By Agence France Presse
Joseba Beloki has admitted he is facing an uphill battle to be 100-percent ready for this year’s Tour de France, where American Lance Armstrong will saddle up for an attempt at a record sixth yellow jersey.
The 30-year-old Spaniard has had a nightmare season so far after missing the remainder of 2003 because of the crash during last year’s Tour when he was being chased by Armstrong on the 16th stage to Gap.
The Spaniard, who has finished three times on the Tour podium and would normally be a challenger to the U.S. Postal team’s seemingly unstoppable leader, has since switched teams although the transition has not been smooth.
A series of injuries and absences from races have piled up, and with the news last week that his French team La Boulangere will pull out of the sport as of next season Beloki has already had to hold talks about moving on.
With less than a month before the Tour de France starts in the Belgian city of Liege, Beloki knows it’s a race against time to get ready to challenge Armstrong.
“For the moment I just have to concentrate on improving my race form so that I arrive in Liege in good condition,” Beloki told AFP.
“I’ll be going to the Tour, and you can’t do that without having some kind of ambition. For us, the plan is still the same,” said Beloki, who has waved away suggestions that he won’t be ready for the July 3 start. “I think the Tour will be decided in the last week – and that’s when you have to be on form.”
Beloki caused a shock in cycling last season when he ended years of collaboration with the Spanish ONCE team to sign a two-year deal with La Boulangere, the successor to the old Bonjour squad.
|“It took me a long time to getover my injuries from last year and when I did along came a whole seriesof others, and it’s messed up everything.”
However because of his injuries he was never able to show his best this season. And after the team’s announcement that they cannot afford to become part of cycling’s new Pro Tour next year Beloki is on the way out.
“I’ve spoken to (team manager) Jean-Rene Bernaudeau about ending my contract on December 31,” he explained, adding that all he wanted to do was get back to the rider he once was. “I want to be a rider again, be at the forefront and leave all the stupid problems I’ve had behind me.”
“I want to race again and regain the taste for victory. It took me a long time to get over my injuries from last year and when I did along came a whole series of others, and it’s messed up everything.”
Beloki’s spell with the French team has been followed with interest in the Spanish press, where cycling – and with it any ambitious riders able to beat Armstrong – is given a lot of coverage.
Last week Beloki blamed his struggling form on the first two stages of last week’s Bicicleta Vasca on not being able to treat asthma attacks because the medicine which he has used since childhood contains the steroid cortisone. Although permitted by the Spanish federation, his team and French law would outlaw the use of the aerosol-type spray which Beloki says is crucial to his overall performance.
“I’ve had allergies since I was young and I’ve always used this product. Even if I’m super-motivated and 100 percent fit, I can’t ride well if I don’t have it,” said Beloki, who said that despite everything he has every intention of being a contender at the Tour.