Lance's shadow over Vuelta launch

Thursday, December 16, 2004 12.00am
Lance Armstrong wasn't at the launch of the 2005 Vuelta, but the remote possibility of him taking pa
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Despite the presence of Spanish cycling's great and good at Wednesday's launch of the 2005 Vuelta a Espa¤a, much of the conversation that followed Unipublic's unveiling of the route centred on one man who was not in Madrid. No prizes for guessing that man was Lance Armstrong, whose possible attendance at next year's Tour of Spain does not currently seem likely but would be welcomed by all those associated with the Vuelta. The reason for the focus on Armstrong stems from comments the Texan made to L'Equipe last month when he said he might consider missing next year's Tour to focus on other objectives. Comments such as these must be manna from heaven for any self-respecting race organiser wanting to whip up some extra publicity for their event. Happily for Unipublic, the Vuelta was one of the races that Armstrong alluded to as possible alternative targets to the Tour next season. If Armstrong does consider the Vuelta a possible target and then decides to approach the race in his usual extremely well-prepared manner, he will have plenty of mountains to check out during his pre-race reconnaissance. There are no less than five summit finishes and plenty of other tough days besides. "If Armstrong does come then he will have to be prepared, because he will find himself up against some tough opposition," said Manolo Saiz, team manager of Liberty Seguros and defending Vuelta champion Roberto Heras. Saiz, who has been one of the driving forces behind the introduction of the ProTour, felt that it would be "stupdendous for him to ride the Tour and the Vuelta. That is what cycling needs." Heras, who rode with Armstrong at US Postal, expressed doubt about his former team leader's likely participation. "I can't see him coming to the Vuelta. I think he will ride the Tour," said the three-time Vuelta winner, who will set a new record for the race if he can win it once more. As for the 2005 Vuelta route, Heras's main concern was that the final result does not come down to the final time trial, as has happened in each of the last four editions. "I'm motivated by the possibility of going down in the history of the Vuelta [with four wins], and that will be my main objective of the year alongside the Tour. But there is no doubt that I have got unfinished business with the Tour and I will think about achieving something great there until I retire." Although concerned about the 83 kilometres of mainly flat time trialling, Heras said he believed there are more than enough mountains to compensate for climbers like himself. This year's Vuelta runner-up, Santi Perez, was absent from the presentation because of his positive test for blood doping and ongoing battle against that charge. Third place finisher Paco Mancebo was there, though, together with his new team-mate Alejandro Valverde, who finished fourth in the 2004 event in September. For Mancebo, "the route doesn't vary much from what we've seen in previous editions. There are a lot of mountain stages grouped together, and that suits the climbers. In addition, I'm pleased there is no team time trial. I think I like next year's route better than this year's. With Valverde and myself there our team will have two cards to play." For his part, Valverde judged the route to look "nice, it has fewer tough mountains and no team time trial. There is no doubt that the absence of the Angliru is a real relief. I've still got to decide what my main objective for next season will be. I will be going to the Tour de France to learn, and what happens at the Vuelta will depend on a lot of things. Riding the Classics, the Tour and the Vuelta would be too much, and I will have to decide on what is best for me. I am considering the spring Classics and I would like to ride the Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold and Milan-San Remo."

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