Beloki back with the best

Two years after he crashed out of the 2003 Tour, Joseba Beloki once again finished with the lead gro

Two years after he crashed out of the 2003 Tour, Joseba Beloki once again finished with the lead gro

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Joseba Beloki finally seems to be back on track after two difficult years following his horrible crash in the 2003 Tour. In an interview with German paper Berliner Morgenpost he admits that it's a different Beloki who's finally riding the Tour again. "But I'm happy with my form, " says the Basque, who on Saturday's 8th stage managed to stay with the favourites as the Tour hit the first climbs, writes Susanne Horsdal.

The crash on the road into Gap two years ago led to Beloki being fitted with an artificial elbow joint and a titanium plate with five screws in his leg. "They don't really cause me problems except in the airports. When I pass the metal detectors they beep," he says. But it's the mental part of the incident that has left the deepest scars. "The crash has meant that there's a before and an after. I see cycling differently and I appreciate life much more than before," says Beloki, who expands on this in an exclusive interview in the latest (August) issue of procycling.

He explains that thinking of what Lance Armstrong went through has been helpful to his motivation. "What happened to him was much worse. But to know that someone like him, after being sidelined for two-three years, could come back even stronger, helps me," says the 31-year-old Beloki, who hopes to ride for two more years. "But it's clear that I need good results this season. If I don't see a Beloki at 100 per cent it'll be hard to find the motivation. In that case I'll start thinking of finishing my career."

And maybe the Liberty Seguros-rider, who's ended both second and third (twice) in the Tour, is finally getting close to the 100 per cent. Crossing the finish line amongst the favourites on Saturday was the first time that he has managed to do that in a stage race since his crash.

The news was mostly good for the rest of Beloki's Liberty team on Saturday. Roberto Heras, Marcos Serrano and Jorg Jaksche, who has been extremely quiet so far this season, were also in that group of favourites, tying Liberty with CSC as the best represented team.

The only downside was tendonitis affecting Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano. Unfortunately, the easygoing Basque's race came to a premature end early on Sunday's stage when he was involved in a crash after just 3km of racing and was forced to abandon. Jan Ullrich was another rider involved in the incident.

Liberty team boss Manolo Saiz was naturally pleased with his riders' performance on stage eight. "What Beloki did means that cycling has regained an extraordinary rider," said Saiz. "The team went well and that gives us a lot of hope for the Alps."

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