With only days to go until the start of the Vuelta BIKEmagic takes a look at some of the riders that should make an impact on the race in the next three weeks.
Last year Roberto Heras stormed to victory with an electrifying display in the mountains and more than respectable results against the clock. After a quite first two weeks at the Tour de France he finished strongly and was among the best when it mattered. Although he starts as the favorite there are still rumors of lingering injuries and lack of form for the highly rated Spaniard. He has the added pressure of expectancy and wont get any favours from his old team Kelme.
Heras’ most dangerous challenger could well be compatriot Joseba Beloki of the ONCE team. The 27 year old has two podium places in the Tour de France to his name and is currently having his best ever season, with victory in June’s Tour of Catalunya. He’s a better time trialists than Heras and on paper has the stronger team. But can he do two major tours in a single season?
If Beloki does falter then Abraham Olano has all the credentials of picking up the team leader’s mantle. The 1995 World Champ and Olympic silver medallist won the Vuelta back in 1998 and this year came second in the Giro d’Italia. The only questions remain over his hunger for victory and more importantly his weakness in the mountains.
Last year’s runner up Angel Casero will be hoping to go one better this year especially after having such a poor Tour de France. Last year he suffered on the hardest climbs and his fragile frame may once again take a battering from the lighter climbers such as Heras and Seville. He still hasn’t finalised a contract for next year and therefore he’s got a perfect chance at gaining some much-needed exposure and UCI points.
This year’s race also sees the return of two of cycling’s most popular characters, Marco Pantani and Richard Virenque. Pantani has barely completed a race all season and lacks any sort of form. On the other hand Vinenque seems to be moving in the right direction after his drug related ban terminated. He had a strong showing at the Tour of Burgos and although he probably wont finish on the podium he could cause a stir when the road goes upwards.
Fifth place in the Tour de France indicated to all that Oscar Seville was something special, the younger climber is certainly one for the future and the big question now is whether he can handle two big tours in the same season. He also has the added pressure of having to perform in front of a home crowd. Make no mistake this is a big test for the youngster.
Team Coast finally have crack at a major tour and they’ll be expecting results from their big names Zulle and Escartin. The Swiss rider hasn’t looked sharp all year and time is running out for him to prove he still has what it takes to make a sustained impact over three weeks. Meanwhile Escartin is showing that there’s still life in the old dog. The Spaniard came third in the Zurich Classic and will thrive on the challenge of a dual with his old team Kelme.
Finally, Gilberto Simoni is another rider capable of a high finish. The Lampre team leader won the Giro d’Italia in convincing fashion and has the pedigree to make a serious impact on the race as his stage win last year showed.