Moral guardians fear last stage could run into red light

As the cyclists enjoyed a rest day in the Tour of Spain yesterday, organisers expressed concern that prostitutes on the route of next week's final stage in Madrid could disrupt the finish.

As the cyclists enjoyed a rest day in the Tour of Spain yesterday, organisers expressed concern that prostitutes on the route of next week's final stage in Madrid could disrupt the finish.

The Tour is due to end with a 38km individual time trial around Madrid on 17 September, with the route involving a circuit of the city's biggest park, the Casa de Campo. It is here, on the roads that criss-cross the park, that several hundred prostitutes ply their trade.

Madrid's local authorities and Unipublic, the organisers of the Tour, are concerned about the image that could be projected by prostitutes lining the route. A municipal spokesman said: "They could upset the concentration of the competitors and give a negative image of Madrid, as the race will be televised all over Spain."

However, the prostitutes believe there will be little disruption. "At the time of day when the race is held, there aren't many clients," one said.

Angel Casero, who holds the Tour lead, is optimistic he can fight off the challenge of Roberto Heras and his Kelme team to claim his first tour win. "I'm now at the peak of my career and I desperately want to win this tour," said the 27-year-old Spaniard after taking the leader's gold jersey for the second day running on Thursday.

The Festina rider, who was Spanish champion in 1998 and 1999, and came fifth in last year's Tour de France, added: "I am much more ambitious than I was before and I don't want to be just satisfied with being classed as a rider with a great deal of promise."

Casero leads by 1min 15sec from the specialist climber Heras, who was fifth in this year's Tour de France and is determined to put pressure the Festina rider in the mountain stages that begin today.

Heras's strategy is to attack in the mountains of northern Spain and establish a lead of at least two minutes by the time the Tour reaches Madrid. Both riders know that Casero is the better time trialist.

Although Festina are short of cover following the retirement of two of their riders, Casero has the advantage of being fresher than Heras and his team-mates. Casero was injured at the start of the season and had to abandon the Tour de France after a fall, so this season he has covered about half the distance the Kelme riders have.

Casero said: "I feel in good shape, but I realise that there are still some very tough stages to come. The Kelme team are very strong in the mountains. But I came out of the Pyrenees feeling strong and I know I can defend my lead."

The Festina team director, Juan Fernandez, added: "As each day passes, Casero is showing signs of being stronger and more motivated. It is clear he wants to win this Tour."

Ahead lie the challenges of the legendary climbs to the Lagos de Covadonga and Alto de L'Angliru. It is in those key stages that this year's Tour of Spain is likely to be won and lost.

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