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By Andrew Hood
Sastre unsure as Vuelta expects heavy Spanish accent
With the “Puerto Nine” not welcome and a host of foreign stars expected to skip the season’s final grand tour, Vuelta a España organizers are putting a heavy Spanish accent of the 2006 edition.
Race organizers revealed a preliminary start list Tuesday that’s laden with Spanish stars and lean on foreign riders. Defending champion Denis Menchov and his Danish climbing Rabobank counterpart Michael Rasmussen are the biggest foreign stars expected for the Aug. 26 start in Málaga.
Confirmed Spanish riders include Tour de France runner-up Oscar Pereiro and Alejandro Valverde (Illes Balears), Iban Mayo, Samuel Sánchez and Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel), Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Angel Gómez Marchante (Saunier Duval).
One rider uncertain for the start is Team CSC captain Carlos Sastre, fresh off finishing fourth in the Tour de France. Sastre finished second overall in last year’s Vuelta, but is unsure about whether he’ll start what would be his third grand tour of the season.
“I haven’t decided yet about the Vuelta, because I’ve already done the Giro and the Tour,” Sastre told VeloNews last week. “Doing three grand tours in one season is a little too much and I am worried about how it would affect me going into next season.”
Other names not making the press release include Discovery Channel’s Tom Danielson, who will tackle his first grand tour as outright leader, and David Millar, who is expected to start his second grand tour of the season for Saunier Duval.
The Astaná team and Alexandre Vinokourov were not mentioned either, in part because the Vuelta has taken a firm stand against any riders and teams linked to the ongoing “Operación Puerto” doping investigation in Spain.
The race said it would honor the ProTour Ethic’s Code and the precedent set ahead of the start of the 2006 Tour, when nine riders from four teams were kicked out of the race.
Vuelta officials confirmed that none of the riders implicated in the case will not be allowed to start the Vuelta, a list that includes Giro d’Italia champion Ivan Basso, 1999 Vuelta champ Jan Ullrich and two-time third-place finisher Francisco Mancebo.
Vuelta organizers late last week informed continental team Comunidad Valenciana that its wildcard berth was being revoked because of the team’s assistant sport directors was among five people arrested in May. The team will not be replaced.
Whether that same sternness will be applied to Vinokourov and his Astaná cohorts remains to be seen. All five Astaná riders banned from the Tour have since been cleared by Spanish courts of any allegations made against them, opening the door for the team to return to ProTour competition at the Tour of Germany where Vinokourov finished 10th in the opening prologue on Tuesday.
It’s also unsure whether reigning world champion Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and recovering sprinter Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) will be in Málaga. Boonen said before abandoning the Tour he wasn’t certain to start the Vuelta and Petacchi is still recuperating from his busted kneecap suffered early in the Giro.
The race will also start in the shadow of last year’s doping scandal that saw outright winner Roberto Heras stripped of his victory after testing positive for EPO in the penultimate stage.
The ensuing wrangling lasted until February when Heras was officially sanctioned for two years and runner-up Menchov was awarded the victory. Race officials have planned an awards ceremony for the Russian on the eve of the Vuelta start.
Landis site back up
Floyd Landis’ personal web site (www.floydlandis.com) is back up and running after being overwhelmed with hits following news of his unusual testosterone readings last week.
The site posted the following message: “The site is under construction as a result of technical difficulties. On July 27, after news broke that Floyd’s A sample test from stage 17 at the Tour de France was positive for abnormal testosterone:epitestosterone levels, the site experienced an increase in traffic it could not handle. The site went down. The site has been moved to a more powerful server, and we in the process of migrating the content. In the interim, parts of his site will be unavailable or non-functional. Thank you for your patience.”
Milan might lose Giro tradition
Next year’s Giro d’Italia might skip its traditional end in Milan in favor of Verona, according to reports in Tutto Bici in Italy. Race director Angelo Zomegnan said problems with traffic and money issues could send the corsa rosa toward a new finishing city next year.
“Milan has never paid a euro to help with the costs of the Giro. They’ve only taken thanks to the full hotels and the taxes generated,” Zomegnan said. “Many Milanese can’t stand that the traffic is closed down, but we only use the streets from 2 – 5 p.m. on a Sunday when the city is half-vacant anyway.”
Zomegnan also hinted that he’s unpleased with the finale tradition of a piano roll into the final sprint full of hijinks and cajoling before the final sprint. Instead, he’d like to see a major showdown down to the final stage, much like the format the Vuelta a España used with success in recent editions of the Spanish tour.