Climbing specialist Bernhard Kohl will lead the T-Mobile charge in the Vuelta a España, which starts this Saturday in Malaga. It's the first time that the young Austrian will have the leader's role in a three week tour. "The management's belief in me is a huge honour," said Kohl, who has been training intensively for the Vuelta since recovering from a heavy cold.
Kohl had originally set a stage win as his main objective in Spain, but now he is ready to "try and ride for the GC". He plans to stay out of trouble until the first summit finish on stage five and "keep all options open" and see what he can take out of the race. "If I have good legs in the mountains, then I believe that I can place high in the GC."
Sporting director Frans van Looy is however playing down the 24-year-old's chances in his second Vuelta. "Bernhard's third place at the Dauphiné Libéré in June showed what he is capable of," said Van Looy. "But the Vuelta is another calibre of race."
Kohl can count on the support of a mixed roster of youthful and experienced pros on the 3,213 km trek around Spain. Italy's Daniele Nardello will be his most experienced support-man; the 33-year-old from Varese is a veteran of 15 grand tours, including four Vueltas. Germany's Stephan Schreck has three Vueltas under the belt, the most recent in 2004, when he was one of three T-Mobile riders to survive a bout of food poisoning in the team camp.
Getting their first taste of grand tour action are André Greipel and Bas Giling: the Dutchman was pulled out of the Eneco-Tour after Saturday's time trial to concentrate on getting ready for his hardest test yet. Both riders will be entrusted with the task of keeping their captain out of the wind on the opening flat stages and simply surviving in the mountains. "If they reach the finish in Madrid then it will be a job well done," said Van Looy.
Scott Davis also starts his first Vuelta, though the Australian is a veteran of two Giros. Rounding out the nine-rider magenta roster are the Italian Lorenzo Bernucci, German all-rounder Thomas Ziegler and sprinter André Korff.