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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 September, 2004, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Top names primed for Vuelta
Tyler Hamilton
Hamilton arrives at the Vuelta a Espana with Olympic gold
This year's line-up for the Tour of Spain reads like a who's who of cycling's top brass, albeit for one notable absentee.

Lance Armstrong, for the seventh successive season, will not line up for the season's third Grand Tour.

But the organisers have gathered an impressive array of top contenders for Saturday's start.

Among the leading riders are Tyler Hamilton, Roberto Heras, Alexandre Vinokourov and Joseba Beloki.

Defending champion Heras will be attempting to bounce back after a hugely disappointing Tour de France which saw him retire on stage 17 already an hour off the pace.

The Spaniard, a former team-mate of Armstrong, is determined to make amends despite the course not necessarily suiting his style.

He said: "Having two flat time trials is not ideal but, as a team, we should certainly be strong enough."

PAST VUELTA WINNERS
2003: Roberto Heras
2002: Aitor Gonzalez
2001: Angel Casero
2000: Roberto Heras
1999: Jan Ullrich

Arguably the strongest set-up is the Swiss Phonak team. Headed by Olympic time-trial champion Hamilton, who also has much to prove after a difficult Tour, they have pulled out all the stops for the event.

He will be supported by Jose Enrique Gutierrez and Oscar Sevilla, both capable of winning outright.

A relaxed Hamilton said: "We'll just see how it goes and who's faring the best as to who we push for."

Sevilla, meanwhile, has recently hit out at accusations his career was over and said he is determined to prove his detractors wrong.

Another who has had his fair share of criticism recently is Beloki, who struggled to recover from last year's horror crash in the Tour de France before splitting with team Brioches la Boulangere just before this year's race.

He has since moved to Saunier Duval-Prodir and team boss Joxean Matxin recently said: "The whole team is going to the Vuelta with this in mind. We will win the Vuelta with Beloki."

This year's course promises to be arduous, with seven mountain finishes, three time trials and only two rest days.

Away from the main event and a host of other contenders, including Danilo di Luca and Giro d'Italia winner Damiano Cunego, there will be plenty of other action.

Sprinting attention will focus on one of the form men this season, Stuart O'Grady, who like Hamilton arrives with a new Olympic gold to his name.

Other sprinters to watch out for include Oscar Freire and Max van Heeswijk.




SEE ALSO
Heras quits Tour
22 Jul 04  |  Cycling
Hamilton wins time trial
18 Aug 04  |  Cycling
Hamilton out of Tour
17 Jul 04  |  Cycling


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