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Wednesday’s EuroFile: Nozal, the golden gregario; ONCE’s got it says Frigo; Ullrich’s offers

Race leader Isidro Nozal is the revelation of the Vuelta a España,holding onto the race leader’s golden jersey through three difficult daysin the Pyrénées despite working hard to help protect ONCE’sdesignated leader in Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.Despite his golden run and a growing consensus that the Vuelta is histo lose, the modest rider insists he’s still a gregario for Galdeano.“I have it very clear – I work for the team and I do it with pleasure,”Nozal told journalists on Tuesday’s rest day. “Everyone dreams of winningthe Vuelta, but now I am concentrating on helping the team. I still

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By Andrew Hood

Race leader Isidro Nozal is the revelation of the Vuelta a España,holding onto the race leader’s golden jersey through three difficult daysin the Pyrénées despite working hard to help protect ONCE’sdesignated leader in Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.Despite his golden run and a growing consensus that the Vuelta is histo lose, the modest rider insists he’s still a gregario for Galdeano.“I have it very clear – I work for the team and I do it with pleasure,”Nozal told journalists on Tuesday’s rest day. “Everyone dreams of winningthe Vuelta, but now I am concentrating on helping the team. I still haven’twon anything. I won a time trial and had an excellent day. I am still agregario. It’s a job I’ve always done and I like it.”Before his Vuelta demonstration, the 25-year-old had only won one racein his five-year career, an individual time trial in last year’s Clasicade Alcobendas.After his impressive riding through the Pyrénées, manysee him as the favorite to win when the Vuelta ends in Madrid on Sept.28. Nozal, however, insists he’s taking it as it comes and isn’t thinkingtoo far ahead.“I don’t feel pressure. I’m enjoying the jersey. It’s a dream come trueand something beautiful is happening to me. It started as a game for me,but now I have my feet on the ground,” said Nozal, 1:48 ahead of ONCE teammateGaldeano. “If I arrive near the end of the Vuelta with the lead, then we’llsee what happens.”Frigo says ONCE looks unbeatable
Fassa Bortolo is sitting pretty as the Vuelta a España entersits second half, with Dario Frigo and Aitor Gonzalez hanging in the top10.But with ONCE controlling matters through three summit finishes in thePyrénées, Frigo doesn’t see many chances to make up timeon race leader Isidro Nozal or ONCE teammate Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano.“The conditions favor ONCE. There are two more summit finishes and oneflat time trial this week, where Nozal and Galdeano will be able to widenthe differences,” Frigo told the Spanish daily Sport. “This race hasn’thad a true ‘patrón.’ There’s no Armstrong or Simoni who can be areference point for the other riders.”The Vuelta rolls on with two transition stages Wednesday and Thursdaybefore hitting Friday’s flat time trial at Albacete and summit finishesat La Pandera on Sunday and Sierra Nevada on Tuesday.Frigo said the others are running out of time to close down gaps toNozal and Galdeano.“Nozal has been a surprise for everyone, including his own team andI believe he could hold the jersey until Madrid. Everything will dependon the next time trial,” said Frigo, fourth overall at 3:05 back. “If Nozaland Galdeano can do what they did at Zaragoza (an ITT at Stage 6), they’llbe nothing to do. This stage will make the race and the podium.”Pandera, Sierra Nevada not ideal hunting ground
The summit finishes at La Pandera and Sierra Nevada might not be enoughfor the pure climbers to make up time on ONCE’s Isidro Nozal and Igor Gonzalezde Galdeano.Last year up La Pandera – hyped as the “Angliru of the South” – U.S.Postal’s Roberto Heras won but only took 18 seconds on Gilberto Simoni(Saeco). La Pandera is steep, with ramps as steep as 15 percent, but it’snot very long at 8.3km.“The Pandera is a climb that’s only hard in the last kilometers andI don’t believe it will produce big differences,” said Kelme’s sport directorVicente Belda. “Igor and Isidro have a strong team at their disposal andthey have a nice cushion, so unless they crack, there’s nothing to do.”At 30km with an average grade of 5.7 percent, the Sierra Nevada climbis the Vuelta’s longest. But without exceptionally steep sections – thesteepest ramps are 8.1 percent – it’s difficult for the climbers to pullaway from a strong leader. The Pandera and Sierra Nevada climbs are separatedby the Vuelta’s second rest day on Sept. 22, giving ONCE another advantage.Although there’s the final climbing time trial waiting in Stage 20,Heras knows it’s his last chance.“You have to try,” said Heras, fifth at 3:28 back. “By trying, you don’tlose anything.”Beloki won’t race again this year
ONCE’s Joseba Beloki had hoped to be back in the peloton this fall,but admitted this week it’s not going to happen.Beloki broke his right femur and elbow when he suffered a horrible crashin the final Alps stage of the 2003 Tour de France, sending Lance Armstrongon his famous “short cut” across a hay field.Beloki has had a surprisingly quick comeback, considering the seriousnessof the injuries. He was spotted with crutches at the Clasica San Sebastianin early August and has already been back on the trainer bike.“I’ve recovered pretty quickly but I must be careful because I don’twant to re-injure my elbow,” Beloki told Reuters. “I wanted to race inLombardy, but it would be too risky considering how the weather is duringthis time of year.”Beloki’s future is the center of much speculation. Earlier this month,Beloki said he was holding out for ONCE manager Manolo Saiz, who is reportedlyclose to announcing a new sponsor to take over the team. Beloki has beenlinked to joining Phonak.Casero checks on knee
Bianchi’s Angel Casero got his right knee checked out in a Barcelonahospital after Monday’s stage, but the 2001 Vuelta champion hopes to fighton. Casero was hampered through the Pyrénées with sharp kneepain and took anti-inflammatory pills to keep down the swelling. Caserosaid he hopes to try to win a stage in what’s been another disappointinggrand tour performance.Ullrich mulling Telekom offer
Jan Ullrich might be heading back to Telekom after the German teamhas offered the 1997 Tour de France champion to come back. According toreports in the German press, the Telekom offer is just one of three Ullrichis mulling.Ullrich, 29, left Telekom following the disastrous 2002 season whenhe suffered through two knee surgeries, a DUI and a racing ban. Ullrichsigned with Coast, which morphed into Team Bianchi before finishing secondbehind Lance Armstrong in the 2003 Tour de France.Ullrich says his considerations are all about winning the Tour.“It’s not a question of money. For me, the most important thing is thesport. For me to confide in Bianchi I need to know what are the sponsors,who are the members of the team? We still haven’t talked about these issues,”Ullrich said.Telekom has said since July’s Tour that Ullrich would be welcomed backto Telekom, but most likely without sport director Rudy Pevenage. Pevenageand Telekom manager Walter Godefroot publicly traded barbs following Ullrich’sdeparture from Telekom.Virenque won’t race worlds
Quick Step’s Richard Virenque said he won’t race in October’s roadworld championships, according to a report in La Gazzetta dello Sport.Virenque — who was kicked out of Sunday’s climbing stage at the Vueltaa España for taking an illegal tow from a team car up the Col dePortillón – said “I don’t have it in my head or my legs to faceit.”London wants Tour 2006
London wants to host the opening stages of the 2006 Tour de Franceand is offering a course layout that would have cyclists riding past BuckinghamPalace, Trafalgar Square and Tower Bridge.“Staging the Grand Depart in London in 2006 would be a great honor,”London Mayor Ken Livingstone said Friday. “We have submitted our proposaland are awaiting a decision from Tour organizers.”Under the plan, which is being organized by Transport for London, theprologue time trial would be held in central London with the riders startingand finishing on The Mall.The first official stage would start in Greenwich and take the cyclistsinto Essex and back to The Mall. The second stage would start in Kent andfinish in the coastal city of Portsmouth. The riders would then travelto northern France for the beginning of the third stage.This year’s race, won for the fifth straight time by Lance Armstrong,started in Paris. Next year’s Tour begins in Liege, Belgium.The Tour never starts outside France two years in succession, so London’snext chance to host the opening is 2006. Tour organizers normally decideon race routes 18 months in advance.
– The Associated Press