Given that Joseba Beloki's participation was in doubt up until shortly before this year's race, getting to Paris will be seen as a triumph of sorts. But the rider who finished second in the 2002 Tour and third in both 2000 and 2001 will not be satisfied with his 77th place overall, a full 2 hours 19 minutes and 17 seconds behind current leader Lance Armstrong.
Of course, when you consider the catastrophic injuries he suffered in a crash on the descent of the Cote de Rochette two years ago, his current position is suddenly far less relevant. Before the race Beloki said his goal for the Tour was to "feel good again"; he's unlikely to have that sensation 19 stages into what has been a very tough race, but once he recovers from his exertions this July he should have regained much of his old strength.
Beloki sees his Tour as divided into two parts. "The first one was until the rest day in Grenoble, in that I was ahead and was in the top 20 in the general classification," he said. "After that point, tiredness and problems affected me."
"It was to be expected, I guess, after doing so badly the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of Switzerland. But until this poor showing happens, you continue to hope and believe that it will be different."
Despite that, he feels the Tour has been a positive experience. "If I think back to the terrible first week I had in the Tour of Switzerland, I would have been nearly justified to retire from the sport then and there. That said, the way things have progressed in the Tour have encouraged me to continue."
Beloki had a disappointing 2004, hardly racing at all while in the colours of the Brioches La Boulangère squad. He returned to working with Manolo Saiz, signing for Liberty Seguros, and said that he would race as much as possible in 2005 in an attempt to catch up with the time lost. Despite the fact that he began his season back in January in the Tour de Langkawi and lined out in both the Giro d'Italia (he rode 13 stages) and the Tour de France this year, he now says he wants to take part in the Tour of Spain.
"I would like to take part in the Vuelta a España, though still I have to speak with Manolo Saiz to plan the rest of the season. My idea is to go there in the best condition possible to help Roberto Heras take his fourth victory."
Further down the line, he wants to aim a little higher once more. "I've no doubt about my goal. I want to return to the Tour in 2006 because I believe that I can do something important there. Besides, without Armstrong, it will change everything. The race will be especially interesting."
"Looking at this year's race, it has been 100 % controlled by Discovery. The team dominates everything except the points classification. They have done what they liked. I liked this Tour, because it has been good race, pretty spectacular, and a lot of riders have been battling it out."
"Armstrong was strong and controlled the race tactically. There were a few rivals who tried to take him on but they couldn't really do it."
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