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Liberty Seguros are heading to the Tour de France with plenty to prove after a last couple of months when a number of their most experienced riders have failed to perform as expected by team boss Manolo Saiz. So extreme was Joseba Beloki's lack of form that he may be considered lucky to have been selected for the Tour at the end of a five-day training camp last Friday, while Roberto Heras and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano were well off the pace at the Dauphin Libr.
Saiz believes that the training camp has helped both with his team's form and spirit, but admits that this is hard to judge without real competition to go on. He describes the team as "balanced, but perhaps not the most powerful for the team time trial, but certainly well equipped to do a good Tour de France."
The team will be led by Roberto Heras, whose career best fifth place in the Tour was five years ago. "Roberto knows that this is one of his last opportunities to do a good Tour, and I believe he is ready to have one. He is better prepared than ever and has a great deal of motivation," says Saiz.
He is also hoping that Beloki may discover his best legs on the race on which he made his name with a second and two third places in his only three finishes. "Every day he seems to be going better. It shouldn't be forgotten that he has finished on the podium three times and he will be an important part of this team. Let's hope he discovers his previous level," says Saiz.
The Liberty boss thinks that the longish opening time trial will make the first week of the race a lot less dangerous than normal because of the time gaps that will be created, but thinks it may also lead to a situation where one rider leads the Tour from start to finish. His favourite? "Armstrong is, without doubt, the only favourite. Some distance behind him, at a second level, is Ullrich, and some distance behind the German is a third level of riders including Mayo, Basso, Heras and a lot of the other perennial hopefuls," Saiz reckons.
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