Roberto Heras, defending champion and three-time Vuelta a España's winner, will start on Saturday in Granada determined to defend his number one dossard for another year. "I feel optimistic and with a changed 'chip', because the Vuelta is a different race. It's very different to one month ago," said the Liberty Seguros captain after training with his teammates on Thursday.
Heras had a poor Tour de France, finishing 45th overall a 1:38:33 behind the winner Lance Armstrong. But he has regained his strength in the last month and is prepared for his home race. "In training I felt very good and because of that I am optimistic," he said. "I have been the whole month in Béjar, where there is a good enough area to know how you are, because it is very hard. I have worked climbing long mountains, doing motorpacing and all my sensations are very positive."
Heras is the only rider in the peloton that could break the record of three victories, which he shares with Tony Rominger. Thus, he has two things to motivate him this year. "The basic thing for me is to win, but also it would be nice to gain the record of victories and to enter into cycling history, but all that will up to the road to decide."
The Spaniard rates this year's parcours as "very balanced, because there is enough time trialing to have to do it well and, at the same time, there is also enough mountains to compensate the time that a climber could lose in normal conditions. Maybe last year was a bit harder, but if you are consistent, a climber can win this Vuelta perfectly. " The key stages are Ordino-Arcalis and Pajares, besides that of Lagos de Covadonga. These three, together with the finish in Cerler should decide the race, because those of Madrid and Avila mountains, though they are hard, usually they don't decide so much. Of all of them, first three are those that more I like, though Pajares' final climb is not so hard, but yes the whole stage."
Asked to comment on the omission of the super-steep Angliru climb in this year's race, Heras responded, "The Angliru is a climb that always has made many differences and has decided the general classification. If I am good I will miss it, and because also it has been out the race for last three years."
Heras rated the field this year as likely to be stronger. "In a three week race, at the end there is always a high level, and more since we are in the UCI-ProTour. Maybe it's not the same level of the Tour, where all teams bring his nine riders at 100 percent level, but the average is very high. Maybe there are no so many names as other years, but the level continues being high. Here we have Mancebo, Aitor Gonzalez, Landis, Mayo, Pereiro and, in general, teams like Comunidad Valenciana, without forgetting that there are always foreigners whom you don't count on and then they ride very well."
Comparing the Vuelta to the other big tours, Heras said, "Every race is different, though since the UCI ProTour has come in, they tend to look alike more in the way of riding. In spite of it, each one is different because it is done in a different way. The Vuelta has many factors that distinguish it, like the wind and its mountains.
"The fact that stages are shorter means that the race is on from the beginning. It is a race that's more nervous and aggressive than others and, when you are good, this style benefits more the small people like me than bigger men that probably feel better on a longer parcours."