Roberto Heras starts his build-up to the Tour de France at this week's Semana Catalana, but the newsRoberto Heras makes his first competitive appearance of the season at the Semana Catalana event, which start today in the Mediterranean resort of Lloret. The Liberty Seguros team leader was due to lead a highly experienced team in the Catalan stage race over the next five days, but Joseba Beloki and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano have both pulled out of the event due to illness. Heras has started this season a little later than he did last year's, hoping to see some greater benefit at the Tour de France. Unlike many of this likely rivals for that title, the three-time Vuelta winner has had a trouble-free winter with regard to illness and injury, and is hoping that this is a sign of good form to come. With several of his Semana Catalana team-mates already well into their 2005 campaigns, Heras starts his first event this year very much in the role of 'domestique de luxe'. "The team has plenty of riders in it who are already going well, such as Koldo Gil and Alberto Contador," says Heras. "My focus on helping them, but also on getting myself back up to competition level." As one of the many pros who live in the Girona area, Heras won't be travelling far from home for the Catalan race. "It has three hard stages to start with, especially the third one, which should be decisive. That stage should make the difference, because the 16-kilometre time trial on the last day should only change things a little bit." Team-mate Gonzalez de Galdeano has been told he is suffering with a 'citomegalovirus', a viral infection very similar to mononucleosis (glandular fever). The Liberty doctors have prescribed 15 days' rest treatment with antibiotics for Gonzalez de Galdeano. Beloki has been diagnosed with an allergic infection, which had caused him to vomit while riding in last month's Tour of Valencia. Although now improving, Beloki is not now expected to return to competition until the Tour of Romandy at the end of April. He is still slated to ride the Giro d'Italia.