Friday, September 01, 2006

Shaking up the Pro Peloton

Janez Brajkovic. Who? You know, Janez, the Gold Jersey of the Vuelta (photo credit: Graham Watson). Okay, I don't blame you if you've never heard of him. But after the last two days, if you follow cycling at all, you know who he is. He's the guy that DiLuca couldn't shake on Stage 5. He's also the guy that Valverde couldn't shake on Stage 7, despite the Pro Tour leader's downright monsterous kick to the summit finish. He hasn't won . . . yet. But, I don't think I'm alone when I say it's only a matter of time. One more thing. He's 22. And, riding for Discovery Channel, he will have incredible support as the team shifts tactics and looks to ride for the kid.

After the finish, Johann Bruyneel talked to Velonews about Brajkovic's surprising strength . . . and Tom Danielson's lack thereof:
For Tom, "[w]e have no explanation. He started at the bottom of the climb and just didn't feel good. We don't know what's wrong. He's not sick," Bruyneel told VeloNews. "There is still a lot of Vuelta to race. We are still in the first week. It's [Janez'] first big tour and it would be a surprise to see if he can maintain where he is now. As long as he's going good, we'll ride for him."
We'll ride for him. That's a big vote for a 22-year-old, considering "we" includes Tricky Beltran, who sits 6th on GC a mere 51" seconds back of Brajkovic. Okay, I suspect Tricky won't be required to pace Brajkovic like he used to pace Lance, but he's sure to be there in a pinch. (Incidentally, next year Tricky will be at Astana, which is shaping up as a big dog team for 2007.)

Today's stage was terrific. After a week of wondering if anyone actually wants to win this race, a few riders showed they did. Valverde's run to the finish past Vinokurov -- who, a mere five seconds earlier, looked to be a shoe in for the win -- was just plain thrilling. Sastre and Mayo also showed they were serious today. As did, of course, Brajkovic and Beltran. The big boys are starting to race. And the guy just above schooled them all today (photo credit: AFP).