By Andrew Hood
Denis Menchov admits he won’t be the five-star favorite to win the Vuelta a España while Rabobank teammate Oscar Freire confirms he won’t be taking Saturday’s start.
Menchov – who was named winner of the 2005 Vuelta after Roberto Heras tested positive for the banned blood booster EPO – said his efforts from the Tour de France could cost him in the mountainous Vuelta.
“I’ve love to win, but the Vuelta is a secondary objective this year after the Tour and I don’t feel as fresh this time,” Menchov told the Spanish daily MARCA. “I think I have a chance, but psychologically I don’t feel as sharp and this affects you physically as well.”
Menchov was hyped as a favorite for overall Tour victory after pre-race favorites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were suspended ahead of the race, but he faded in the Alps with bronchitis after winning a stage in the Pyrénées to finish sixth overall.
Menchov is scheduled to receive the official winner’s jersey in a special ceremony Friday ahead of Saturday’s start in Málaga. He said with the passage of time he finally feels like the winner of the race.
“Now I do, but I’ve always said that I would have liked to have won the race in another way, in the race, but that’s life,” Menchov said, adding that the favorites don’t include him. “I see the likes of Pereiro, Valverde, Vinokourov perhaps fighting for the overall.”
Freire, meanwhile, ended speculation on whether he’d start after confirming that continuing dizzy spells caused by a possible neck injury. He was forced out of the Tour in the final week after winning two stages.
Freire also said he will try to compete in September’s world championships. The three-time world champ missed last year’s Madrid championships after complications from an operation to remove a cyst.
Replacing Freire will be Aussie prospect Will Walker, who makes a jump to the bigs with the Dutch team in what will be his grand tour debut.
Sastre poised for fifth consecutive GT start
Team CSC’s Carlos Sastre can claim to be one of the most resilient racers in the peloton as this weekend’s Vuelta a España will be the Spanish rider’s fifth consecutive grand tour start.
Sastre made the call last week to start the Vuelta, which will keep his grand tour streak alive going back to the 2005 Tour de France. Since then, he’s finished second in the 2005 Vuelta, helped Ivan Basso win the 2006 Giro d’Italia and finished fourth overall at the 2006 Tour.
“It’s just circumstances that led to me being in all these grand tours,” Sastre told VeloNews. “I wasn’t sure to start the Vuelta, but I felt better than I expected after the Tour and it’s better to race close to home in front of my family and friends than to chase all over Europe.”
Sastre will headline a strong Team CSC lineup that also include Paris-Roubaix champion Fabian Cancellara and Aussie sprinter Stuart O’Grady. Jakob Piil was left out in the last-minute in favor of Volodymir Gustov to give Sastre more help in the mountains.
“This is definitely the strongest team we’ve ever had in the Vuelta,” Team CSC sport director Kim Andersen said on the team’s web page. “We have proud traditions from last year with a stage win and podium spot, so there’s a lot to live up to. And we can with this team.” The team will rally around Sastre, runner-up last year in his first grand tour podium of his career. Sastre rebounded well from his fourth-place finish at the Tour de France and is motivated to aim for the top. “Carlos Sastre has told us he’s motivated to do well and that means we have to provide him with the best possible support,” Andersen said. “He has been tremendous this year and deserves the opportunity to get a great result in the Vuelta. As always it will be a tough race and the spectators can expect some amazing stages for sure.” Team CSC for 61st Vuelta a España (Aug. 26-Sept. 17)Carlos Sastre (Spa)Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Lars Bak (Den) Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Iñigo Cuesta (Spa) Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Nicki Sørensen (Den) Stuart O’Grady (Aus)
Petacchi, Zabel headline Milram
Alessandro Petacchi has already confirmed he’ll start the Vuelta a Espana, but now it’s looking unlikely the Italian sprinter will be racing the world championships next month. Petacchi broke his kneecap in the third stage of the Giro and only returned to competition earlier this month. He said he still lacks the top-end speed he needs to be considered fully recovered from his injury. “I head to the Vuelta to continue my recuperation for next season. I would look at my season as very unproductive if I don’t win at least something in one of the grand tours, but there’s still Paris-Tours at the end of this season,” Petacchi told DataSport. “The knee is okay. I don’t feel pain during the sprints and later it doesn’t inflame and that’s the most important thing. What’s obvious is that I am not as strong in the left leg as I am in the right.” Petacchi also confirmed he won’t race the Salzburg world championships, saying he wouldn’t be in condition to challenge for the rainbow jersey and that the course didn’t suit his style. Petacchi will be sharing captain duties with veteran German ace Erik Zabel in the sprints. Milram for VueltaAlessandro PetacchiErik ZabelDaniel BeckeVolodymyr DyudyaAlberto OngaratoEnrico PoitschkeFabio SacchiSebastian SiedlerMarco Velo
Bettini lead QS
Paolo Bettini will be looking to increase his haul of grand tour stage victories as he leads a young Quick Step-Innergetic team into Saturday’s Vuelta a España start. Bettini won his first career Vuelta stage last year with a victory in stage 16.
The prolific Bettini – who has more than 50 career victories including major wins such as the Olympic road race and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – has only won four grand tour stages. Those include one stage in the 2000 Tour de France, last year’s win in the Vuelta and one each in the past two editions of the Giro d’Italia.
Quick Step won’t have a strong GC rider, but instead will bring riders such as Matteo Tosatto, Kevin Van Impe, Kevin Hulsmans and José Antonio Garrido who can look for their opportunities with the star riders staying home.
World champion Tom Boonen has decided to skip the Vuelta ahead of next month’s world championships while climbing sensation José Rujano – who already started but abandoned both the Giro and Tour this year – is a surprise non-starter for the mountainous Vuelta.
Quick Step-Innergetic for VueltaPaolo BettiniKevin De WeertAd EngelsJosé Antonio GarridoKevin HulsmansSebastien RosselerMatteo TosattoKevin Van ImpeDavide Vigano
Garzelli eyes Italian one-day races
Stefano Garzelli will lead Liquigas into a pair of one-day semi-classics in Italy this week at the GP Rubinetterie Nobili Borgomanero and GP Industria Commercio Artigianato Carnaghese set for Wednesday and Thursday, respectively.
Garzelli grabbed his third win of the 2006 season after defending his title at the Tre Valli Varesine last week.