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Last Updated: Friday, 3 September, 2004, 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK
Heras tipped to win Vuelta
By Matt Majendie
BBC Sport

Roberto Heras
Heras lines up in Spain as the defending champion
Roberto Heras will successfully defend his Vuelta a Espana crown, according to Australian rival Stuart O'Grady.

O'Grady, who won gold at the Athens Olympics and will line up for the start of the race on Saturday, believes the course plays into the Spaniard's hands.

He told BBC Sport: "Heras is going to be pretty hard to beat with seven mountain-top finishes and a mountain time trial.

"I'm sure there's a fair few who'd be placing their Euros on him."

Heras goes into the race as one of the favourites despite a diabolical season.

He was well off the pace throughout the Tour de France and retired on stage 17 while already an hour off the race lead.

O'Grady - at 400-1 to win with the bookmakers - admits he has no hope of winning the Vuelta (Tour of Spain) but has his own personal goals for the final Grand Tour of the season.

My team-mate Matt Wilson will be riding with me and I've asked him to control me
Stuart O'Grady

The Australian said: "My ambition is to last two weeks [of the three week race]. I'm not going to go looking for breaks or for the points or the bonus sprints."

But it is worth nothing the Cofidis rider, a former team-mate of Briton David Millar, made similar comments before the Tour de France.

There he picked up a race win and was fourth in the points competition after a series of telling sprints.

But O'Grady knows he has little to prove to his peers after what he called the "best season of my life".

As well gold in the madison race in Athens' velodrome and his Tour success, he has performed well throughout the World Cup races, most notably in Hamburg last month where he won the HEW-Cyclassics race.

"But it's been pretty hard to concentrate since the Olympics," he added. "There were a few celebrations to say the least! But then they had to stop suddenly for me to focus on the Vuelta.

"I couldn't have predicted a better season for myself but I'd be the first to admit the legs are beginning to feel a bit tired. Anything in Spain would be a bonus."

Despite downplaying his chances, expect O'Grady to grab the headlines in week one.

A rider who admits "he cannot avoid going in a break even when I tell myself not to", the lure of further glory is hard to resist.

But he has one weapon aimed at curtailing him.

"My team-mate Matt Wilson will be riding with me and I've asked him to control me," said O'Grady. "Hopefully he'll manage it."




SEE ALSO
Duo forced to miss Vuelta
02 Sep 04  |  Cycling
Top names primed for Vuelta
02 Sep 04  |  Cycling
O'Grady takes Hamburg win
01 Aug 04  |  Cycling


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