Saturday’s EuroFile: Vuelta begins in León

Tyler Hamilton could become the first American racer to win a stage in each grand tour if he can roll out of the 59th Vuelta a España with a stage victory. The 33-year-old New Englander already has stage wins in the Giro d’Italia (a time trial in 2002) and in the Tour de France (a mountain stage in 2003) and said he’s motivated to make it a hat trick. “I have won stages in the other grand tours, so I wouldn’t mind to win one here to complete the circle,” Hamilton said before Friday’s opening ceremony. “We’ll see how things go. I’m here thinking about the overall but I will also work for

By Andrew Hood

Tyler Hamilton could become the first American racer to win a stage in each grand tour if he can roll out of the 59th Vuelta a España with a stage victory.

The 33-year-old New Englander already has stage wins in the Giro d’Italia (a time trial in 2002) and in the Tour de France (a mountain stage in 2003) and said he’s motivated to make it a hat trick.

“I have won stages in the other grand tours, so I wouldn’t mind to win one here to complete the circle,” Hamilton said before Friday’s opening ceremony. “We’ll see how things go. I’m here thinking about the overall but I will also work for Oscar Sevilla if he’s riding strong.”

The Olympic time trial champion is tipped as pre-race favorites, along with Alejandro Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Joseba Beloki (Saunier Duval) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros).

Five Americans, one Canadian in Vuelta
Five Americans and one Canadian line up for Saturday’s start of the Vuelta a España with the team time trial in León.

U.S. Postal Service boasts the largest North American contingent, with Floyd Landis, Dave Zabriskie, Tony Cruz and Canadian Michael Barry leading the Posties.

Landis is an outsider for the Vuelta podium, especially if he comes to the Spanish grand tour with the same form he had during the Tour de France when he provided excellent work for Lance Armstrong.

Zabriskie and Cruz both shined during the Tour of Holland in August, enough so for sport director Johan Bruyneel to make room for them on the team lineup. Cruz is fresh off his first European win last month and comes to his third Vuelta with hopes of making his presence felt. Zabriskie is back in top form after recovering from a training crash in 2003 that sidelined him for much of last season.

Barry, meanwhile, will be looking to make a strong impression during the race following a string of strong performances. A strong time trailer, Barry will be looking to work himself into breaks and hoping for strong rides in time trials in stage 8 and in the finale in Madrid.

Tyler Hamilton enters the Vuelta as one of the top favorites for final victory. The Olympic champion said he’s not sure how he’ll be after training exclusively for the time trial in Athens. He’s taking the Vuelta seriously and scouted all the major climbs in the weeks before and after the Olympic Games. Second in the 2002 Giro d’Italia and fourth in the 2003 Tour de France, Hamilton could shine on the mixed terrain the Vuelta provides with six summit finishes and four time trials. Phonak comes stacked with a strong team and will be a favorite for victory in Saturday’s team time trial.

Finally, there’s Guido Trenti on Fassa Bortolo, the Italian whose mother is American. He’s back from a long absence from injury that kept him out of both the Giro and Tour and will be looking to guide team captain Alessandro Petacchi to sprint victories.

Vinokourov downplays chances
Alexandre Vinokourov, third overall in the 2003 Tour de France, downplayed his chances for final victory on the eve of the Vuelta a España. The Kazakh missed the 2004 Tour after injuring his shoulder in a fall during the Tour de Suisse in June, but came back to win the Regio Tour in August.

“This is a race that the Spanish riders are always very strong,” Vinokourov said Friday. “We will see how my form is, but perhaps I will be looking to win stages more than trying to take the overall title.”

T-Mobile sport director Mario Kummer echoed Vino’s sentiments, adding that Australian Cadel Evans could become the team leader is Vinokourov isn’t up to the task.

“Vinokourov doesn’t come to the Vuelta with enough strength to fight for three weeks,” Kummer said. “He’s more interested in winning stages because the Spanish riders dominate the Vuelta.”

Top sprinters line up for Vuelta
The Vuelta is being hyped as a climber’s race, but a strong contingent of sprinters have shown up in León and will be looking to fight for stage victories in the opening week of relatively flat stages.

Among the top sprinters are Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and Max Van Heeswijk (U.S. Postal Service).

Leading the charge is Pettachi, who won five stages in last year’s Vuelta en route to making history by winning four or more stages in all three grand tours.

After storming to nine stage victories in the 2004 Giro d’Italia, the Italian star crashed out of the Tour without a win. He’s hoping to use the Vuelta to build his form going into the World Cup stop Paris-Tours on Oct. 10.

“I’ve raced only three days after the fall in the Tour de France, but my condition isn’t so bad,” Petacchi said. “I started the Tour of Holland and I won a stage. The Vuelta wasn’t on my program at the beginning of the season. I talked with the coaches and we made the decision to come to the Vuelta, a race that I particularly love, with the idea of looking ahead to Paris-Tours, where I will end my 2004 season. I haven’t come to this Vuelta obsessed with victory, but rather to do my work. There are six or seven occasions that favor the sprinters.” Rodriguez, Evans confirmed for Davitamon-Lotto
The new Belgian super-team Davitamon-Lotto has confirmed it will enter the 2005 season with Fred Rodriguez and Cadel Evans as part of its lineup. The American is racing with the Division II Aqua & Sapone this season, but was determined to part of the ProTour set to open in 2005. Rodriguez won his third U.S. Pro title in June and beat Italian star Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) in a sprint in the 2004 Giro.

“With (Tom) Steels, (Robbie) McEwen and the engines of (Henk) Vogels and Rodriguez, we will have the best sprinter team in the world,” said team manager Marc Coucke to Sportwereld newspaper.

The team will have a budget of about 8 million euros and a lineup of up to 28 riders as it heads into next season. Other top signings include Axel Merckx and Evans, who suffered through two unhappy seasons at Telekom/T-Mobile. The former World Cup mountain bike champion Evans was overlooked for the 2004 Tour team despite winning the mountainous Tour of Austria in June. The Australian starts the Vuelta a España on Saturday.

Davitamon-Lotto for 2005
Mario Aerts (T-Mobile)
Frédéric Amorison (Quick Step-Davitamon)
Serge Baguet (Lotto-Domo)
Christophe Brandt (Lotto-Domo)
Wim De Vocht (Bodysol-Brustor)
Bart Dockx (Bodysol-Brustor)
Cadel Evans (T-Mobile)
Nick Gates (Lotto-Domo)
Jan Kuyckx (Vlaanderen-T-Interim)
Björn Leukemans (
Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo)
Nico Mattan (Bodysol-Brustor)
Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo)
Fred Rodriguez (Acqua & Sapone)
Bert Roesems (Bodysol-Brustor)
Gert Steegmans (Lotto-Domo)
Tom Steels (Landbouwkrediet-Colnago)
Leon van Bon (Lotto-Domo)
Wim Vansevenant (Lotto-Domo)
Johan Vansummeren (Bodysol-Brustor)
Preben Van Hecke (Bodysol-Brustor)
Wim Van Huffel (Vlaanderen-T-Interim)
Peter Van Petegem (Lotto-Domo)
Aart Vierhouten (Lotto-Domo)
Henk Vogels (Navigators)

Bruyneel pleased with Savoldelli addition
U.S. Postal Service sport director Johan Bruyneel said he’s pleased the team could sign 2002 Giro champion Paolo Savoldelli to a two-year contract. The 31-year-old Savoldelli also won a stage and finished second at the 1999 Tour of Italy and won the 2000 Tour of Romandy and the Tour of Trentino in 1998 and 1999. Savoldelli missed most of the 2003 season due to various injuries.

“I think it’s a very strong addition to the team in terms of how the new Pro Tour is designed,” Bruyneel said in a team press release. “It’s pretty clear the Pro Tour is for teams with strong stage racers. Paolo is a strong addition to the team and is also a very strong addition in view of the big tours.”

Bruyneel said he hasn’t decided which role Savoldelli will play on the team, which will be called Discovery Channel in 2005. That hinges on what six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong decides to do next season.

“We haven’t decided what the program will be yet, either the Tour of Italy or the Tour de France, but I think either way he’s a rider who will fill in the spot we were still looking for. He can both climb and time trial, and there aren’t too many of those guys out there,” Bruyneel said. “He will be riding as a leader in certain races and also in support of a leader. I have a really good feeling about Paolo. It’s funny, he was the guy I was looking for, and when the opportunity came and he was available to come to the team, I went for it.”

Vuelta: Stage by Stage
59th Vuelta a Espana, Sept. 4-26
Stage 1 — Sept. 4: León – León TTT, 27.7km – Loopcourse with Category 3 climb at 11km. Rain could be a factor on the technicalroll out and finish in the crowded streets León.
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Stage 2 — Sept. 5: León to Burgos, 207km – No ratedclimbs on the mostly flat stage eastward across the meseta to Burgos. Thefirst for the sprinters.
Stage 3 — Sept. 6: Burgos to Soria, 157.1km – Hillier thanstage 2, but still no rated climbs with a rising finish into Soria.
Stage 4 — Sept. 7: Soria to Zaragoza, 167.5km – Almost deadflat in the final 60km with the danger of strong winds to create echelonsin the bunch.
Stage 5 — Sept. 8: Zaragoza to Morella, 186.5km – Flat in thefirst half, the hilly second half provides ideal hunting grounds for head-bangers.There’s a Cat. 2 at 11km to go with a short, but steep climb on the finishin Morella.
Stage 6 — Sept. 9: Benicarló to Castellón dela Plana, 157km – A Cat. 3 and two Cat. 2’s, with the final climb coming22km to go will provide some chances for escapes.
Stage 7 — Sept. 10: Castellón de la Plana to Valencia,170km – Valencia is a classic sprinter’s stage and Cat. 3 and Cat. 2 climbsearly on shouldn’t slow down the train.
Stage 8 — Sept. 11: Factoria Ford to Factoria Ford ITT, 40.1km– Dead flat course around Spain’s giant Ford factory south of Valencia.Wind could be a factor.
Stage 9 — Sept. 12: Xátiva to Alto de Aitana, 162km– The peloton will hit three Cat. 3’s and Cat. 2’s before arriving to theVuelta’s first mountain top finish, the 13.3km, 800m climb to the Altode Aitana.
Stage 10 — Sept. 13: Alcoi to Xorret de Catí, 174.5km– A rollercoaster stage with three Cat. 3’s and one Cat. 2 all in the secondhalf, with the final Cat. 1 Alto Xorret de Cati coming just 3km from theshort climbing finish.
Stage 11 — Sept. 14: San Vicente del Raspeig to Caravaca dela Cruz, 165.8km – No rated climbs but the course gradually climbs 400mover the final 32km.Rest Day — Sept. 15Stage 12 — Sept. 16: Almería to Observatorio Meterológicode Calar Alto, 145km – Sure to be a decisive stage, two Cat. 1’s in theopening half of the short stage are tapas for the brutally steep summitfinish at Calar Alto. Climbing 1,300m in 21km with grades as steep as 10percent, the climb is already being called the Angliru of the south.
Stage 13 — Sept. 17: El Ejido to Málaga, 172.4km – Largelyflat stage long the Costa del Sol without rated climbs.
Stage 14 — Sept. 18: Málaga to Granada, 167km – Cat.2, Cat. 3 and Cat. 1 climbs along the way before a long downhill run intoGranada.
Stage 15 — Sept. 19: Granada to Sierra Nevada ITT, 29.6km –Another decisive stage, the climbing time trial goes up the “hard” roadto the Sierra Nevada ski station.Rest Day — Sept. 20Stage 16 — Sept. 21: Olivenza to Cáceres, 190.1km – Rollingstage along the Portuguese border without any rated climbs.
Stage 17 — Sept. 22: Plasencia to Estación de EsquiLa Covatilla, 169.8km – Two Cat. 1’s and a Cat. 3 await the peloton beforethe final 18km summit finish with ramps as steep as 10.5 percent.
Stage 18 — Sept. 23: Béjar to Ávila, 196.6km– Another rollercoaster with four rated climbs, including the short butsteep finish into Avila.
Stage 19 — Sept. 24: Ávila to Collado Villalba, 142km– There’s hardly a flat stretch of road in this six-climb day well-suitedfor stage-hunters.
Stage 20 — Sept. 25: La Vega de Alcobendas to Puerto de Navacerrada,178km – Three Cat. 1’s and a Cat. 3 welcome the weary bunch before theCat. 1 summit finish up the 7km finale.
Stage 21 — Sept. 26: Madrid to Madrid ITT, 28.2km – If theVuelta still isn’t locked up, the rolling finale on the streets of Madridwill crown the winner of the 2004 Vuelta a España.
Total distance: 3033kmVuelta by the numbers:
1 team time trial
2 rest days
3 individual time trials
5 starting Americans (Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, David Zabriskie,Guidi Trenti and Tony Cruz)
6 summit finishes
6 rolling road stages
11 medium or high mountain stages
21 stages
28 categorized “especial,” 1 or 2 climbs
125.6 kilometers of time trials
144.5 average stage length
187 starting riders
3,023 total kilometers
23,401 total meters of climbing