Vuelta: Foriegn Invaders
– By Gordon Cameron –
Santiago Botero (Kelme)
The Colombian won 2 stages here last year, and after 2 stage wins at the Tour where he ought to have finished higher than fourth, he comes to this Vuelta with high ambitions. A brilliant time-trialler, he can beat anyone in the race against the clock so will concentrate on this skill. And if Oscar Sevilla fails in the mountains, he can count on strong support from Kelme’s climbers.
Francesco Casagrande (Fassa-Bortolo)
It has been a monumentally poor year for this fine Tuscan rider, after his disqualification at the Giro d’ Italia, for causing another rider to crash. With those ambitions thwarted, he really needs to produce something special at the Vuelta. He’ll have an accomplished team around him to get him to the hills in contention, but in his early 30s, does he have the necessary snap to do the business these days? Let’s hope so.
Mario Cipollini ( Acqua e Sapone)
OK, he probably won’t even finish the race, but you can’t ignore super Mario. Back after his brief mid-season retirement, the Lion King will be looking to garner some more sprint victories to hone his speed for the World Championships at Zolder in October. Up against Erik Zabel and Oscar Friere, arguably the only top-level sprinter missing is Robbie McEwen, making the high speed finishes in Spain a better prospect than they were in the Tour de France. Add in Petacchi, Quarant and Sacchi and we could have a fabulous time ahead.
David Millar (Cofidis)
This is the big test of the year for Millar. He’s said he wants the top 10, but he’ll have to be ultra-consistent and on top form to get there. He wore the leader’s gold jersey after winning the opening TT last year, then took a road stage for good measure, so he’s used to winning big. He came out of the Tour in decent shape, but has he got enough in the tank for the mountains? We’ll find out at the Angliru.
Paolo Savoldelli (Index-Alexia)
The baby-faced Italian came of age in June after swooping to a brilliant Giro d’ Italia win, keeping his focus while the race unravelled around him. He’s matured into an excellent all-round rider, and although his descending skills earned him the nickname ‘Il Falco’ (The Falcon), it was an inspired climbing display that won him the Maglia Rosa. With no pressure on him at all, he can see how things unfold, and where his ambition and legs carry him.
Gilberto Simoni (Saeco)
After his mid-Giro disqualification for a cocaine positive, Simoni has the get-out clause that he’s missed 2 _ months of prime competition if things don’t go well. But he’s there to win, and has been in consistently improving form in the month since he returned to racing. He’s won stages at La Vuelta in the last 2 seasons, including on the Angliru, and as a former Tour of Italy champion, he’s got what it takes to reach the podium. He’ll benefit from the swashbuckling presence of Danilo Di Luca by his side.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Telekom)
Vino’ didn’t make the Tour de France due to injury, so should be fresh for the Vuelta. A key motivating factor should be that Telekom have signed Aussie star Cadel Evans, so the Kazakh would be well advised to remind everyone just how talented he is, in case he disappears down the pecking order. He’s got the ability: strong climber, good against the watch, tactically astute. And he’s already won Paris-Nice this year. Strong support will come from Andreas Kloden and Andreas Klier, who will be more than capable of assuming responsibility if Vino’ goes off.
Alex Zuelle (Team Coast)
* Would have been one to watch, but he’s bailed on the Vuelta to concentrate on trainign for the World’s.