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2001 Vuelta

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Mont Ventoux
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Vuelta News for September 24, 2002

Edited by Jeff Jones

Rest Day 2 wrap up

Week two of the Vuelta concluded on Sunday with an epic stage to l'Angliru, by far the toughest stage in this year's race. It resulted in the first real shakeup in the general classification since the stage 10 time trial, and finally Kelme's grip on the top two positions on GC was broken. But new leader Roberto Heras only has 35 seconds to spare over Gonzalez, and 1'08 on Sevilla, both of whom are - on paper - better against the clock than Heras. Don't count out ONCE's Joseba Beloki either, who kept his Vuelta chances alive with a strong ride yesterday to move into 4th overall at 1'57.

What is certain is that the Vuelta can be won and lost on the final day's time trial in Madrid.

The last five days

All last week the talk was about Sunday's stage to l'Angliru, and although none of the GC riders could gain an advantage in these lead up stages, the racing was still very intense.

Pablo Lastras
Photo: © AFP
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Stage 11 from Alcobendas to Collado Villalba commenced the hostilities after the first rest day. Some hard tempo riding by ONCE and Kelme into the crosswinds caused some damage to the peloton, and they caught the day's early break before the last climb of the Alto de Navacerrada with 40 km to go. The pace on the climb caused a selection of 20 riders to be made over the top, after catching lone breakaway Danilo Di Luca.

More attacks came on the descent which were unsuccessful until with 4 km to go Klaus Møller put in a strong attack on a slight rise, with Haimar Zubeldia and Pablo Lastras going with him. That turned into the race winning break with Lastras claiming his second stage win in four days. There were no changes to the GC and Sevilla kept his 1 second lead over teammate Aitor Gonzalez.

Petacchi wins it
Photo: © Lavuelta.com
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Stage 12 from Segovia to Burgos, the longest of the Vuelta at 210 km, was sprinters territory. Fassa Bortolo was confident in their sprinter Alessandro Petacchi to control the tempo all day, but they had to work hard to pull back the early breakaway, catching the last rider Toni Tauler with just 2 km to go.

Acqua e Sapone (sans Cipollini) clicked into gear and prepared the leadout for Daniele Bennati. However Petacchi was far too strong today and came around everyone to win his first Vuelta stage this year. In second place was Erik Zabel, who holds the points jersey but hasn't yet been able to win a stage.

Giovanni Lombardi
Photo: © Lavuelta.com
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Stage 13 from Burgos to Santander was an all-Italian show, after a large break of 16 went clear in the opening kilometres, and was not chased by the peloton. They gained between 8 and 9 minutes before Kelme lifted the tempo to stop some of the better GC riders in the break form pulling back too much time.

The break split apart on the day's main difficulty of the Alto del Portillo de la Sía, with seven of the better climbers getting clear. However Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio) chose to sit on the back, much to the annoyance of the rest, and the cooperation wasn't as good as it needed to be for the seven to stay away. They were recaptured by the others with 14 km to go, and a counter-attack was launched by Caucchioli, Marco Velo, Paolo Bossoni and Giovanni Lombardi. The latter enjoyed a painful but free ride to the finish where he easily won the sprint.

Sergei Smetanine
Photo: © Lavuelta.com
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Stage 14 from Santander to Gijón was a nervous day, as everyone was thinking about the stage to come. Two riders - Oscar Laguna and Sergei Smetanine - managed to get clear after the early attack phase to stay away and win the stage. Laguna tried to attack Smetanine on the last climb, which only annoyed the Russia who countered with a devastating move. Smetanine soloed into Gijón as the victor, with Laguna holding off the peloton for second.

The stage was remarkable for the massive crash that happened with 32 km to go when around 40 riders came off at high speed. The pileup was caused by two motorbikes touching each other and tearing off a side vision mirror that went into a front wheel. The result was carnage, with several riders including Fernando Escartin, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Juan Manuel Garate, Daniele Bennati, Guillaume Auger, Jon Odriozola, Iñigo Chaurreau and Giovanni Lombardi all abandoning or not starting the next day.

Heras in control
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Stage 15 from Gijón to Angliru was the culmination of the past four days of racing, ending in the extreme climb of l'Angliru with its 23 percent grades, terrible road surfaces, and an incredible thunderstorm that more or less started as the riders attacked the Spanish "Hell of the North".

Unfortunately for the riders, who weren't too happy about the climb and the conditions, it was an amazing stage to watch. Perhaps some parts of the stage were a little too extreme, but the Angliru definitely captured the public's interest. It is no more brutal than Paris-Roubaix, and is much shorter. It will surely be back in future editions.

Bruyneel comments on Heras' win

With Roberto Heras' win on the Angliru stage yesterday, US Postal Service director Johan Bruyneel now has the job of having his men defend the leader's jersey for the next five days. This is not going to be an easy task, given that the team is down to six riders including Heras. However, at this stage of the race it's important that Heras be in the lead if he's to have any options on the overall by Madrid.

"Yesterday's stage to the Angliru was the stage that we all had been waiting for since the beginning of the Vuelta," said Johan Bruyneel. "This mountain is where Roberto won the Vuelta in 2000.

"We had a plan before the race, but it turned out that Kelme had other thoughts than us and they made the race really hard, especially the first few kilometres of the Angliru. Then, something strange happened - (Aitor) Gonzalez attacked with Roberto at his wheel and Sevilla was having trouble. This was ideal for us."

"As soon as Roberto heard over the radio (about Sevilla's troubles), he attacked and from that moment on he was flying up the mountain," said Bruyneel. "We had hoped to get two minutes out of Sevilla and a little more on Gonzalez, but it turned out to be the opposite. Gonzalez defended himself very well and he's the biggest threat now, since he is a time trial specialist and we have one more time trial coming up."

Finally, Bruyneel expressed confidence in the remaining members of the team for the coming stages. "I'm confident that Roberto will get the support he needs of his remaining U.S. Postal Service teammates and that he may get some more time out of his closest rivals in one of the other mountain stages," he finished.

Gonzalez recognises his error

Gonzalez on the Angliru
Photo: © Lavuelta.com
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After Oscar Sevilla kept hold of his leader's jersey by just one second to teammate Aitor Gonzalez in the first time trial, there was much speculation about a rivalry between the two riders. Gonzalez had preferred put himself into a great position to win the Vuelta, ahead of Kelme's preferred team captain Sevilla. There was no way to prove this rivalry of course as the two riders were being quite diplomatic in their comments, however there was a vague sense that Gonzalez felt he had something to prove. Added to this is the fact that Gonzalez will leave Kelme at the end of the season, while Sevilla will stay. All that was required was a crucial stage to test the team spirit of the two riders...

What happened between Gonzalez and Sevilla on the Angliru certainly did not help Sevilla's chances of the overall, and it may have even damaged Gonzalez's. By forcing the tempo when he did, Gonzalez gave Heras a free ride away from his rivals, leaving Gonzalez isolated when Heras put in his final attack. Had Gonzalez waited for a few km, then the time gaps would have been smaller, even if the finishing order was the same. Who knows, perhaps Gonzalez could have been in the gold jersey.

Kelme team director Vicente Belda was not happy with Gonzalez performance, calling it a rush of blood, saying that "it wasn't part of the team plan". No doubt words would have been said at the dinner table last night. And Sevilla was certainly not happy, refusing to comment about it after the stage, his anger apparent.

Today Gonzalez, Sevilla and Belda gave a press conference in Oviedo, where Gonzalez said that he "felt sorry for the error" on the Angliru, adding that the race will be played on the Covatilla (Stage 18).

"There are times when your head does not function as you like and you make a mistake. It led to a situation that was not the most favourable one for the team. It was an error of youth," said Gonzalez.

"I attacked because I felt good and I thought that I could win the Vuelta there, but Heras hid well and surprised me. I did not see where Oscar was...If we had gone steadier and followed the orders of the director, our rival would have taken less time."

"It's still possible that I can win the Vuelta because there remains the time trial in Madrid, and the Covatilla is not l'Angliru. I will try to follow the wheel of Heras and if I stay with him I will have earned a lot."

Millar definitely out of Vuelta, says sorry to team for protest

Cofidis rider David Millar, who made it to the finish yesterday but decided to hand his number in as a protest to the organisers, has said sorry to the rest of his team for his withdrawal. Millar was lying in ninth place overall before the start of the stage, and although he would have lost time on the Angliru, was hoping to end up in the top 10 in Madrid.

"He took a stand because of the terribly dangerous racing conditions," said Cofidis manager Alain Bondue to l'Equipe. "He realised his error and is going to apologise to the rest of the team."

Millar's frustration was strongly influenced by two crashes within the space of 10 minutes. The first was on the descent of the Alto del Cordal, just before the Angliru. "It seemed like there was some fine gravel on them which caused the wheels to skid all over the place," said Millar on his website itsmillartime.com.

The second crash actually happened at the base of the Angliru climb, when his wheels slipped on a tight corner and he veered towards the inside of the road. "Unfortunately, a BigMat car had started to overtake on the inside and the driver didn't see David in time. The car hit him sending him flying under the wheels. David's bike landed on top of him and the car actually drove over David and the bike. Amazingly nothing was broken apart from the bike which had shattered into five pieces. David realises that he had a very lucky escape," itsmillartime reported.

He did not blame the driver of the car however, but the terrible conditions of the road which caused him to slip in the first place. He remounted and finished the stage but did not cross the line, forcing the organisers to register him as a DNF.

"The climb and descent on the Cordal were unnecessary, it is known for being a dangerous descent and everyone was saying it was bullshit. There was a road that led directly to the base of l'Angliru which the organisers could have used. My protest was just out of general principle," said Millar.

He has been confirmed as being definitely out of the race, although it's likely that his performance would have suffered after being run over by a car.

Stage 16 - September 24: Avilés - León, 154.7 km

More climbing greets the peloton when they resume after the second rest day in Avilés. The 16th stage from Avilés to León takes in the Cat. 1 climb of Puerto de Pajares. It's 13.6 km in length and has an average gradient of 6.6%, reaching 17% in the final sections. But with its summit 66 km from the finish, it's unlikely that any of the climbers can place a decisive attack there. However it's quite possible that a small selection will make it over and stay away until the finish.

Join us tomorrow at 14:45 CEST/05:45 PDT/08:45 EDT/22:45 Aust. EST for live coverage of Stage 16.

(All rights reserved/Copyright Knapp Communications Pty Limited 2002)

 

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