Road

Monday’s EuroFile: Can anyone stop Menchov? The road ahead.

The 155 remaining riders of the 62nd Vuelta a España enjoy their second and final rest day Monday as the season’s final grand tour enters its final week of racing. Overall leader Denis Menchov looks unbeatable with only six stages remaining. The 29-year-old Russian rolled out of the Pyrénées last weekend with a solid lead of 2:01 over surprisingly tough Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d’Epargne) and 2:27 to third-place Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto). Eternal podium contender Carlos Sastre (CSC) is poised in fourth at 3:02 if any of the leaders tumble. “I feel like I have the Vuelta 70 percent

German world's squad; More contract dances

By Andrew Hood

Menchov says the Vuelta is 70 percent won.

Menchov says the Vuelta is 70 percent won.

Photo: Graham Watson

The 155 remaining riders of the 62nd Vuelta a España enjoy their second and final rest day Monday as the season’s final grand tour enters its final week of racing.

Overall leader Denis Menchov looks unbeatable with only six stages remaining.

The 29-year-old Russian rolled out of the Pyrénées last weekend with a solid lead of 2:01 over surprisingly tough Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d’Epargne) and 2:27 to third-place Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto). Eternal podium contender Carlos Sastre (CSC) is poised in fourth at 3:02 if any of the leaders tumble.

“I feel like I have the Vuelta 70 percent won,” Menchov said after Sunday’s stage. “I am content with my performance. I’m feeling pretty good.”

Sunday’s climbing stage over the Cat. 1 Alto de Monachil failed to break the deadlock and a confident Menchov is in the driver’s seat with one hard climbing stage (Abantos on Thursday) and a short 20km individual time trial (Collado Villalba on Saturday).

“I always say nothing is won until we reach Madrid. (Granada) was an important stage, but there’s still a week to go,” Menchov said. “The most difficult is Abantos, but it’s obvious we cannot drop our guard and we have to remain concentrated on every stage.”

The Rabobank team has been able to protect Menchov during last week’s long, flat stages and he was able to fend off attacks from Sastre up the Monachil without the presence of a friendly Rabobank jersey.

“Looking at my rival, the ones that needed to be there have been. We thought Evans would be more tired, but he’s holding up pretty good,” Menchov said. “It’s obvious that Sastre is the most dangerous rival. I believe that Efimkin and Evans are defending their positions. It’s only Sastre who isn’t conforming and he’s the one I have to watch because he’s going to keep attacking.”

“Carlos made his move, but the attack probably came a tiny bit too late to have any major effect,” explained CSC director Kim Andersen after the stage. “The climb was really tough, but riders like Evans managed to fight themselves back and after that there were no challenges left on the route to attempt again. The team backed Carlos up nicely and hopefully they’ll get the opportunity to do so again soon. But unlucky for us there aren’t that many tough stages left in this race.”

What’s ahead
Six stages remain in the battle for the Vuelta, but only two look to have the characteristics to have possibilities of Menchov’s rivals to attack the Russian leader.

Tuesday’s 161.5km 16th stage from Jaén to Puertollano avoids the wide-open highways and takes to the backroads in a rollercoaster stage with two Cat. 2s and one Cat. 3 over the rugged Sierra Morena. The route favors another breakaway.

Wednesday’s 175km 17th stage from Ciudad Real to Talavera de la Reina pushes across the bleak southern meseta and offers no major obstacles in what’s another stage for sprinters if any teams want to do the work to reel in breakaways.

Thursday’s 153.5km 18th stage from Talavera de la Reina to Ávila crosses the Sierra de Gredos and rolls through the hometown of Sastre at El Barraco in what’s typically a stage for the headbangers.

Friday’s and Saturday’s stages will be the last opportunity for Sastre and Co. to try to rattle Menchov.

The 133km 19th stage from Ávila to Alto de Abantos is the Vuelta’s fourth and final summit finish and takes a page from the short but explosive stages the Vuelta has used in its most recent editions. The route tackles the steep Abantos climb twice as well as tackles two Cat. 3s and one Cat. 2 climb in a jagged profile that could blow open the race.

The Abantos climb, where Isidro Nozal lost the 2004 Vuelta to Roberto Heras in the final individual time trial, hits ramps as steep as 19 percent in the opening kilometer and has its steepest bits in the opening 5km with a total average grade of 5.7 percent in its 12.3km trajectory.

Saturday’s final time trial is an out-and-back route on a pancake flat course that favors any rider with strength in his legs. Small differences could prove decisive in the fight for the final podium spot.

Sunday’s 104.2km final romp into Madrid finishes with six laps on a finishing circuit on the Paseo del Prado with a finish line on the Plaza Cibeles in the heart of Madrid.

Only four teams intact
Only four of the 21 teams remain with all nine starting riders going into the Vuelta’s final week. The teams are Andalucia-Cajasur, Ag2r, Cofidis and Milram. The team with the most abandons is Bouygues Telecom, with only three riders remaining in the race. Discovery Channel, racing in its final grand tour before folding at the end of this season, has lost four riders, including Tom Danielson (the Vuelta’s first abandon after crashing in stage 1).

Cunego abandons
Damiano Cunego will not finish the final week of the Vuelta. The 2004 Giro d’Italia was scheduled to fly out of Granada Monday and will make final preparations for the world championships.

Cunego crashed on the opening stage along with Tom Danielson and suffered deep cuts and scrapes to his left elbow, knee and hip. He suffered through the Vuelta to gain form for the upcoming world’s and was a protagonist in Sunday’s climbing stage to Granada, falling short of victory but finishing with the lead favorites behind winner Samuel Sánchez.

Zabel on German world’s team
Top sprinter Erik Zabel has been retained despite the German squad being reduced in size by the German cycling federation (BDR) for this month’s world road cycling championships, AFP reported.

The DBR on Monday unveiled a squad reduced from 21 to 16 for the September 26-30 championship in Stuttgart following injuries to Andreas Klöden, Grischa Niermann, Andreas Klier, Paul Martens and Bjorn Schroder.

Zabel’s initial inclusion had lead to controversy following his confession to having “briefly” used the banned blood booster EPO (erythropoietin) in 1996, when he won the first of his six points competitions at the Tour de France.

Runner-up at the 2006 world championships, Zabel is expected to be named captain of the German team.

German squad for world’sMarcus Burghardt (T-Mobile)Gerald Ciolek (T-Mobile)Markus Fothen (Gerolsteiner)Linus Gerdemann (T-Mobile)Bert Grabsch (T-Mobile)Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner)Christian Knees (Milram)David Kopp (Gerolsteiner) Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner)Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner)Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile)Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner)Marcel Sieberg (Milram)Jens Voigt (CSC)Fabian Wegmann (Gerolsteiner)Erik Zabel (Milram)

– Agence France Presse

Saunier Duval losing Rinero, Meersman to FDJeux
Yet more riders are leaving Saunier Duval-Prodir for the 2008 season. Christophe Rinero, best climber of the 1998 Tour de France, has penned a deal to ride for Agritubel for next year. The Spanish team is losing several of its top riders, including Gilberto Simoni and David Millar. Iban Mayo, fending off allegations of EPO-use, has already been told he won’t be with the team next season.

More Discovery Channel riders are finding rides for next season. Gianni Meersman, 21, has signed a contract to join FDJeux for the 2008 season. Meersman won a stage in this year’s Tour of Austria and is considered one of the young top Belgian talents.