Postal happy but T-Mobile suffer

US Postal's perfect start to the Vuelta continues with Triki Beltran taking the lead, but T-Mobile's

EVANS Cadel ( AUS ) 
US Postal’s perfect start to the Vuelta continues with Triki Beltran taking the lead, but T-Mobile’s

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Although Wednesday’s stage to Morella probably probably won’t mean too much in the general scheme of things at the Vuelta, it did prove significant on a number of counts, notably US Postal keeping the gold jersey for the fourth day without actively defending it and T-Mobile losing three riders and Alexandre Vinokourov his overall chances due to diarrhoea. As Manuel Beltran celebrated becoming the fourth Postal rider to wear the leader’s jersey in five days, team manager Johan Bruyneel expressed his contentment with the way the race is going for his team. “I have never seen anything like this. The only time we did something close to this was last year (at the Tour de France) when Victor (Hugo Pe¤a) took the jersey following the team time trial,” said Bruyneel. “However, it’s quite logical it happens because if you win the team time trial stage with a margin like we had, it’s quite possible the jersey goes around in the team. Plus, our tactics make it easier by putting riders in breaks and taking advantage (of them). It’s a great opportunity for some guys who are never get in the spotlight, and it motivates them even more. Of Beltran, Bruyneel said: “He was very emotional. I don’t think he’s ever dreamed of wearing the leader’s jersey at the Tour of Spain. He was very emotional after the race. For him, it’s huge. He’s a Spanish guy and is very popular with the people because he is such a friendly character. Even if it’s only one day in the jersey, it’s huge for him. I’m very happy for him; he’s a guy who always gives it all for the team.” On the team’s tactics on the road to Morella, Bruyneel said: “Three or four guys are designated before the stage to go in the breaks and when they get away it’s always good for us. Today, we had Victor in the first group. If the break stayed clear, Victor would have taken over the race lead. Then the next big group went away and we had Antonio (Cruz) in there. If that stays away, he gets the jersey. None of them stayed away, so Triki (Beltran) and Floyd then picked it up at the end.” How T-Mobile must have wished they could have spent the day figuring which of their riders would end up in the leader’s jersey. Instead, by the halfway feed they had lost Steffen Wesemann, Torsten Hiekmann and Santiago Botero suffering with diarrhoea and vomiting, while Alexandre Vinokourov and Stephan Schreck finished 17 minutes down with similar problems. The finger of blame has been pointed at some apparently tainted meat served up to the team at the Hotel Palafox in Zaragoza. Team sprinter Erik Zabel explained in Morella that he and other members of the team had eaten pasta instead of the meat and had no problems at all during the stage. Vinokourov was reported as the first to show symptoms of food poisoning, and all five of those affected had little sleep before the Morella stage. Hotel staff have, not surprisingly, defended their culinary fare, pointing out that Liberty Seguros had the same menu and none of their riders were affected. Hotel director Manuel Juncosa told AS: “I can assure you that the food was fresh and was not at all risky. We’ve had sent it away to be analysed.” T-Mobile doctor Andreas Blum is hoping that ‘Vino’ and Schreck will have recovered for today’s relatively straightforward stage to Castellon. “We are glad the have made it through yesterday’s stage. We will try everything to stabilise their health in the course of the tour, especially Vino who may be able to fight for one or more stage wins,” said Blum. Although no doubt pleased to have missed the diarrhoea, T-Mobile’s Cadel Evans was not totally thrilled with his day either despite moving up to fifth overall. “My overall position in the general classification is very good. However, I am not satisfied with where I finished today (sixth). I wanted more and felt great, but when Menchov jumped clear, I was on the wrong wheel.”