By Andrew Hood
Aaron Olson always seems to save the best for last. Last year, some of his best results came late in the 2006 campaign, capped by second in a Tour of Poland stage.
The T-Mobile rider scored his best-ever result in a European stage race with third overall at the inaugural Tour of Ireland. Olson snatched second place in the race-winning breakaway in stage one and hung on to the podium spot in the surprisingly tough five-day Irish tour.
“It’s not bad considering I crashed 10 days ago,” said Olson, referring to a nasty training spill in Spain. “It’s a nice way to finish off the European calendar. I probably won’t be back over here because I’m going back to the States.”
Olson, 29, showed up to the start in Kilkenny with bruises and scabs on his knees and elbows. He was broadsided by a car in a roundabout while on a training ride near his European base in Girona, Spain. He wasn’t seriously injured and was able to lead T-Mobile’s efforts in Ireland.
“It was great to come here. It was my first time in Ireland and I really enjoyed the experience,” Olson said on T-Mobile’s web page. “It was like last season when I also scored my best result late in the season. I hope I can build on this now and maybe get some more good race results before the season ends.”
After two seasons in Europe, Olson will return to racing in the United States next season. Read about why in the next issue of VeloNews. Big names lining up for Vuelta
The season’s third grand tour is just around the corner and some big names are lining up to start the Vuelta a España on Saturday in Vigo, in the lush northwest corner of Spain’s Galicia region.
Plenty of riders are hoping to use the Vuelta as a trampoline for the 2007 world championships in Stuttgart, Germany, so there will be some big names in the Spanish tour.
Although recently crowned Tour de France champ Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne) are both giving the Vuelta a miss, there are plenty of other contenders for the September 1-23 battle.
Óscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital), Tour de France runne-rup Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), 2005 Vuelta winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and perennial podium contender Carlos Sastre (CSC) are the leading candidates for victory.
There should be no shortage of voltage in the sprint stages as Tom Boonen and defending world champion Paolo Bettini (both Quick Step-Innergetic) will be dueling against Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel (both Milram) and Óscar Freire (Rabobank).
Following the doping positives of last year’s winner Alexander Vinokourov and third-place man Andrey Kashechkin (both Astana), Vuelta organizers have decided that the No. 1 starting bib – typically reserved for the returning champion – will instead be issued to Spanish gregario José Luis Arrieta (Ag2r).
Valverde gets green world’s light
In what’s no surprise, rainbow-jersey contender Alejandro Valverde is already on the short list for Spain for next month’s world championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
Spanish cycling authorities have ignored comments from world organizers that Valverde was persona non grata following alleged links to the Operación Puerto doping investigation and wished that the Spanish star wouldn’t travel to Germany for the September 26-30 events.
“There’s no reason why Valverde shouldn’t participate in the world’s,” said Spanish national coach Paco Antequera. “He already raced the Tour, where every case was scrutinized down to the millimeter. Alejandro was already under the gun in the Tour, so I don’t think all this business is going to bother him at all.”
Despite no official links, Valverde has been dogged by questions that he worked with controversial Spanish doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, the alleged mastermind of the Puerto doping ring. Valverde has vehemently denied working with Fuentes and has not been officially named in any Puerto police files.
Antequera, meanwhile, said he expects the story to pop up again in Germany.
“The Germans are civilized people, so they won’t throw stones at our riders. We can only expect the Germany journalists to ask aggressive questions in the press conferences or put some unsavory headlines on the stories,” he said.
Concerning the team’s chances, Antequera said the Spanish team will be an “experienced squad filled with professionals who know their job.”
“The course is much easier than when Stuttgart hosted the world’s in 1991, when Bugno won and Indurain was third,” he said. It has a climb of 700 meters at 17 percent, but it comes after a descent and it can almost be climbed with inertia. But after 260km, (Oscar) Freire and Valverde will have their options.”
French signing up
There’s been a flurry of French signings in the past days.
Florent Brard, the French national champion in 2006, has switched to Cofidis for the 2008 season after two years with the Spanish outfit, Caisse d’Epargne.
Anthony Charteau, meanwhile, will leave Crédit Agricole after signing a one-year deal with Caisse d’Epargne.
Christophe Edaleine is also leaving Crédit Agricole to sign on with Ag2r.