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By Andrew Hood
ONCE’s Joseba Beloki is hoping that his troubles are behind him. The 27-year-oldhas finished third overall in the past two Tours de France (2000-2001)and hopes to do at least as well this year. Beloki has had a rocky startto the 2002 season, however. He’s only recently returned to racing afterpain in his Achilles tendon kept him off the bike for much of March. Sofar this year, he’s only competed in the Mallorca Challenge early in theseason before his comeback in Saturday’s GP Miguel Indurain. Beloki finallyhad to resort to seeing an acupuncturist to ease the pain in his ankle.Beloki insists in an interview with VeloNews’ Andrew Hood beforethe start of the Vuelta a Pais Vasco that he’ll be ready to go for theTour’s opening prologue July 6 in Luxembourg.VeloNews: Your Achilles tendon is better?
Joseba Beloki: “My Achilles is healed, so I am content and readyto begin the road to what I hope is full of success.”VN: What are your expectations for this race?
JB: “I come here with a lot excitement. Physically, I am bad,but mentally I am very good. It’s my first major race in awhile. I’m hereto work and to suffer. It’s another thing to think about anything else.”VN: So you have no ambitions for this race other than training?
JB: “There are many riders here who are good enough form towin. I’m not one of them. This race is complicated and the field is verystrong. I can only think of helping my teammates when I can and workinghard to find my form, for I lack many kilometers in my legs.”VN: Are you worried about your preparation for the Tour de France?
JB: “No, because there is still plenty of time. Last year Isuffered an injury early in the season and I couldn’t race in this Vueltaa Pais Vuelta, so this year I’m already ahead of last year. I will workhard and suffer this week, for this is certain. But I am not worried thatI will not be ready for the Tour.”VN: Has your Tour preparation changed at all this year?
JB: “I will have more days of racing in my legs this year, evenwith my time off the bike. My preparation will be practically the sameas it was last year. I will race next at Vuelta a Aragon (April 17-21),Vuelta Ciclista Asturias (May 16-19), Bicicleta Vasca (June 5-9) and VoltaCiclista a Cataluyna (June 17-23).VN: What do you think about the strong form Armstrong is revealing?
JB: “It’s normal to see Armstrong so strong. What’s differentis that we are seeing him racing more by these dates than we have in thepast. There’s no doubt that he’s going to the Classics for his condition,but we cannot compare him with anyone else. I watched the Criterium Internationaland saw how easy he was pedaling and with such force. He is special. Heis a racer who can compete in just a few races and still be ready for themost important races.”VN: And your opinion about Ullrich’s difficulties?
JB: “I hope that he recovers and can start the Tour in goodcondition. He is a good point of reference for me in the race. Plus, it’sbetter that all the favorites start the race in good form.”VN: What is your impression of the 2002 Tour?
JB: “It’s a complicated Tour that will all come down to thelast week. I think this is a very complete Tour. You have to be very strong in the first week and there is a nice variety of climbing stages that will be decisive. You have to be ready to race from the first day, but I thinkit will be decided in the last week, like any Tour.”