By Andrew Hood
George Hincapie won’t be starting Tuesday’s 16th stage of the Vuelta a España. The U.S. Postal Service rider left the Vuelta following Sunday’s stage to La Pandera and returned to his European home base in Girona, Spain.
“We discussed it before that if Roberto was leading the Vuelta in the final week I’d stay and help,” Hincapie told VeloNews. “Now I’m going home to prepare for the world’s.”
With Heras sitting third overall at 4:02 back, the team decided it was better for Hincapie to rev up for the road world championships than stay on for the Vuelta’s final run into Madrid.
“This way I can be fresher when I go to Canada,” Hincapie said. “The Vuelta was great training and I’m feeling strong.”
After riding through stomach problems early in the Vuelta, Hincapie helped tow Heras up the lower flanks of Monday’s La Pandera climb and is clearly riding into form.
“The plan was for me to pull later, but I had to work earlier than expected when (Felix) Cardenas attacked,” Hincapie said of Sunday’s stage. “I’m feeling good and ready to race the worlds.”
Hincapie said he’ll work with his coach, Chris Carmichael, on special preparations designed to increase his recovery for short, intense efforts needed to get over the sharp climbs on the Hamilton road race course.
As for the Vuelta, he says the fight isn’t over yet.
“Roberto is riding super strong now. Sierra Nevada is not the ideal climb for Roberto, but he’ll attack and try to make up some time on Nozal,” Hincapie said. “There’s still a chance he can win. (Heras) took time on Galdeano, so second place is possible. There’s still a chance Nozal will have a bad day.”
Heras wanted to ‘win for the team’
U.S. Postal’s Roberto Heras was disappointed he couldn’t deliver a repeat victory at La Pandera because the 2000 Vuelta champion said “the team deserved to win the stage.”
“I would have liked to have won the stage to pay back the team. U.S. Postal fought for the entire stage, from the first kilometer. First, we controlled the race, later Hincapie put a strong rhythm and then Beltrán did nice work,” Heras told reporters following Sunday’s stage. “We deserved the win. It’s been a pity I couldn’t win. I wanted this victory.”
While Heras said he knew he couldn’t take as much time as he would have liked against race leader Isidro Nozal (ONCE) barring a major meltdown, he did manage to pull within 59 seconds of second-place Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (ONCE).
“Sure, I am closer to second place but Sierra Nevada is somewhat of an enigma,” said Heras. “Unfortunately, this climb reminds me a little of the Envalira and Plà de Beret climbs. It’s a climb that is more suited for Isidro and Igor. We’re at the end of the Vuelta and the forces aren’t the same.”
Heras remains critical of this year’s Vuelta, charging that the Pyrenees summit finishes were not demanding enough. He said La Pandera injected some life into the Vuelta.
“At least I’ve been able put a little emotion into this Vuelta. The stage was beautiful and the fans have been compensated,” he said. “After the Pyrenees, this was a race without sparks, disappointing, without effective attacks. The stage helped ease the pain.” Bruyneel promises to keep fighting
U.S. Postal’s sport director Johan Bruyneel admits Roberto Heras has a tough task to try to win the Vuelta, but vowed the team will keep fighting despite Isidro Nozal’s solid grip on the overall leader’s jersey.
“We just have to wait and see how he reacts at Sierra Nevada,” Bruyneel told VeloNews. “It’s not an ideal climb to try to make up that much difference. It’s not steep like La Pandera or the Angliru. We’ll keep fighting until Madrid.”
Bruyneel admitted Heras is frustrated with this year’s course design, which includes 97.1 kilometers of flat time trials that tipped the favor away from the pure climbers.
“It is what it is. We have to try to win with what we have. We knew beforehand that the 90km of flat time trials, even if Roberto did have great time trials, that it’s not to his advantage,” Bruyneel said. “If you look at the difference between Roberto and Nozal, that’s where the time differences have been made.”
Heras actually rode strongly in both time trials, especially at Albacete when he only ceded 1:45 to Nozal’s winning time.
“Now there’s no opportunity for him to take back the time,” Bruyneel continued. “(La Pandera) was a good climb for him. It’s like the Angliru, but you cannot expect to have those climbs every year. That’s the way the course is designed. We still have Sierra Nevada and Abantos.”
Valverde ready for more
With two summit-finish victories in the bag, Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) said he’s ready for bigger and better things.
“Now I know I can dedicate myself to the grand tours,” said Valverde, who jumped into fifth overall at 6:37 back. “From what I’ve seen this year, I believe I can be a racer for the grand tours. Now I have some chances for the (Vuelta) podium and I am going to try. I am far away in the general classification, but while I have the strength.”
Valverde won at the summit finish at Envalira in Stage 9 and pipped Roberto Heras (U.S. Postal) and Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2) to snag Monday’s stage at La Pandera. The victories give him nine for the season, the most by a Spanish rider this season.
Van Moorsel wants to dethrone Longo
Dutch rider Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel is scheduled to challenge for the world hour record held by French legend Jeannie Longo on Tuesday in Mexico City. Longo set the record – 45.095km — on the same velodrome on Dec. 7, 2000.
“I respect Jeanie Longo a lot and the attempt has nothing personal against her. It’s simply that I’ve achieved a lot of important things in my career and this is the only thing that I don’t have,” Zijlaard-Van Moorsel told Europa Press.
Zijlaard-Van Moorsel, 33, won the 1992 Tour Feminin, holds four road world titles and won three gold medals at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. To prepare for the high altitude of Mexico City, the Dutch rider spent three weeks training in the Sierra Nevada mountains of southern Spain.
Zijlaard-Van Moorsel’s previous attempt in 2002 in Manchester, England, fell short, covering 43.475km.