Tales from the peloton, August 30, 2007
La Vuelta's teams for 2007 - favourites to make amends for earlier unfulfilled ambitions?
The 62nd edition of the Vuelta a España will kick off this Saturday in Vigo (Pontevedra, Galicia). Iker Rioja of Cyclingnews analyses the teams that will race the three weeks to the race's conclusion in Madrid.
This year's edition will be, as usual, marked by the absences. The whole 2006 podium won't be taking part this year either by doping-elated reasons (Vinokourov and Kashechkin) or for sporting reasons (Valverde). On the other hand, Vigo will hold the best participation ever, including Australian Cadel Evans, second in July's Tour de France, Damiano Cunego, a former Giro d'Italia winner, and locals Oscar Pereiro, Carlos Sastre and, perhaps the only rider who has had this race in his mind since January, Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sánchez.
Former Miguel Indurain teammate José Luis Arrieta will be honoured with dossard number 1. Like they did last year with Arrieta, the French team will hunt for some stage wins. Samuel Dumoulin and veteran climber Stéphane Goubert should be the strongest during the toughest mountain stages, whereas Jean-Patrick Nazon could have his opportunity in sprints.
This modest Spanish team, led by climber Jorge Ferrío and ex-Cofidis rider Luis Pérez Rodriguez, has obtained one of the wildcards. We will surely remember its bright maillot as they will likely form part of every day's escapes.
Vendée-based team will be less Vendée-based in September. One Spaniard, Xavier Florencio, one Swiss, Aurélien Clerc, and the Estonian champion, Erki Pütsep, are the names that we ought to bear in mind over the next three weeks.
Unzúe's and Echavarri's team won't have Valverde in Vigo's Grand Départ, but they have set up a very interesting squad. Oscar Pereiro, Vladimir Karpets and Vladimir Efimkin should be the strongest men in the mountains, backed by Deutschland Tour revelation David López García and hard-working 'Chente' García, Xabier Zandio and Imanol Erviti. Joan Horrach, Giro stage winner last year, completes the team.
Sylvain Chavanel is back. After a solid Tour, he will try and see how far he can fair in Spain (remember it is the first time that he will ride two Grand Tours in the same season). Leonardo Duque, Stéphane Augé, Maxime Monfort and local Bingen Fernández will guarantee a red jersey in the TV screens.
The French historic team will come to Spain with its usual Vuelta team: Hungarian time trial champion Laszlo Bodrogi (who, in Germany, seemed to be in a very good shape) and climbers Alexandre Botcharov and Pietro Caucchioli. Nevertheless, sprinter Thor Hushovd will not take part in the race. Angelo Furlan and Mark Renshaw will have to show their skills in Vuelta's sprints, instead.
This will be the last big appearance of team Discovery Channel. Johan Bruyneel has created an interesting Vuelta team in order to say goodbye as best as he can to the professional cycling. Tom Danielson will lead the team. Allan Davis and Tomas Vaitkus will seek their opportunities in the sprints and Egoi Martínez, José Luis Rubiera and Stijn Devolder will have to try and catch the break-always. The team classification could be its main goal, as it was last year.
Spaniard Samuel Sánchez has prepared this race with perseverance. His season began early, usually with Paris-Nice, and, after Vuelta al País Vasco and Spring Classics, he focused on the Vuelta. He showed that he is able to be near the best climbers last year in the mountains. And his improvement in the time trials makes him a dangerous rival. He will be supported by Haimar Zubeldia or Dionisio Galparsoro. Young Igor Antón and Koldo Fernández are looking for a stage win.
Française Des Jeux
Bradley McGee likes this race. Two years ago he commanded the leader's jersey. He needs to feel those sensations again as he has had some bad patches lately. Thomas Lövkvist will have a nice chance to prove his skills.
The Spanish roads will also see veteran Davide Rebellin and young Stefan Schumacher, who are mainly preparing themselves for the upcoming World Championships, co-captain the team. After a difficult Tour de France for him, Markus Fothen will aspire for a prosperous Vuelta.
In its first appearance of the Vuelta, its leader Santos Gonzalez's injury will determine its role in the race. Otherwise, they will have to look for breakaways with riders such as David Herrero or Ezequiel Mosquera.
Damiano Cunego will lead the Italian squad in the Vuelta. This is the only Grand Tour in which he haven't yet shone (he won 2004 Giro and last year's Tour de France's young rider's jersey). With him will be gifted climbers Paolo Tiralongo or Sylvester Szmyd. Daniele Bennati is its best chance in the sprints and why not, after what we saw in July, for third week breakaways.
While Danilo Di Luca and Luca Paolini, the best riders of the 2006 team, will be preparing for the World Championships in Italy, local 'Triki' Beltrán will lead the team that have performed so well during 2007. San Sebastián's star Leonardo Bertagnolli will return to the race in which he obtained his first big victory.
Australian Cadel Evans, who stated that will come to the Vuelta to obtain a good overall classification in order to improve his ProTour position, will be backed with one of the strongest teams in the race. American Chris Horner, Belgians Mario Aerts and Wim Van Huffel, and Spaniard Josep Jufré are good enough to help Evans go further than he did in July. The team has left Robbie McEwen out.
Quick.Step - Innergetic
Juan Manuel Gárate's earlier injury left him without his favourite race: the Giro. Because of that he planned an alternative calendar, which led him to race the Tour de France and, now, the Vuelta. Paolo Bettini and Tom Boonen will test themselves once again on the Spanish roads, specially for the former, whose season hasn't been as fertile as other years.
After a very difficult month for them, Rabobank's riders will come to Spain with Russian Denis Menchov, winner of the 2005 edition. Young Theo Eltink and Mauricio Ardila Cano should be the best climbers, whereas Oscar Freire tries for a stage win. Basque Pedro Horrillo is also included in the team.
The team that hired Francisco Mancebo, Oscar Sevilla, Santi Pérez and Ángel Vicioso this winter will finally take part in the Vuelta, but without them. Look out for Daniel Moreno and José Miguel Elías, nice climbers who shone in recent Vuelta a Burgos. Ex-Kelme Julián Sánchez will appear surely in many breakaways.
With País Vasco winner Juan José Cobo out of the team, David De La Fuente and veteran Leonardo Piepoli ought to be the ones to help José Angel Gomez Marchante on his way to the desired podium of Paseo de la Castellana. He was left out of the Tour selection as he wasn't in good shape after an injury, so he has focused his season in this race. Sprinter Ventoso, who have already won in the Vuelta, is also in the Vuelta squad of this Spanish team.
Carlos Sastre's men are here to help him get his first ever Grand Tour. They have chosen mostly veteran and experienced riders, like Iñigo Cuesta or Michael Blaudzun, but, on the other hand, we are going to see ex-Rabobank Alexandr Kolobnev and Deutschland Tour star Chris Anker Sørensen.
Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel will lead Milram in the upcoming Vuelta. The Italian rider will be at the start in Vigo even though the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) tried to prevent his start. Matej Jurco, Martin Müller, Alberto Ongarato, Elia Rigotto, Fabio Sabatini, Marco Velo and Niki Terpstra will complete the team. Young Terpstra completed a good Deutschland Tour recently. The main goal of this team is, once again, stage wins. Last year, veteran Erik Zabel obtained two victories, including the final stage in Madrid.
This will be the last opportunity to see Giuseppe Guerini's climbing skills. The Italian will retire after the Vuelta and he hopes to end his career with a stage win. Adam Hansen recently stated that he is excited to come to Spain. However, stage victories could be limited as none of the team's top-notch sprinters will be in Vigo.