The Week That Was...
Despite most people writing him off as an ?almost-was? following his departure from the US Postal team two years ago, Spaniard Roberto Heras proved all his doubters wrong when he ascended the steps on to the final podium of La Vuelta a Espana to collect the final overall Golden fleece for an unprecedented fourth time in his career. Heras may not have developed into the one-time Tour de France contender that many tipped him for, but for his generation, nobody can compete with the Liberty Seguros - Wurth leader in his home tour.
Coasting over the finish line just 4 seconds behind the leading sprinters in the final stage, the man from
Still only 31, Heras will be favorite again if he lines up at the start next year. Keeping him company on the final podium were Russian, Denis Menchov, a GC surprise whom had held the leaders jersey for a number of stages earlier on in the race and, fellow Spaniard, Carlos Sastre of Bjarne Riis? Team CSC. Just as Armstrong has proven in the Tour de France in recent years, age can be of great benefit in the major stage races, helping to accumulate the knowledge and experience needed to win. With victories now in 2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005, you would be a brave man to bet against Heras in the forthcoming years.
Also receiving the plaudits in
Surprising many of the massed media, team manager Manolo Saiz announced that Heras would next year be riding in the Giro d?Italia. "Someone laughed at me when I said it, but I think that Roberto is a rider for second efforts." The plan for Liberty will be for the him to finish the Italian race, finding his racing legs, before deciding on whether to concentrate on la Vuelta or to join the masses, all believing themselves to be the heir apparent to big Tex and the Maillot Jaune he has been keeping warm for the past seven seasons, come July.
When asked for his thoughts about competing in the Giro in May, Heras said, "It?s a race I rode just once but I liked it very much. It?s a very nice race. I think it has a very demanding mountainous part, then the time trials are not too long. It?s a race I liked the year I went."
Finishing in second spot on the podium, was the Rabobank rider, Menchov, a strong result considering the race was not considered to be one of the team?s priorities for the season, a fact highlighted by the generally weaker support provided by his team-mates than from those of the other contenders. Speaking on the teams? website, Rabobank's director Adri van Houwelingen said, "Maybe after the weekend, it will sink into everyone that we have achieved a top performance here. With not all that strong of a team, without helpers with climber's qualities, and with a team that kept getting smaller. But certainly with an exceptional talent, because that's what Denis is."
He went on to defend the team selection in light of the rising criticism towards the lack of support for Menchov. "We deliberately sent this team to
For his part in the race, Sastre finished in his best ever result in a major stage race, obviously pleasing his team management. Sports director Kim Andersen told Roadcycling.com that, "Carlos did really well in the Vuelta and he fully deserves his spot on the podium. He?s an all-round rider and it's great to see him prove it with a nice result such as this. It takes a lot to achieve a podium spot in the Vuelta, and I think he's been one of the prominent riders in this race - just as we as a team have been up front in nearly all stages. We took a brilliant stage victory, and with a little luck we could've taken a couple more.?
The Tour is the Tour, French to the bone and the epitome of professional bicycle racing. The Giro offers the romanticism that only an Italian event could. Passion, tifosi, beautiful girls, Vespa?s, Chianti and Espresso? Give me la Vuelta any day however. Disorganized and laid back as only the Spanish can be. The race offers the unexpected from start to finish, a rawness to the bike racing which is hard to find anywhere else on the planet. Get up close to the riders, smell their sweat, touch them as they ride past. Through forests of citrus trees, along the Mediterranean coast and over snow-capped Pyrenean mountains. Congratulations from everybody at Roadcycling.com Roberto, we?ll see you same time, same place next year.
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