By Graham Jones
and Barry Boyce

CyclingRevealed Historian



Also read:

La Vuelta: A Colorful
& Caliente History

Vuelta a Espana Champions
Living and Dead









Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation

Stage 14, September 9th, Cuenca to Cuenca ITT, 33.2 km

“Au Naturel”

Today the critical individual time trial was run off around the City of Cuenca. As the ancient 'Casas Colgadas' (Hanging Houses) stood immobile on their ancient foundations, modern ‘picadors' on their carbon fiber steeds prodded the vagaries of ‘father time'. Having finished in this town yesterday, many of the riders took special note as they raced over the Category 3 Alto del Castillo and then into the finish in Cuenca. Today that same climb featured about halfway through the time trial course. From the start of the time trial the road rose steadily until reaching the Alto del Castillo. From there the remainder of the course was mainly downhill and along wide roads.

With the ongoing ‘Operacion Puerto' affair and the Landis case very much dominating cycling's conscience, it is clear that there is great trepidation lurking behind the colorful façade of the Vuelta as it winds its way around Spain. Anyone who has had the great fortune to know and maybe compete against a great champion will know that certain people are truly gifted by nature with abilities that most of us can only dream of. If you knew a future great champion as a child then you would have seen the ease with which that child excelled at whatever sport they chose. The Pro Tour peloton is chock full of such exceptional athletes.

In the pursuit to gain the slightest of competitive advantages sophisticated training techniques, diets, equipment and other technologies are recruited. Unfortunately drugs are another, but illegal, way to gain a potentially winning edge. Two years ago David Millar failed a drug test and eventually admitted to his use of EPO. He spent two years banned from the sport and was able to return to racing just in time for this year's Tour de France.

Millar (now riding for Saunier Duval) is without doubt one of those very gifted athletes. Lacking racing miles he had a tough Tour. During the Vuelta he has become very visible as a ‘super domestique' who has also featured in a few breaks. We can assume (and truly hope) that he is now running “au naturel”. That is, that his natural abilities are the only fuel now driving his engine.

Stage winner David Millar gets his reward ( Image © Unipublic )

Should this be the case then his winning ride today should be a powerful lesson not only to him but to all racing cyclists. Millar just squeaked in by fractions of a second ahead of another superb time trial specialist, Fabian Cancellara of CSC

Although the stage result is one story the bigger story concerned the performance of the top GC riders. Valverde (4th today) retained his race leadership while Vinokourov (3rd today) clawed back 8 seconds of his GC disadvantage. Kashekin (5th today) was another 13 seconds behind Valverde while Sastre suffered the biggest loss 33 seconds slower than Valverde. Vinokourov is noted to be a better time trialist than Valverde who in turn is better than Kashekin and Sastre against the watch.

(L) Alexandre Vinokourov (R) Alejandro Valverde ( Image © Unipublic )

With three tough mountain stages ahead of them it can be said that today's time trial was not decisive with respect to the GC. With one mountain top stage win each, Valverde and Vinokourov look to be the top contenders. However Kashekin, Sastre and Marchante are each highly capable of toppling the leaders at altitude and Brajkovic, Karpets, Di Luca and Beltran should not be dismissed either.

Tomorrow the race goes down hill almost all day and this should lead to a sprinter's fest. The day after that is a rest day. From there it will be pure aggression as the Vuelta takes a very difficult and mountainous road back to Madrid. We are promised a great battle that absolutely must continue untainted by failed drug tests. In this respect David Millar's ride today may become a turning point in the battle against drugs to illustrate that Pro Tour races (and any race at any level) can indeed be accomplished “Au Naturel”.


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Vuelta a Espana 06
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