but faded out of contention on the steep climbing finish to Aitana the following day.
Hamilton complained of stomach problems that kept him from properly feeding during the race and said he felt sapped of strength up Aitana. He suffered again Thursday, finishing uncharacteristically in the last group at 31 minutes behind winner Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros).
“He had terrible stomach pains and just couldn’t climb,” said Phonak team director Alvaro Pino. “Yesterday (Thursday) he was flat on the climbs and just wasn’t himself. It must be a virus because it’s not normal.”
Phonak also lost Nicolas Jalabert earlier in the week and Gonzalo Bayarri abandoned during Thursday’s stage.
After being forced to abandon the 2004 Tour with injuries, Hamilton reloaded for Athens and trained specifically for the time trial event. Hamilton made the decision to race the Vuelta after winning the Olympic time trial gold medal in August and even previewed the decisive climbing stages ahead of the race.
He admitted Thursday morning his specific time trial training was causing him problems at the climb-heavy Vuelta.
“I spent all of the weeks after I left the Tour concentrating on the time trial. Training for a time trial is a lot different than training for a long tour. It’s showing, too.” he said before the start of Thursday’s stage. “In a way, it’s good. It gives me a little more freedom and I have a lot less pressure on me.”
Postal ‘not surprised’ to lose jersey
After 12 stages in the leader’s jersey, U.S. Postal Service finally gave up the maillot de oro in the Vuelta a España in Thursday’s grueling 12th stage since taking it with the opening stage victory with the team time trial back in León.
Landis put up a good fight, but slipped back to fifth overall after Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) won the dramatic stage and vaulted into the overall lead.
“This result is no surprise,” said Postal’s assistant director sportif Dirk Demol. “We know Heras is strong and that he is a fantastic climber. His team grew during this Vuelta. After their failure in the team time trial, Liberty Seguros became stronger and stronger. Today’s result only confirms our suspicion the Spaniards would take the upper hand at a given time.”
Postal Service entered the Vuelta with no pressure. Instead of fighting for the overall lead, they came in with a mixed team intent on winning stages. So far, the Posties have delivered two stage wins and an excellent run in the lead.
“We didn’t select our best team for the Tour of Spain, but the guys who are here have given it the best they have all the time. Before the start of this Vuelta, our aim was to stay in the top ten and take a couple of stage victories,” Demol said. “We already exceeded our expectations by far. We were in the lead of the overall classification until (Thursday), so I can say our Vuelta is already a success. The guys coped well with the extra pressure that comes along with a leader’s jersey as well. In the coming stages, we intend to safeguard our place in the top 10. Extras are always welcome, but we just take it one day at a time.”
Cioni, Garzelli to lead Liquigas
Stefano Garzelli and Dario Cioni will headline the new Italian super-team Liquigas in 2005. Cioni signed a contract back in July and Garzelli only recently confirmed his move to the team.
“Stefano and I will ride together as team leaders, both at the Giro and the Tour,” Cioni told VeloNews. “He and I are good friends going back to our days together at Mapei, so it won’t be a problem.”
Cioni enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2004, finishing fourth overall in the Giro despite spending much of the race helping Alessandro Petacchi win nine sprints. Cioni had the freedom to ride for the GC and made the most it.
“I feel like I need one more good result to prove that my Giro wasn’t a fluke,” Cioni said. “I didn’t come into this Vuelta in top form, so I knew from the beginning this wasn’t going to be a good race for me.”
Cioni said his form is improving and he’s hopeful he can be selected for the Italian national team for the upcoming world championships.
Freire heads home, more departures expected
Oscar Freire (Rabobank) was among 12 riders to abandon Thursday’s demanding climbing stage with eyes toward next week’s world championships. Other riders to pull out included Pavel Tonkov (Vini Caldirola) and Juan Carlos Dominguez (Saunier Duval).
The two-time world champion said he’s feeling good and wants to arrive in Verona with the optimum form.
“I am feeling strong and I won a stage here at the Vuelta, so that’s a good sign that things are going well,” Freire said.
Defending world champion Igor Astarloa (Lampre) didn’t take the start and hopes to save what’s been an up and down season for the Basque champion.
“I need to polish my form with some specific training for (next month’s) world championships in Verona,” he said. “Last year I pulled out two days earlier in the Tour of Spain and won the worlds, so this year I will adopt the same strategy.”
More riders are expected to pull out of the Vuelta this week, including sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis) and Italian climber Damiano Cunego (Saeco).
Fan hurt at Calar Alto finish
A 20-year-old fan was injured in Thursday’s finish line when he was caught between two trucks, according to reports in the Spanish press. A helicopter transported him to a hospital in nearby Almería, where he was treated for injuries to his head and throat.