Bruyneel Confident Of Heras’ Victory
– Reported By Dan Osipow For Tailwind Sports –
With another display of his climbing skills on the race’s final mountain top finish, the United States Postal Service Pro Cycling Team’s Roberto Heras increased his overall lead at the Tour of Spain today to 1:12 over Aitor Gonzalez of Kelme by placing second in today’s 193.7 kilometer stage from Salamanca to the Estacion de la Covatilla (Bejar).
A huge crowd favorite with the stage finishing near his hometown of Bejar, Heras placed second in the stage, 39 seconds back of iBanesto.com’s Santiago Blanco, who had started the final 9.5 kilometer climb with a six minute advantage on the lead group. However, Heras more importantly gained 37 seconds on Gonzalez, who placed eighth in the stage, and will likely bring his 72 second lead into Sunday’s final 41.2 km time trial stage in Madrid.
Following tomorrow’s stage from Bejar to Avila – one that includes the first category climb of the Puerto de Serranillos – and Saturday’s relatively flat stage from Avila to the Warner Brothers Park in S. Martin de la Vega, Sunday’s time trial stage will likely determine the winner of this year’s Tour of Spain.
“Today went very well as Roberto and the team did what they needed to do,” said Johan Bruyneel, the USPS team’s director sportif. “We would have liked a lead of 1:30, but I believe 1:12 will be enough. Roberto will really have to surpass himself to win the Tour of Spain but I think he can do it.”
Bruyneel was especially satisfied with the team’s effort today on behalf of Heras.
“The team was good today and rode very well,” he said. “Toni (Cruz), Matt (White) and Dave (Zabriskie) did the work for the first 100 kilometers when it was flat and all made it up the first category climb (the Puerto de Honduras). We had to work really hard for only 50 kilometers until the break went, and it was a perfect break as the top guy was nearly 40 minutes back of Roberto.”
Following a strong effort at the front by Saeco, the USPS’ Christian Vande Velde and Jose Luis Rubiera took over just prior to the two second category climbs before the climb of La Covatilla. On the finishing climb, Heras attacked several times until he finally dropped Gonzalez and his other rivals. Gonzalez’s teammate, Oscar Sevilla, stayed back to assist him up the final portion of the climb, helping limit the loss to Heras.
“The crowd was amazing today,” added Bruyneel. “Roberto lives in Bejar along with his parents and family and from the start the whole day you heard – Roberto, Roberto, Roberto.”
Regarding Sunday’s time trial, Bruyneel said that Heras should hold his own.
“Roberto has improved his time trialing skills and the first time trial (10 days ago in Cordoba, won by Gonzalez) showed that. And in my opinion – physically – Roberto is the strongest guy in the race. He is the “freshest” rider left as well and that will be even more important when compared to the specialists (in the time trial). Roberto is fresh and in very good shape, and the fact he is wearing the leader’s jersey, will start last and will have time references all the way will help as well.”
STAGE 18, TOUR OF SPAIN
1. Santiago Blanco, iBanesto.com; 5:04:17
2. Roberto Heras, U.S. Postal Service; at :39
3. Juan Antonio Flecha, iBanesto.com; at :47
4. Joseba Beloki, ONCE-Eroski; at :51
5. Pietro Caucchioli, Alessio; at 1:09
60. Christian Vande Velde, U.S. Postal Service; at 16:14
61. Josй Luis Rubiera, U.S. Postal Service; s.t.
118. Antonio Cruz, U.S. Postal Service; at 24:46
128. Dave Zabriskie, U.S. Postal Service; at 30:49
129. Matt White, U.S. Postal Service; at 31:29
GC AFTER 18 STAGES, TOUR OF SPAIN
1. Heras; 66:58:09
2. Aitor Gonzalez, Kelme-Costa Blanca; at 1:12
3. Oscar Sevilla, Kelme-Costa Blanca; at 1:45
4. Beloki; at 2:09
5. Iban Mayo, Euskaltel-Euskadi; at 4:15
30. Vande Velde; at 49:34
53. Rubiera; at 1:25:00
115. Cruz; at 2:52:35
122. Zabriskie; at 3:00:50
131. White; at 3:19:08