By Andrew Hood
Postal angered by Hamilton’s suggestion
U.S. Postal Service brass are peeved at former pupil Tyler Hamilton who suggested earlier this week the Posties weren’t working hard enough to protect Floyd Landis and his hold on the Vuelta a España leader’s jersey.
Hamilton approached Postal Service assistant sport director Dirk Demol during the race and said he noticed some of the Postal riders appearing not to be doing all they could to help Landis. While Landis eventually lost the jersey to Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) on Thursday, Demol said Hamilton’s charges were off the mark.
“He came up to me and said he noticed some riders not riding to what he thought was hard enough. He said he saw (Manuel) Beltran and (Benoit) Joachim not working hard enough,” Demol told VeloNews. “But that’s completely wrong. The team gave everything to help Landis. Of course, on the final climb the strategy was for Floyd just to follow because he didn’t have to attack, so the team wasn’t supposed to be there on the hardest climbs, but what he said was not correct.”
Landis is joing Hamilton at Phonak at the beginning of the 2005 season. Hamilton’s teammate Oscar Sevilla, meanwhile, announced that he had signed with T-Mobile for next season.
The 27-year-old has been with Phonak since the beginning of the year. Sevilla finished seventh in the 2001 Tour de France and was runner-up thatyear in the Vuelta.
Rivals still worried about Landis
Floyd Landis lost the maillot oro in the steep climbing stage up Calar Alto on Thursday, but his rivals still believe the American shouldn’t be overlooked in the final run toward Madrid.
“You can’t discount Landis. You saw he’s a strong time trialist after his performance in Valencia and there are still two time trials left,” said Francisco Mancebo of Illes Balears. “We still have to watch him.”
Alvaro Pino, sport director at Phonak, is hoping Santi Perez will follow up on his fine second-place finish at Calar Alto to give the green team some hope for the GC. Pino said Landis is one rider they will mark.
“Landis remains an option for the podium, perhaps even the victory if Heras can’t get more time,” Pino said. “The remaining climbs aren’t as steep as Calar Alto and if Landis can be close to what we saw in the Tour, he’s still a threat.”
Landis, meanwhile, seems content with his run so far at the Vuelta. He became the first American to wear the leader’s jersey. Postal Service continued to play its “no pressure” party line going into the final week of the Vuelta.
“We’ve already met our goals so far in this Vuelta. We’ve won two stages and held the jersey for 11 days. Everything else is a bonus,” assistant sport director Dirk Demol told VeloNews. “If Floyd and (Manuel) Beltran can ride strong, we can have two riders in the top 10.”
No worlds for Hamilton
Tyler Hamilton won’t be making a run for the world time trial championships title after all.
The Olympic time trial champion pulled out of the Vuelta a España after Thursday’s difficult climbing stage complaining of a possible stomach virus that sapped his strength.
According to Phonak team director Alvaro Pino, Hamilton’s season is finished.
“Tyler decided that after the Vuelta, his racing season for 2004 is over,” Pino told VeloNews before Saturday’s start. “He’s satisfied with how his season has ended, with the Olympic medal and a stage victory in the Vuelta.”
Hamilton started the Vuelta with what he called no pressure, but many tipped him as a challenger for the overall title. His stock rose even more when he won the time trial in stage 8 to become the first American to win stages in all three grand tours.
But Hamilton faded out of contention after struggling up the Aitana climb the following day. While he left open the possibility to stay in the Vuelta and challenge for the remaining two individual time trial, his continued struggles up Calar Alto cemented his decision to put the season on ice.
Beloki satisfied to be racing again
Joseba Beloki (Saunier Duval) might not be challenging for the overall title for the Vuelta, but he’s just happy to be racing again.
“To be honest, I knew before the Vuelta I wasn’t going to be at the same level as the others,” Beloki told VeloNews. “For me, the most important thing is to be in the race and to have positive sensations on the bike. It’s been a long time for that.”
Beloki is still struggling to overcome his disastrous crash in the 2003 Tour de France, when he broke his wrist, elbow and leg after his tire slipped on sun-baked asphalt.
He penned a deal with the Spanish team Saunier Duval to finish the 2004 season after his experience with the French team Brioches La Boulangére ended acrimoniously. He’s not sure where he’ll ride in 2005.
“I still don’t know,” he said. “We’re still talking to Saunier Duval, nothing’s signed yet.”