By Monika Prell
The Vuelta a España's Stage 3 should have been a great for Euskaltel-Euskadi. The team helped break the peloton up into small groups as it rode strong and fast, but suddenly the tactic was disturbed by Haimar Zubeldia, one of their strongest riders, crashing with 20 kilometres of the 153 kilometre stage remaining. Zubeldia's team-mates stopped their pace work because they did not want to lose the rider, allowing the peloton to push onto the finish line where Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step-Innergetic) was able to win.
Samuel Sánchez reached the finish line in 11th position as best Euskaltel rider. Luckily Zubeldia was able to finish the stage, but medical checks in the nearest hospital revealed that he suffered damage to his left collarbone in the crash. "The crash was a pity, I wanted to pass the peloton to supervise it, but I had bad luck and fell over a cone of the 20-kilometers marker," Zubeldia said. "I have strong pains in my left collarbone, but nothing is broken and I will take the start tomorrow if I don't have a bad night. I came very motivated to the Vuelta, after finishing fifth in the Tour I still was keen to compete. I felt good in the days we passed already in the Vuelta. It's really a pity, I hope it won't handicap me too much, so that I can overbear tomorrow's stage that has a very hard finish."
The squad's young hope Igor Antón said he was feeling good on the last ascent and is enjoying his Vuelta experience. "Sure, it was not very long, but the stage was complicated and being with the best motivated me," said Antón. "Here are very strong riders and you are always happy when you see that you can fight with the best riders of the peloton. Let's see if I can go on with this good performance and if I can help the team."
"I have never ridden Los Lagos in any race, it will be nice to scale one of the most historic ascents of the Vuelta," added Antón, referring to today's Stage 4. "I already heard of the hardness of Los Lagos, but I am keen on seeing it myself. Lets see how it will go for me. I hope to perform well, this could give me self-confidence."
The Basque team's leader, Samuel Sánchez, will ride tomorrow in his home region as he was born and grew up in Oviedo and offered some insight into what the peloton can expect. "The stage is flat and has as unique difficulty the ascent to Los Lagos," noted Sánchez. "The organisers preferred not to meet any other ascents like the Fito in the circuit, so that the emotion will be maintained until the final. I only ascended two times to Los Lagos, even though it is situated only 80 kilometres from my home.
"One time I trained and the other time was during the Vuelta in 2005, and both times I felt good," he added. "I hope that this time it will be the same, this would be a great sign."
Sánchez is satisfied with his men's effort on the third stage, despite the impact of Zubeldia's crash on the squad. "The profile was good for my characteristics, but in the Vuelta are always good riders and to reach a victory is very difficult," he explained. "I had to answer some attacks and I reached quite strong at the final. I knew the finish and I felt well, but in a race there are many factors that influence, like attacks of your rivals. You have to guess when they will do any thing…[Paolo] Bettini, [Óscar] Freire, [Allan] Davis or [Davide] Rebellin are great classic riders, and those stages are as well for them as for me.
"The team has worked very well," added the Asturian. "This day was great for us and we did what we had to do, to play our trump cards and to execute our strategy. We shall not depend on the others, but have our own strategy and go for a victory. I think that this is the best way to affront the races, with motivation and showing a courageous and resolute attitude."