Cameron Wurf came extremely close to a start in the Liquigas-Cannondale squad for this year's Tour de France and believes that team leader Ivan Basso will not be disadvantaged with limited assistance on offer once the race heads into the second and third weeks.
The Australian was due to ride alongside the Italian at the Tour until a stomach virus returned for a second time at the Critérium du Dauphiné, after it was initially contracted at the Tour of California.
"The team didn't want to send me unless I was 100 per cent, being still pretty raw – it probably would have turned into a pretty bad experience for me," Wurf told Cyclingnews from his Varese base. "I was coming good, but they decided it was better that I do a good Vuelta."
The Liquigas team around Basso is not balanced in the Italian's favour, with much of the veteran's support available on the flat rather than the high mountains with the exception of Sylwester Szmyd – but Wurf says it will be enough.
"Szmyd's probably the best climber and domestique in the peloton," the former Olympic rower said. "In the Giro he was quite crook for a while there, but by the last week he was healthy again and he was the only domestique left with the favourites. I think as far as having him supporting Basso it's going to be fine.
"There's enough stronger other teams where guys can do the grunt work on the climbs and that shouldn't effect Ivan too much. Once the group gets smaller, Szmyd will come to the fore and the numbers should be reasonably even and from that point of view, he's not going to be disadvantaged."
Wurf and Basso spend a lot of hours training together around Varese, a legacy of his late coach Aldo Sassi, who recommended him as a teammate for the Italian. Through injury and illness, the pair has suffered together throughout 2011 with Wurf gaining plenty of insight into the two-time winner of the Giro d'Italia.
"He's in really top shape, nobody really knows how much effort it takes to get there after what he's been through – and even he said it's very much an unknown," Wurf explained. "The one thing I did learn from that period is that his head is so strong. He's now at a level which I think is similar to a lot of the other favourites. The mental approach he has and the discipline and so forth is what's going to be the difference between him making the podium as opposed to others at a similar level or even a bit ahead of him. I think he'll get stronger and stronger and he could win, if not get very close to the podium."
As for Wurf who turned professional in 2009, the last month or so has taught him some harsh realities on life in the ProTour when you're just starting out.
"It's a good lesson, it's a long season and there's a lot of big races and I'm certainly far from the level yet where I'm just thinking about one race at the start of the year," he said. Case in point, the 27-year-old's Tour of Turkey.
"I was in pretty much every breakaway every day and did way too much work," Wurf recalled. "I wasn't even thinking of trying to get a result and in the end when I was in a position to get one, I was tired. So that attitude really backfired on me as opposed to racing the race. Then I got sick and everything unravelled."
Wurf will take on either the Tour Poland or the Eneco Tour as his preparation for the Vuelta a Espana. In the meantime, as part of his team-enforced break, the Hobart native is working on his golf game where he's attempting to get his handicap from nine down to five.
As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.
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