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Roberto Heras goes into the 60th edition of the Vuelta a Espa¤a looking to make history as the first rider to win the event on four occasions. More importantly, though, the Liberty Seguros team leader is aiming to put the disappointment of his poor showing at the Tour de France behind him when the Vuelta starts in Granada on Saturday.
"I feel optimistic and with a changed 'chip', because the Vuelta is a different race. It's very different to one month ago," says Heras, who was labelled "a rider who is suited to second efforts" by Liberty team manager Manolo Saiz after the Tour. Saiz and Heras have discussed the possibility of the rider from Bejar in western Spain lining up in next year's Giro d'Italia, with a view to ensuring that his second effort comes at the Tour.
Back at the Vuelta, though, Heras describes himself as "optimistic. I have been this whole month in Bjar, where there is a good enough riding to know exactly how you are, because it is very hard. I have been climbing long mountains, doing paced work behind the team car and all my sensations are very positive."
Heras says that this year's route, which takes the race from Spain's deep south towards the north and a long time trial in Barcelona, followed by severe mountain tests in the Pyrenees and Picos de Europa, "is very balanced, because there is enough time trialling to have to do it well and, at the same time, there is also mountains to compensate for the time that a climber could lose in normal conditions. Maybe last year was a bit harder, but if you are regular, a climber can win this Vuelta perfectly well.
"The key stages are Ordino-Arcalis and Pajares, as well as the one to Lagos de Covadonga. These three, together with the finish in Cerler should be the feature of the race."
Although Heras admits that the level of participation does not compare with the Tour de France, he still sees several riders who he expects to be challenging hard for the title in Madrid on September 18. He is particularly watching Francisco Mancebo, Aitor Gonzalez, Floyd Landis, Iban Mayo and Oscar Pereiro, plus the Comunitat Valenciana team.
"The Vuelta is more nervous and aggressive than other races and, when you are feeling good, this style suits smaller riders like me more than bigger men, who probably feel better in longer stages."
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