Venezuelan cycling star José Rujano begins his build-up to what he insists will be a victory challenge at the Giro d’Italia by taking on many of Latin America’s best riders in the Vuelta al Táchira, which starts tomorrow (Wednesday).
The 2.2-rated, 12-stage race pits Rujano and his Gobernación del Zulia team against three teams from neighbouring Colombian that are eager to avenge the drubbing that Rujano handed them in their home tour last June. Rujano won that race by a five-and-a-half minute margin, claiming four stages and the mountains prize in what was certainly among his best performances since he finished third overall in the 2005 Giro.
Rujano admitted last week that he will be easing his way into the season at the Táchira race, but added that he was still hoping to win it. He also declared himself “the third best climber in the world behind Alberto Contador and Joaquím Rodríguez”, and he will need all of those climbing skills if he is to regain the title he won in 2004 and 2005 when he was with Gianni Savio’s Selle Italia team.
His chances won’t have been helped by the loss of veteran Colombian Hernán Buenahora from his Zulia team. Buenahora, the 2007 Táchira winner, received a late offer from the Néctar team in his home country and won’t now be starting the Táchira tour. That leaves Rujano and key lieutenant Manuel “Gato” Medina to deal with some considerable Colombian talent, including Freddy Montaña, runner-up in last year’s Tour of Colombia, and Gregorio Ladino, who topped the 2009 UCI America Tour rankings.
While Medina was feeling his way back to form after crashing out of a recent race, Rujano prepared for the Táchira event with three days of training in the high mountains when he logged more than 600km.
Rujano will also have to keep a close watch on defending champion Ronald González, who leads the Gobierno del Táchira team, one of three from the event’s home region. Not surprisingly given Venezuela’s position at the top end of the Andean chain, the race will be decided in the mountains, which will offer further clues as to whether Rujano is likely to be contender at the Giro prior to him joining the ISD-Neri team in Europe.
Stage 1, January 13: San Cristóbal team time trial, 15km
Stage 2, January 14: Tariba-Santa Barbara de Barinas, 160km
Stage 3, January 15: Abejales-Guasdualito, 150km
Stage 4, January 16: El Cantón-Cordero, 160km
Stage 5, January 17: Palmira-El Vigía, 140km
Stage 6, January 18: Umuquena-La Grita, 107km
Stage 7, January 19: Seboruco-San Juan de Colon, 110km
Stage 8, January 20: Rubio-Bramon, Concafe time trial, 15km
Stage 9, January 21: San Josecito-Pregonero, 168km
Stage 10, January 22: Pregonero-Santa Ana del Táchira, 175km
Stage 11, January 23: San Antonio del Táchira-Cerro del Cristo, 120km
Stage 12, January 24: San Cristóbal circuit, 115km