By Andrew Hood
Passing around the Vuelta a España leader’s jersey wasn’t necessarily in the plan for U.S. Postal Service, but Floyd Landis was more than happy to pass the lead to teammate Max Van Heeswijk in Sunday’s second stage.
Van Heeswijk chased time bonuses during the longest stage of the 2004 Vuelta and earned a six-second bonus to slip into the lead. Postal’s Benoit Joachim was third in the intermediate sprint to grab a two-second time bonus and moved ahead of Landis into second overall.
“It wasn’t part of the plan that I would take the lead,” Van Heeswijk said on the Vuelta’s official race page. “We saw (Erik) Zabel going for sprints, so I had to try and stop him, and that way I got time bonuses too. The objective was to keep the leadership within the team and to defend the attacks from Zabel.”
Zabel finished second in the bonus sprint and then second in the stage to claw within 25 seconds of the lead and could grab the lead if he’s lucky during a string of flat stages that dominate the first week of the Vuelta.
Despite new attention on the team following its dominant team time trial victory Saturday, sport director Johan Bruyneel insists the team comes with a mixed agenda and winning stages remains the top priority. Van Heeswijk, a winner of 12 races this year, said he didn’t contest Sunday’s sprint because it didn’t suit his style of racing.
“I really want a stage win. Tomorrow has an uphill finish which suits me more, so I will try to stay in front to get my 13th win of the season,” Van Heeswijk said.
Many fear Landis
Although Floyd Landis lost the leader’s jersey in Sunday’s stage, there’s growing fear among Spanish teams about the important time gaps conceded to the boys in blue.
Only Illes Balears and Kelme finished within one minute of Postal Service in the 27.7km team time trial while Liberty Seguros was 1:28 adrift and Saunier Duval at 1:50 back.
With a flat time trial waiting in stage 8 before the first mountain stage, some are seeing the possibility of a repeat of last year’s Vuelta when relatively unknown Isidro Nozal got a huge head start to eventual winner Roberto Heras thanks to the long, flat time trials. Only in the penultimate climbing time trial was Heras able to overcome his future teammate to claim his second Vuelta title.
“We saw that he’s looking as strong as he was in the Tour,” Illes Balears sport director Eusebio Unzué told the Spanish sports daily AS. “The Vuelta is just starting, but it’s not good the margin that Landis has and (Alexandre) Vinokourov as well.”
Others aren’t panicking, however. Fernández Matxin, director of Saunier Duval, said that although Landis is strong, he’s not accustomed to winning or controlling a race as a team leader.
Landis, meanwhile, said he’s not discounting a run at the overall, but he’s not putting any pressure on himself. After the Tour, Landis returned to California with his wife and child and trained lightly to maintain his Tour form, but didn’t race at all during the break.
“After the Tour, I went back to California with my family. I rode every day, but no stress. My form seems to be as good as the Tour, so we’ll see how long it will stay that way,” Landis said. “There’s always a chance. I have my own ideas of my fitness, but I come to the race without any pressure. We race one grand tour a year with pressure and that’s the Tour de France. We come here to the Vuelta a little more relaxed and we will take it one day at a time.” Transfer news: Botero, Pena to Phonak, other movesPhonak continues to bolster its roster going into the 2005 season,with the latest additions including Colombians Santiago Botero andVictor Hugo Peña, Swiss rider Aurélien Clerc, 2004 Tour de France prologue winner Fabian Cancellara and Clásica San Sebastian winner Miguel Angel Martín Perdiguero. For more on Phonak’s shopping spree, see the team’s website. After winning the world time trial title in 2002, Botero hasn’t had muchluck in two years with Telekom/T-Mobile. Compatriot Peña was overlookedfor a spot on U.S. Postal’s 2004 Tour de France despite wearing the yellowjersey in 2003. Clerc, meanwhile, is a young rider hitting his best form.Saunier Duval is reportedly hoping to sign Patxi Vila and Juan Manuel Gárate(both Lampre) and David Herrero (Relax-Bodysol) as it boosts itsroster going into the ProTour next year.Russian revelation Denis Menchov (Illes Balears) is reportedly closeto a deal with Rabobank and several Spanish papers have reportedthe news, although Menchov said nothing’s been signed yet.The French daily L’Equipe reported that Spanish riders MikelAstarloza, and Iñigo Chaurreau have decided to stay withAg2r for 2005.French rider Anthony Charteau has signed two years with Bouygues Telecom. Cunego to race 2005 Tour
Damiano Cunego sure looked more like a contender than a tourist when he crossed the finish line in Saturday’s team time trial, showing consternation that his Saeco team 1:38 to winners U.S. Postal Service.
“Well, we wanted to finish in the top 5 because it’s a good test but it’s OK. I insist that I am only here to try to win a stage,” Cunego told VeloNews. “The most important thing for me is to be ready for the worlds, which are in my hometown.”
The Spanish daily MARCA reported that Cunego will start the 2005 Tour de France despite assurances from team manager Giuseppe Martinelli that the Italian phenom would focus on repeating his victory at the Giro and not race the Tour until 2006.
“I will race the 2005 Tour to learn and come back in 2006 to try to win,” Cunego said. “Next year I will try to win again the Giro, the race that all Italians want to win.”
Rossner rips Rotterdam
Germany’s Petra Rossner (Nürnberger) won the 134km Rotterdam Tour on Sunday, outsprinting compatriots Angela Brodtka (German National) and Tanja Hennes (Team Next 125).
A long break by Gessica Turato (Safi Pasta Zara) Daniela Poli (Nobili Guerciotti) and Sarah Duster (German National) never got more than two minutes on the undemanding course, the eighth race in the nine-race World Cup series, and the bunch came back together in time for the 37-year-old Rossner to show her sprinting prowess one more time.
Rossner plans to retire at the end of this season.
Oenone Wood (Australian National) crossed fifth to hold onto her overall World Cup lead. –Agence France Presse
1. Petra Rossner (G), Nürnberger, 134km in 3:24:34
2. Angela Brodtka (G), German National, s.t.
3. Tanja Hennes (G), Team Next 125, s.t.
4. Sissy Van Alebeek (Ned), Farm Frites-Hartol, s.t.
5. Oenone Wood (Aus), Australian National, s.t.
Overall World Cup standings (after 8 of 9 rounds)
1. Oenone Wood (Aus), 264 pts
2. Mirjian Melchers (Ned), 165
3. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), 154