By Andrew Hood
Roberto Heras enters next week’s Tour de France an enigmatic figure among the list of favorites. The three-time Vuelta a España champion has kept a very low profile so far this season, leaving many to wonder if he’ll be ready to face Lance Armstrong and the other Tour contenders on the same level. During the recent Dauphiné Libéré, Heras hardly left any impression at all as he rode well back in the pack during the big climbs at Mont Ventoux and Joux Plane. He insists, however, he’ll be ready for the Tour. “It’s not something worrisome because the mountains in the Tour are still far away,” Heras told the Spanish daily MARCA. “I believe we are going to arrive in form, in good condition and I believe the team will make a good Tour.” Heras is still looking to top his impressive Tour debut in 2000, when he finished fifth overall. After three seasons riding in support of Armstrong at U.S. Postal Service, Heras signed a high-profile contract with Liberty Seguros last year. But like many of the lean Spanish climbers, Heras struggled in last year’s Tour and eventually abandoned in the Alps. Heras said this year he simply wants to be a factor. “I want to be well-placed in the race, because this is what’s been missing the past few years when I’ve had the luck in the Vuelta but not in the Tour,” he said. “I don’t want to just disappear. Five years ago I was fighting for the podium and I believe I have the capacity to do that.” Fothen sticks with Gerolsteiner
Promising German rider Markus Fothen has penned a deal to stay with Gerolsteiner through 2008, the German wires reported. The 23-year-old finished an impressive 12th in the 2005 Giro d’Italia in his grand tour debut, inspiring hopes of German fans everywhere who are already keen to find riders to take over once Jan Ullrich retires. The 2003 U-23 world time trial champion surprised even himself in the Giro’s big mountains, staying with the strongest riders through the Dolomites and Alps before stuttering slightly over the intimidating Colle de Finestre on the penultimate stage. “I came to this Giro to make a test in the big tours, now this result gives me confidence for the future,” Fothen told VeloNews at the end of the Giro. “That’s where I see my future, in the big races like the Tour de France. I got stronger over the course of this race.” Fothen has been working closely with ex-pro Udo Bolts to round out his climbing skills and durability for three weeks. The ambitious, blonde-haired rider came to his first three-week tour with bold goals. “I thought I could be in the top 15 without too much difficult, so by finishing 12th I’ve surpassed my expectations,” he continued. “The race that fascinates me is the Tour de France. That’s the race that really gets me excited.” That’s music to German fan’s ears, but his Tour debut will likely have to wait until next year. Casar not hurt in fall
Sandy Casar (FDJeux) wasn’t seriously injured after falling over a wall in Thursday’s French national time trial race. Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) won the race, but Casar was forced to abandon after the spill. Despite some cuts and scrapes, Casar is expected to start this weekend’s French road race championships. More troubles for VdB
Troubles keep mounting for Belgian rider Frank Vandenbroucke, who was fined 250,000 euros after losing an appeal that back-fired for the former star, the Belgian wires reported. Vandenbroucke was appealing a court ruling requiring him to perform 200 hours of community service after banned doping products were found in his home during a police raid in February, 2002. The court did eliminate the community service, but added the stiff fine because they felt the earlier decision was too lenient. If he doesn’t pay the full amount, he could face up to three months in jail.