By Andrew Hood
There was quiet jubilation at the Discovery Channel camp ahead of Thursday’s sixth stage, with three riders in the top 10 overall and Janez Brajkovic nearly pulling off a surprise up Wednesday’s summit finish at La Covatilla.
“It was great to be up there with Di Luca,” Brajkovic told VeloNews.com Thursday morning. “I had great legs and Johan (Bruyneel) told me to follow the attacks if I could. I could stay with Di Luca without any problem, but he was able to beat me in the sprint. I am here at this Vuelta to gain experience and learn about big tours for the future. Right now I doubt that I will be a factor later in the race.”
Discovery Channel sport director Johan Bruyneel said he was very satisfied with how Brajkovic rode and expects better things in the coming days from team leader Tom Danielson, who couldn’t quite stay with the favorites when the tempo changed in the final 3km.
“Janez is a great talent, but we are not counting on him for the GC. He’s a young rider and he’s to learn, but it’s obvious he’s very strong,” he said. “Tom wanted to do better, but it was the first mountain and we shouldn’t read too much in what happened yesterday. This Vuelta is just starting. I think Tom can finish in the top five, maybe even better.”
Danielson admitted he wasn’t at his best, but said he’s expecting to perform better in two more hilly stages set for Friday and Sunday in the northern mountains.
“To be honest, (my legs) felt bad. After three days easy, the first mountain stage so early in the race was really a rude awakening for me. The change of rhythm and pace is always hard,” Danielson said. “I didn’t want to lose any time to Sastre and Valverde, and I did. Although it’s only 20 seconds, I would have preferred to not have had a bad day. It’s not going to happen again.”
Redant: ‘Not planned departure’
Aussie sprinter Robbie McEwen was eliminated from Thursday’s stage after missing the time cut and is out of the Vuelta without winning a stage. McEwen was keen on winning at least one stage to join the elite club of riders who’ve won stages in all three grand tours in one season.
Davitamon-Lotto sport director Hendrik Redant insisted his departure wasn’t planned even though McEwen is expected to ride in a criterium in Holland this weekend.
“He wasn’t planning on pulling out, why else would he have ridden 200km all day? He wanted to race at least today’s stage, because it would have been good for him,” Redant told VeloNews.com. “Robbie was really motivated to win a stage, but he just didn’t have the luck. He made some little mistakes, and when you’re not in great shape, like in the Tour, you don’t have the strength to make up for the mistakes.”
McEwen woke up telling Redant he wasn’t feeling well and lost contact with the group on the day’s first hard climb. He rode most of the day by himself behind the team cars and was never able to latch back on.
“Now we have Freddy (Rodriguez) and (Bjorn) Leukemans for the sprints. We have a team that is still motivated to do well. Chris (Horner) is feeling better and he is a smart rider, and he has picked a few days where he will try something,” Redant said. “And we also (Josep) Jufre who can do well in the GC.”
Di Luca wants to keep jersey until Sunday
Danilo Di Luca has already told everyone he has no intention of trying to win the Vuelta, but said he will try to keep the jersey at least going into Sunday’s difficult summit finish to La Cobertoria.
“The final week of the Vuelta is too difficult for me and I see Sastre and Valverde looking motivated. I need to be thinking about find my strength for the world championships,” Di Luca told VeloNews.com. “It would be nice to keep the jersey until Sunday.”