Revitalised Beloki looks ahead

After contributing to an impressive Liberty Seguros TTT, Joseba Beloki sounds like a man reborn as h

After contributing to an impressive Liberty Seguros TTT, Joseba Beloki sounds like a man reborn as h

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Optimism about Joseba Beloki's prospects of a renaissance at this year's Tour seemed to be mounting on Wednesday. Speaking to the press in the shadow of the 16th-century Chateau de Chambord - a glorious backdrop for the start of stage 4 of the Grande Boucle - Beloki spoke hopefully about exorcising the ghosts of the fall in stage eight of the 2003 Tour which left his body and, for the next two seasons, his career, in tatters.

"Every day, my doubts are dissipating," said the Basque, now riding for Liberty Seguros after unhappy spells with Brioches La Boulangre and Saunier Duval in 2004. "I'm feeling better all the time and am getting good feedback from my legs. I'm very optimistic about the future. I can't wait to get to the mountains and, if everything goes well, I hope to finish in the top 10."

Beloki received the backing yesterday of his ex-Brioches La Boulangre boss Jean-Ren Bernaudeau, who observed that "Joseba is unrecognisable - he looks like the Beloki of three years ago. Coming back to the top level isn't an easy task, but I suspect that he might just surprise us."

Although encouraged by his rider's start to the race, Liberty Seguros chief Manolo Saiz clearly knows better than to be drawn into making rash predictions. Saiz was keen to point out yesterday that Beloki's main brief at the Tour was to assist team leader Roberto Heras, whose form this week has also hinted at a return to form. Saiz said that Beloki's biggest obstacle could be his still-fragile confidence.

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