By Andrew Hood
Fred Rodriguez will race the world championships next month in Salzburg after what he hopes will be a successful and crash-free Vuelta a España.
The Davitamon-Lotto sprinter is racing his second Vuelta, looking to help Robbie McEwen win a stage and then try something for himself in the second half.
“I will be doing the world’s and then going back for the Vegas (Interbike) show and returning to Europe for Paris-Tours to help Robbie [McEwen],” Rodriguez told VeloNews.com after Monday’s third stage. “It’s important for me to be in Vegas for the work I do with my foundation and with my coffee company as well as my sponsors, but I also want to do the world’s.”
Unlike many of his compatriots, who don’t like the late date of the world championships, the 32-year-old Californian has consistently raced the worlds during his career.
“I’ve always enjoyed the world’s. It like an Olympics and there’s a special feeling,” he said. “You can tell the difference with the crowds, you’re racing for your country. It’s always something special for me, even if it’s so late in the season.”
Rodriguez said he’ll gladly step into the helper’s role to aid teammate Chris Horner, who’s also confirmed to start the Salzburg world’s.
“I’ll likely be helping Chris because it’s not really a good course for me,” Rodriguez said. “Chris is getting better and better after the Tour and he’ll be one of the favorites on the course like that.”
Check back later for a complete interview with Rodriguez.
Petacchi waiting for second half
Alessandro Petacchi hasn’t been at the front in the mass sprints so far, but not to worry, says the Milram sprinter.
The Italian seems satisfied enough just to be at the Vuelta following his horrible crash in stage three of the Giro d’Italia, which sidelined him through the Tour de France with a broken kneecap.
“I am just happy to be here. After an injury so bad on my leg, it’s not easy to come back,” Petacchi told VeloNews.com. “I believe that I have recovered pretty fast, it’s clear that I am not 100 percent, but I am feeling better.”
As evidenced by the first two sprints, Milram is working to spring Erik Zabel to victory while Petacchi searches out his sprinter legs. Petacchi finished 177th at 1:16 back in Sunday’s stage and 140th with the main Monday – and Zabel finally scored a win in Tuesday’s stage.
“I still don’t have a lot of racing in my legs and I still don’t have full strength in my left leg. For me it’s very difficult,” he said. “Now the team will work for Erik. If in the second week I feel a little better, I will try. Erik is confident, he says he feels good and the team is glad to work for him.”
Petacchi said he’s hoping to make it through three hard climbing stages starting Wednesday through the weekend. If he’s feeling better, he’ll make a run at a stage victory in the second week featuring a string of flat stages tailored for the Italian sprinter’s characteristics.
“I am here not expecting to win, I am here to regain my form, every day I feel better and better,” he continued. “Maybe it’s possible I will try a sprint if I feel good, if I don’t feel good, we’ll think about next year.”
The heat is on
Riders were going through dozens of water bottles to try to stay cool in Monday’s broiler. Stage-winner Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval) said he drank six liters of water during the stage and said that might not be enough.
The temperature on the road Monday was 45 degrees Celsius (that’s 113 Fahrenheit) during the hottest part of the stage across the treeless, bleak Andalucian plain. It didn’t help matters that it was also the Vuelta’s longest stage at 219km.
Riders replied in kind and rode sluggishly in the incredibly hot temperatures and arrived more than 20 minutes behind than the slowest projected time.
Fred Rodriguez (Davitamon-Lotto) said the stage was probably the hottest day of the season and rode the entire stage with his jersey unzipped. He only straightened up his jersey for the final sprint.
Discovery Channel boss Johan Bruyneel said the team went through more than 130 bottles and eventually ran out just as the bunch entered Almendralejo. He kept one bottle in the car in case of an emergency.
“This heat isn’t good for anyone and maybe some of the riders will pay for it once we climb into the mountains,” he said. “I am telling our guys to drink more water than they think they need.”
The heat is expected to continue for the next few days and could be especially critical in Wednesday’s first decisive climbing stage to La Covatilla. The exposed climb faces west and will be taking the full brunt of the Iberian sun.
Luckily, the Vuelta route is pushing north toward Galicia and Asturias, where cooler temperatures are likely to be waiting for the sweating peloton.