BENIDORM, Spain (VN) — Jakob Fuglsang vows to fight “all the way to Madrid” after his red-hot start to the 2011 Vuelta a España.
The 26-year-old Dane says this year’s Vuelta is a chance to see how far he can go in a grand tour.
“For sure I am ready to fight. My goal here is clear: the GC,” Fuglsang said. “Now we’ve got the best possible start, that’s even more motivating to fight all the way to the end.”
A former mountain biker, Fuglsang has been highly touted since he began focusing on the road scene in earnest after the 2008 Olympic Games. He’s quickly delivered some promising results, with three straight victories in the Tour of Denmark (2008-2010), third in the 2010 Tour de Suisse and fourth in the Swiss tour this year.
So far in grand tours, he’s been taking it slow. He was 59th in his grand-tour debut in the 2009 Vuelta, but notched one second and two third places in stages. In two Tours, he was 50th in Paris each time. Both years he was in service of the Schleck brothers, and followed them when they left Bjarne Riis to form Leopard-Trek this season.
“We’re happy with how the Tour went,” Fuglsang said. “Now we’re at the Vuelta and now we’re looking forward. There’s nothing more to say about that.”
With Leopard-Trek’s TTT victory, Fuglsang takes the leader’s jersey for the first time in a grand tour. A strong time trialist as well as a steady climber, he could be a surprise threat for the podium. He’s certainly a name that didn’t make many favorites lists before the Vuelta started.
“We will see how far I can go,” he said. “I know it might be hard because I had a hard season already, with the Tour, but we showed today the team is strong. I am ready to fight all the way to Madrid.”
Still, with time bonuses in play, his run in red might be very short. Teammate Daniele Bennati could inherit the jersey in Sunday’s likely sprint finish. Fuglsang will want to keep close, because he might be trying to get it back down the road.
Vuelta starts with Cuesta on sidelines
For the first time since his debut in 1994, Spanish veteran Iñigo Cuesta is not lining up at the Vuelta a España.
The 42-year-old was in Bendiorm for the start of the race, but his Caja Rural team was not invited to participate. Cuesta, who raced a record 17 consecutive Vueltas, signed up with Caja Rural with the hopes of racing one more. However, race organizers overlooked the modest Spanish team, and invited the likes of Cofidis and Skil-Shimano instead.
“It’s strange not to be at the Vuelta after so many years of racing here, but now I will have to experience the race in another manner,” Cuesta said Saturday at the finish line. “I was hoping to race one more Vuelta, so at first I felt bad when we were not invited. But then you have to accept their decision and understand their reasons and move on in life.”
Cuesta set a Vuelta record last year with 17 consecutive starts, when he started with the No. 1 bib, but without a chance to return to the Spanish tour this year, he confirmed that his racing days are behind him.
“My last race was at the Vuelta a Burgos (in early August). It’s my home and it was the ideal way to say goodbye to the sport in front of family and friends,” he said. “I have no idea what I am going to do. Right now, I just want to enjoy this Vuelta as a fan.”
Earlier Vuelta hopes to draw bigger crowds
Vuelta a España organizers got their wish and the start of the 2011 edition was bumped up by a full week.
Rather than starting in early September, where the Vuelta has begun since it moved to the fall in 1995, race officials wanted to take full advantage of the summer holiday season.
Even though the Vuelta’s start coincides with the opening weekend of Spain’s “La Liga” soccer season, race officials hope that vacationers will make the Vuelta part of their day.
“We are hoping to take advantage of the last week of August, when a lot of Spanish take their vacations,” said Vuelta director Javier Guillen to AS. “We also want to augment the fans on the side of the roads and the TV audience.”
Vuelta prize money
Though not as lucrative as the Tour de France, the Vuelta still packs a pretty good paycheck. The entire prize-money package is 1,057,480 euros during the three-week march across Spain.
The overall winner receives 112,000 euros (about one-fourth of what the Tour pays out) while individual stage wins are worth 11,000 euros per day. Other prizes include 13,000 euros for the best climber, 11,000 euros for the winner of the points competition and 12,500 euros for the best team.
Lesser prizes include 1,000 euros for the first rider at the Vuelta’s highest point, which this year the Sierra Nevada summit in stage 4. The most competitive rider of the day wins 200 euros per day. Third-place in an intermediate sprint earns 25 euros. In these times of economic crisis, every bit helps.
All 198 starting riders finished the stage.
More summer heat for Sunday’s second stage along the Costa Blanca. Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s Celsius, with gusting SW winds along the coast.