57th Vuelta a España
Spain, September 7- 29, 2002
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Stage 18 - September 26: Salamanca - Estación de la Covatilla (Béjar), 193.7 km
Complete Live Report
Start time: 12:10 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:00 CEST
14:35 CEST 97 km/97 km to go
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 18th stage of the Vuelta España. Today's
stage from Salamanca to the Covatilla ski station is the last mountain top finish
in this year's race. As such, it will be a very hard fought stage with the top
riders on GC seeking to gain as much advantage over each other as possible before
the final time trial on Sunday. Race leader Roberto Heras (USPS) desperately
wants to increase his 35 second lead to Aitor Gonzalez, who is a superior time
trialist. If Heras can put a minute into Gonzalez today on the climb, then the
final stage will be very interesting.
The main difficulties today are in the second half of the stage: The Cat. 1
climb of Honduras (km 116, 9.1 km at 6.1%), and the Cat. 2 climbs of Puerto
de Tornavacas (km 149.8) and Puerto de Tremedal (km 168) before the Special
Cat. climb of Covatilla which starts at km 184. The final climb is 9.5 km long
at an average grade of 8%.
Currently in the race we have a breakaway of 18 riders, who have a 6'17 lead
on the peloton. The names are as follows: Aitor Garmendia (Team Coast), Christophe
Oriol (Ag2R Prevoyance), Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio), Sebastien Talabardon (Bigmat.Auber
93), Robert Sassone (Cofidis), Nicola Loda and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo),
Santiago Blanco and J.Antonio Flecha (iBanesto.com), Alessandro Guerra (Index
Alexia), José Gutierrez (Kelme-Costa Blanca), Mariano Piccoli and Jan Svorada
(Lampre-Daikin), Davide Bramati and David Cañada (Mapei-Quick Step), Joan Horrach
(Milaneza-MSS), Sven Teutenberg (Phonak Hearing Systems), José Maestre (Relax-Fuenlabrada)
and Erik Zabel (Telekom).
14:42 CEST 108 km/86 km to go
Saeco are leading the peloton on the first climb of Puerto de Honduras, 5'50 behind the "sprinters break." Caucchioli is the best placed, but is 39'04 behind Heras on GC so he is absolutely no threat.
Jorg Jaksche (ONCE) and Santi Botero (Kelme) are at the back of the peloton.
The average speed has been very high in the first two hours: 47.5 km/h.
14:48 CEST 111 km/83 km to go
The gap between the peloton and the break is diminishing on the climb, courtesy of the Saeco tempo making. It is now 5'30. Teutenberg, Loda and Piccoli have been dropped from the front group.
The intermediate sprint of Guijuelo (km 50) was won by Jan Svorada, ahead of Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel. Petacchi again had Zabel's measure at the intermediate sprint at Ledrada (km 63), winning the sprint in front of Zabel and Bramati.
15:04 CEST 116 km/78 km to go
The leaders take the summit of the Puerto de Honduras led over by Juan Antonio Flecha, with the lead staying fairly steady around the five minutes from the Saeco-led bunch. Behind, Jörg Jaksche (ONCE) has retired - he had been in 11th place on GC, and that leaves ONCE with just 6 riders. He is the 73rd rider to retire from this Vuelta - 142 remain.
15:27 CEST 136 km/58 km to go
At the foot of the descent Aitor Garmendia and José Enrique Gutierrez have a
bit of a go off the front of the leading group - which is now down to a dozen
or so riders - but they are fairly rapidly caught again. The group is working
rather less than optimally. Nonetheless in the valley bottom they are once more
pulling away from the bunch - still led by the red Saeco train.
15:42 CEST 143 km/51 km to go
The leaders are now on the slopes of the second-category Puerto de Tornavacas,
and have settled down to work together. They include the top two in the points
competition, Erik Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi, who have some interest in staying
away over this climb and the next since there is a points sprint more or less
at the foot of the final climb.
Behind, the Saeco train has been joined by the remnants of the Acqua e Sapone team - a certain amount of collaboration by the non-Spanish teams seems to be on the cards here. Roberto Heras and several of the US Postal team are keeping station close behind the Italians.
Ahead, as the road climbs, Santiago Blanco and Juan Antonio Flecha decide to
lift the pace and the groups rapidly become rather smaller.
15:58 CEST 150 km/44 km to go
Flecha is clearly after all the mountain points he can collect, and has gone clear towards the top of the climb with Christophe Oriol (AG2R) on his wheel, but Caucchioli is having none of it and brings the remaining half dozen or so back up to him. Santi Blanco takes over as his team-mate is caught, and has a few metres lead.
The bunch are still around 5.20 behind, now with Chechu Rubiera and Christian Vandevelde leading; it looks as though the big guns are going to take it steady until the final climb. As mostly happens with summit finishes these days.
Blanco takes the summit alone, 15 seconds up on the group led by his teammate Flecha. There is not much of a descent following this climb, so it will be harder for the dropped riders to come back this time.
Rubiera leads the bunch over the top of the climb 5.30 down.
16:08 CEST 157 km/37 km to go
Blanco now has a lead of around 40 seconds - and rising - over eight of his former breakaway companions on winding, wooded roads approaching the day's third climb, the Puerto de Tremedal. They are Alessandro Guerra, Christophe Oriol, Juan Antonio Flecha, Aitor Garmendia, Pietro Caucchioli, Joan Horrach, José Enrique Gutierrez and Robert Sassone - presumably not defending his world madison title this year.
16:20 CEST 161 km/33 km to go
Blanco is a rider who has never really fulfilled the considerable promise he showed when younger, but today he is looking like a serious contender indeed. At the foot of the Tremedal he is now 6.15 ahead of the bunch, 2.15 ahead of the chasing group, which has lost Sassone.
Behind, the bunch - still led by Vandevelde - is mopping up the riders dropped from the break on the previous climb, including Petacchi and Zabel. Only Caucchioli, Flecha and Gutierrez are left now in the first chasing group.
Kelme's Tauler is among a number of riders dropped from the bunch on the climb as Vandevelde winds it up a bit.
16:34 CEST 168 km/26 km to go
Blanco passes the top of the Puerto de Tremedal just as the bunch pass through
the eponymous village, 3.8 km behind him. Flecha leads the chasing trio over
2.08 down; he is now only 8 points behind jersey holder Aitor Osa in the mountains
From here it is a 9 km descent then more or less straight onto the finishing climb.
The bunch (down to 40 or so riders now) passes the summit 6.02 in arrears. Blanco's position looks decidedly promising.
16:52 CEST 182 km/12 km to go
Blanco is 6.20 ahead of the bunch, still with Vandevelde and Rubiera doing the
work assisted by A&S's Santos Gonzalez, as he slogs up the false flat that leads
up to the final climb. We are back off the little back roads of the Tremedal
now, and onto a big main road; the finish climb is to a ski resort, so rarely
well engineered all the way up.
In the bunch, Aitor Gonzalez is marking Roberto Heras closely.
16:56 CEST 185 km/9 km to go
The foot of the climb is like a giant car park - there will be some people with
long walks back later tonight. Blanco, sunglasses on his forehead, rolling slightly
from side to side but basically pretty steady on quite a big gear, had 2.46
lead at the final intermediate sprint of the day over the first three chasers,
with another three at 4 minutes.
17:01 CEST 187 km/7 km to go
On the run-in to the climb Heras is up to fifth position in the bunch behind
two of his own team - Rubiera and Vandevelde, of course - and two Acqua e Sapones.
They are 6.08 down at the banner for the sprint. Aitor Gonzalez and Joseba Beloki
are lined out on Heras's back wheel.
Vandevelde has done his work and is gone from the front.
Blanco is tackling the 10% slopes a couple of kilometres up the road in front, looking steady - but steady enough?
17:03 CEST 188km/6 km to go
Rubiera is also not on the front for long, and now it is Acqua e Sapone's Santos Gonzalez and Martin Perdiguero who are clearly working for Heras, setting a strong tempo at the front.
Blanco's lead has fallen back to 5.15.
At the 7 km banner Perdiguero lifts the pace, and only Heras and Gonzalez can follow him - then Heras kicks and he is alone. Gonzalez digs deep to limit the damage.
17:09 CEST 189 km/5 km to go
Sevilla comes up towards his Kelme team-mate Gonzalez, but Gonzalez is setting
a comfortable tempo and is holding a gap of a hundred metres or so to Heras,
who does not look to be going flat out yet.
A kilometre in front, Blanco is suffering. Touch and go.
Beloki catches Sevilla, a handful of seconds behind Gonzalez, who has fought
his way back up to Heras.
17:11 CEST 190 km/4 km to go
Heras, Gonzalez, Sevilla and Beloki all come back together, with Felix Garcia Casas for company.
Garcia Casas tries to lift the pace a bit.
Blanco has 3.30 as he passes through the 4 km banner; from 3km to go the gradient eases off a bit, though.
17:13 CEST 191 km/3 km to go
Heras jumps for a second time; Beloki jumps across to him, while Sevilla sets
the pace for Gonzalez. Heras jumps again to get clear of Beloki, but the gaps
are still in seconds.
17:15 CEST 192 km/2 km to go
Gutierrez can't do anything for Gonzalez and Sevilla, who are now together with
Garcia Casas. Heras still leads Beloki by 9 seconds, with Gonzalez, Sevilla
and Garcia Casas another 10 seconds back.
Blanco has 2 minutes.
Heras catches Flecha and Caucchioli just before the 3 km to go banner. Gonzalez
has lost the wheel of Sevilla and Garcia Casas, and is 25 seconds behind Heras
at 3 km to go.
17:18 CEST 192 km/2 km to go
Heras, Flecha and Caucchioli are working together on the slightly flatter section
with 2 km to go. Heras is giving it everything to try and put time into Gonzalez,
but he can't get rid of Caucchioli and Flecha.
Beloki is at 14 seconds with 2 km to go. Gonzalez is at 30 seconds.
Sevilla and Garcia Casas have now caught Beloki.
17:19 CEST 193 km/1 km to go
Blanco is losing time rapidly - 1'23 with just over 1 km to go. Heras has finally
got rid of Caucchioli, with Flecha grimly hanging on his wheel.
Beloki has attacked Sevilla and Garcia Casas again. He passes Caucchioli and
is now fourth on the road behind Blanco, Heras and Flecha. Gonzalez is still
suffering on his own, but Sevilla has gone back to help him.
17:22 CEST 194 km/0 km to go
Santi Blanco is exhausted, but he hangs on to win the stage. He is very very
happy with that.
Heras comes next at 40 seconds, followed by Flecha a few seconds later, who
is also very happy with his teammate's win.
Gonzalez comes over following Sevilla's wheel at 1'16. That means Heras has
increased his lead by 36 seconds today (1'11 total), setting things up for a
very interesting finish in Madrid.
1 Santiago Blanco (Spa) iBanesto.com 5.04.15
2 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal Service 0.40
3 J.Antonio Flecha (Spa) iBanesto.com 0.47
4 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 0.51
5 Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Alessio 1.09
6 Félix Garcia Casas (Spa) Bigmat.Auber 93 1.10
7 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 1.16
8 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca
9 Angel Casero (Spa) Team Coast 1.26
10 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.31
11 David Plaza (Spa) Team Coast 1.32
General classification after stage 18
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal Service
2 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 1.12
3 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 1.45
4 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 2.09
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 4.05
6 Félix Garcia Casas (Spa) Bigmat.Auber 93 4.36
7 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 4.48
8 Angel Casero (Spa) Team Coast 6.18
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