Cycling: Spain celebrates Olano's return to form

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The Independent Online
ABRAHAM OLANO gave Spain their first Tour of Spain triumph for seven years yesterday.

When the tall Basque rider pulled out on the seventh day of last year's Vuelta, some fans were very disappointed following his fourth place in the 1997 Tour de France. Olano complained of lack of power, and doctors discovered that the problem was septic tonsils.

Now Olano feels he is approaching the winning streak of two years ago when, during the reign of Miguel Indurain, he won gold ahead of Indurain in the 1995 world road race championship in Colombia and silver in the time-trial championship.

Spain dubbed him a natural successor to Indurain, but that was not the role Olano sought. Now he has upstaged Spain's most celebrated racer by winning the Vuelta. The closest Indurain came was second in 1991.

Olano still has his critics - not least Pedro Delgado, who won the 1988 Tour de France and the Vuelta a year later. "You can usually say the best rider won the Vuelta but this time it was the best team," Delgado wrote in the Spanish sports paper Marca. "[Olano] has not demonstrated that he is a brilliant winner. When he had a bad day he did not know how to respond at the critical moment."

Olano countered: "When you have the leader's yellow jersey you need to ride defensively." But Spanish supporters are just happy that the yellow jersey will stay at home this year.