Recently, the Vuelta a Espana has been the most competitive of the Grand Tours. In 2004, Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) fended off the now-suspended Santiago Perez?s (then with Phonak) late challenge. In 2003, Heras, who was the with the U.S. Postal Service, overtook Isidro Nozal (ONCE) in the penultimate day?s mountain time trial. In 2002, Aitor Gonzalez, then with Kelme, overtook Heras in the last day?s individual time trial. Clearly, we can expect a fight to the finish in 2005. Who will win the race?
The surest bet is Heras. The three-time winner usually rides poorly at the Tour de France and well at the Vuelta. That pattern will continue in 2005. The Spaniard always has top form for his national race. Heras?s motivation to become the first four-time Vuelta winner will, along with excellent form, propel him to victory.
Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) should be the runner-up. Mancebo has improved every year as a pro, and in 2005 he scored a career-best fourth place in the Tour de France. He will carry his good form into the Vuelta. Mancebo is not ready to dethrone Heras, but he should reach the podium easily in his finale at Illes Balears. (After the season, he will transfer to Ag2r.)
At the Vuelta, Phonak will unleash a three-pronged attack. Floyd Landis abandoned after wearing the
Aitor Gonzalez (Euskaltel) won this year?s Tour de Suisse. He seems to have regained his Vuelta-winning form of 2002. Will his time trailing skills make up for his relative climbing vulnerability? Probably not. Gonzalez could make the podium, but he cannot hope for more than that.
Last year, Carlos Sastre (CSC) finished sixth at the Vuelta. He is a strong climber and a good time trialist who should do about as well in 2005. Look for him to attempt to snare a stage.
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