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August 26, 2006

It's Vuelta time

It's time to kick off the year's 3rd grand tour, and it feels more like the 15th round of a prizefight.

Even though all riders passed their pre-Vuelta blood screens, one rider will miss the start over doping concerns. Saunier Duval-Prodir has dropped their Vuelta leader Koldo Gil on a belief that he's implicated in Operación Puerto. It apparently results from his days with Manolo Saiz and Liberty Seguros, but Saunier Duval's Joxean Fernandez told AS (in Spanish) “we don't want to take any risks over a potential problem that has nothing to do with us.” Gil rode strongly at the Tour of Switzerland, coming second to Jan Ullrich.

Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde, back from a broken collarbone at the Tour de France, is the race favorite, with Tour winner-in-waiting Oscar Pereiro as his superdomestique.

CSC's Carlos Sastre has never met a grand tour he didn't like, as he takes the start of his 5th consecutive GT, last missing the 2005 Giro.

Conversely, Alexandre Vinokourov wasn't allowed to start the Tour in July, but Astana (who has signed to use BMC's funky Swiss carbon-fiber frames now that Phonak is leaving the sport) will have a full squad backing Vinokourov in the Vuelta, while wrangling continues over the future of the team's ProTour license and management.

Best hope for the United States is Tom Danielson of Discovery Channel, riding his first GT as the undisputed team leader. Danielson, 28, talked with Andrew Hood of VeloNews about his Vuelta hopes.

Milram's Alessandro Petacchi is back to racing, but poormouthing his Vuelta chances, tapping teammate Erik Zabel for the sprinter's jersey. Robbie McEwen looks to join Petacchi as the 4th rider to win multiple stages of all 3 GTs in a single year -- Petacchi in 2003 as well as Miguel Poblet in 1956 and Pierino Baffi in 1958 are the others.

Reigning Vuelta champ Denis Menchov, who won the race when Roberto Heras tested positive for EPO and was stripped of the title, says the Vuelta was his “secondary objective” behind the Tour, and he doesn't “feel as sharp and this affects you physically as well.” Menchov's Rabobank squad won't be distracted trying to set Oscar Freire up for wins, as Freire pulled out earlier this week, citing a neck injury.

The TV coverage is debuting a “seatpost camera,” that will mimic the rear-facing cameras used in NASCAR, and rotate among riders daily. Also new will be in-car cameras for interviews with team directors. On the other hand, the Vuelta will dispense with publishing heart rate monitor data, since most teams wouldn't allow their key riders' data to be published. In the US, to see the coverage, you'll have to subscribe to Cycling.TV's web streaming feed.


Vuelta a España official site | (in English) | (in Spanish) | (in French)

cycling4all.com | Vuelta a España 2006 start list

Previews: CyclingNews | Cycloblog

Posted by Frank Steele on August 26, 2006 in Alessandro Petacchi, Alexandre Vinokourov, Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Erik Zabel, Oscar Freire, Robbie McEwen, Tom Danielson, Top Stories, Vuelta a España 2006 | Permalink