Spanish look to Vuelta as Armada sinks in Tour

Freire KO’d for Olympics; Sánchez, Rojas waiting to see as Spanish media turns attention to Contador's Vuelta return

Photo: watson

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BESANSCON, France (VN) – At the start of the Tour de France, Spanish journalists lined up the five riders heading to London for the Olympic Games for a photo opportunity.

What were all smiles in Liège have turned into frowns, grimaces and otherwise faces of pain. What a difference 10 days make.

Three of Spain’s Olympic Five — Oscar Freire (Katusha), Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and J.J. Rojas (Movistar) — have already packed it home and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Luis Leon Sánchez (Rabobank) are among the walking wounded at the Tour.

“This Tour has been awful for me,” Valverde told VeloNews at the finish line on Sunday after crashing with Sánchez. “The time trial? I will just roll it. My GC is done.”

All five members of Spain’s Olympic road race team have crashed at least once during the Tour in what’s been a disastrous race so far for the famed “Spanish Armada.”

Valverde’s GC hopes have tanked while Sánchez, who was quietly optimistic for a podium run, crashed out yesterday with a broken hand and an injured back.

León Sánchez has both wrists taped up while Rojas crashed twice before going home with a broken clavicle.

Of the five, Freire is the only confirmed rider who will not race what was supposed to be his career farewell in London. The three-time world champion fractured ribs and punctured a lung in a crash in Friday’s sixth stage.

Olympic champion Sánchez, meanwhile, held a press conference Monday after returning to Spain following his crash Sunday and is holding out hope of defending his gold medal.

“Besides my hand, there’s nothing else broken,” Sánchez told journalists. “We will wait to see how my back evolves over the next few days. If I can, I want to go to London, but only if I can be competitive.”

Rojas underwent surgery to repair a broken clavicle and is hopeful to recover in time to represent Spain.

“All five have crashed, so it’s not good for us ahead of London,” Spain’s national coach José Luis de Santos told EFE. “We are waiting to see how they recover. Right now, the only confirmed baja is Freire.”

Recently crowned Spanish champion Fran Ventoso is the team’s first reserve and will bring a strong sprint option to the lineup.

Others waiting in line are Juan Antonio Flecha and Jonathan Castro Viejo.

Spanish journalists covering the Tour are already looking ahead to the Vuelta a España.

Alberto Contador is set to make his return following his clenbuterol ban, something that is already building anticipation south of the Pyrénées.

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