By Andrew Hood
Roberto Heras says he’s “happy to be back in Spain” after penning a three-year deal Wednesday to ride with the new Liberty Seguros. Heras, speaking to the Spanish media after finalizing his contract, said he’s ready to face new challenges after helping Lance Armstrong for the past three years on U.S. Postal Service.
“The negotiations have been long but they ended very well,” Heras told the Spanish daily MARCA. “It makes me proud as a rider. Liberty is a major team and has a director like Manolo (Saiz) that has given a lot to Spanish cycling and will continue to give more.”
Heras admitted it will be “strange” to be “on the other side” facing Armstrong in the 2004 season. The two-time Vuelta a España champion has yet to outline his season, but starts in the Vuelta and the Tour seem likely if the Liberty Seguros team gets a bid to start.
Team manager Saiz called the signing “big news for Spanish sport because one of the most important Spanish athletes has returned to Spain. It’s also very big for Liberty because his entry will allow us to create an important team.”
Saiz, the former manager of the now-defunct ONCE team, said the Tour de France will be the team’s top aspiration for the upcoming season. With Heras in tow, Saiz is hopeful of earning a spot in the season’s main event.
“Roberto has the qualities to make the maximum,” Saiz said. “This year, Roberto had health problems but the year before he arrived at the top of the Tourmalet with Beloki. Now we have a sponsor that gives us a lot of security. We are going to make a solid team and we’re still open to new possibilities.”
Heras regretted that Beloki left to join the French team Brioches la Boulangere and said “I would have liked to have both because they are not incompatible.”
Bartoli OK after spill
Classics strongman Michele Bartoli is okay despite falling during a workout during the Team CSC early season camp on the island of Lanzarote this week, according to the team. According to team spokesman Brian Nygaard, X-rays revealed a small facture near Bartoli’s left elbow.
“It’s nothing serious at all,” Nygaard said. “He’s still training three hours a day.”
The team continues its workout this week at Lanzarote and will conduct its official team presentation at another training camp next month in Italy.
Beloki to start Tour and Vuelta
Joseba Beloki, recovering from his injuries suffered during the 2003 Tour de France, said he will start both the Tour and the Vuelta a España in 2004. The remainder is still unknown for the Spanish rider, but said he’ll also race in the Tour of the Basque Country in April.
Beloki is set to return to France this weekend to rejoin his new Brioches La Boulangere for the second time since his surprise signing with the modest French team. Beloki will be joined by his younger brother, Gorka, and Unai Yus, another of Beloki’s friends and training partners.
“The French riders of my new team are very excited after confirming our arrival to Boulangere,” Beloki told the Spanish wires EFE. “They are counting on me and already preparing well and want to be among the favorites in the next Tour de France.”
Kostyuk signs with Chocolade Jacques
Ukraine Denys Kostyuk, the best Under 23 rider in the 2003 UCI rankings, will turn pro with the Belgian team Chocolade Jacques. The 21-year-old Kostyuk is reportedly close to Chocolade Jacques boss Andrei Tchmil. Spanish riders still look beyond borders
Despite a strong domestic peloton with such established teams as Euskaltel-Euskadi and Kelme and upstarts such as Liberty Seguros and Saunier Duval, no less than 59 Spanish riders have jobs on foreign teams for the 2004 season, the sports daily AS reported.
The paper’s analysis revealed 14 first diversion teams will have Spanish riders as team leaders, headlined by Joseba Beloki at Brioches la Boulangere, Oscar Freire at Rabobank, Igor Astarloa at Cofidis, Aitor Gonzalez at Fassa Bortolo, Oscar Sevilla at Phonak and Juan Miguel Mercado at Quick Step.
While 59 sounds like a lot, that’s down from 83 riders who rode for non-Spanish teams in 2003. Several riders are still in negotiations, including the Portuguese teams which usually load up with Iberian racers.