58th Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, September 6-28, 2003
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Live Report Results
Stage 15 - Sunday, September 21: Sierra de la Pandera, 172.1km
Complete Live Report
Commentary by Chris Henry, with additional reporting by Hernán Alvarez Macías
Time conversion guide: GMT = CEST - 2 hrs, AEST = CEST + 8 hrs, EDT = CEST
- 6 hrs, PDT = CEST - 9 hrs
Start time: 13:27 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST
14:39 CEST 60 km/112 km to go
The mountains return with bang in stage 15. After a mostly flat or downhill parcours, the Vuelta slams back into the big hills with the hors catégorie Sierra de la Pandera, and 8.3km climb with an average gradient of 6.4%. The climb will shock many riders' systems as a fast approach will come to an end with an opening section with a 14% gradient. The climb becomes more gradual until once again hitting portions at 15% and later 12%, finally finishing with a slight dip before one last kick to the line.
Today is an important rendez-vous for the team leaders, notably Roberto Heras of US Postal, to challenge the overall lead of ONCE and its top man Isidro Nozal.
Four riders are currently out ahead with modest advantage. César Garcia Calvo, Paulo Barroso, Carlos Torrent, and German Nieto have 30" on Mariano Piccoli, who is chasing behind, and 1'15 on the peloton.
The peloton looks set to let this early move gain some time, and the gap has jumped to over four minutes. US Postal is currently leading the peloton, thinking ahead for what must be a critical day for team leader Roberto Heras.
The lead group is enjoying the support of large crowds assembled on the bridges over the parcours and along the route, but they will need much more time in hand before the serious climbing begins today. The Sierra de la Pandera is the only climb of the day, but with the finish at the summit and some steep gradients along the way, it will be an all out fight up the mountain.
Manuel Beltran (US Postal) is a happy rider today, as the race is about to pass through his home region.
The race is moving at a typically fast pace and the peloton is nearly single file.
15:07 CEST 80 km/92 km to go
US Postal continues to set the pace in the main field, keeping the break within a reasonable distance. The time gaps are holding steady for the moment.
The race is rolling on a nice big road, typical of the Vuelta, which is helping US Postal keep the tempo high. The break is slowly losing time, but still has just under four and a half minutes on the field. US Postal's directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel plans to have his team ride a very hard race up until the Pandera climb, then count on Roberto Heras to make the moves and attack ONCE.
US Postal has three men working on the front: Benoit Joachim, Matt White, and Max Van Heeswijk. The Milaneza-MSS and Euskaltel-Euskadi teams are also riding up front, with ONCE and race leader Nozal tucked in behind.
15:29 CEST 100 km/72 km to go
The four leaders are passing through the feed zone, making very good time before the day's climbing begins. The peloton is stretched out in pursuit and the gap is steadily falling, down below the four minute mark now.
ONCE-Eroski is moving up in the peloton, positioning several riders behind the three Postal men setting the tempo. The time gap to the four leaders continues to dwindle.
ONCE has dropped back en masse to get bottles from the team car and look after team leader Isidro Nozal, who stopped for some reason. They're on their way back to the front.
The four leaders have managed to pick up a few more seconds ahead of the US Postal-led peloton. The gap is now 3'40, but still too small for any real hope of staying away on the climb of La Pandera. The other teams are content to let Postal's three workers set the pace before the climb, knowing that plenty of attacks can be expected.
16:08 CEST 125 km/47 km to go
The four leaders stretched their advantage by a few additional seconds, but US Postal is getting serious now with six riders at the head of the peloton.
16:16 CEST 135 km/37 km to go
The four leaders are approaching the second of three intermediate sprints in Jaen, Beltran's home town. The road tilts upward after Jaen, giving the race a prelude to the climbing to come. Although the stage profile depicts one major climb at the end, a flat portion separates the Cat. 2 Alto de los Villares and the hors categorie Sierra de la Pandera. The climb out of Jaen is not classified, but may see some riders getting anxious for the big ones to come.
The break's advantage is dropping again, down to just over three minutes.
16:25 CEST 137 km/35 km to go
The intermediate sprint in Jaen was taken by Carlos Torrent (Paternina) ahead of Paulo Barroso (Milaneza-MSS) and César Garcia Calvo (Labarca 2-Café Baque).
The gap to the peloton at the sprint was just over 2 minutes, and immediately Torrent and Garcia Calvo have attacked at the foot of the climb, dropping the other two.
As the race begins to break up, the Kelme-Costa Blanca team has come to the front of the peloton and has the field completely stretched out behind. It appears the action will indeed pick up outside of Jaen and before the two categorised climbs.
Riders are already starting to get droped out the back of the peloton as the two peloton races to catch the two leaders.
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano has had a bike change and three teammates have waited for the ONCE team's second leader (and second overall in the general classification).
Gonzalez de Galdeano is back at the rear of the peloton after his puncture, but more work will be needed to rejoin the leaders at the front as the pace remains quite high.
The two remaining members of the break are still clear but not for long, the peloton is within sight. They're sitting up now and enjoying a drink before the capture.
16:42 CEST 148 km/24 km to go
Erik Zabel has launched an attack as the race hits the lower slopes of the Cat. 2 climb! Zabel is looking for points to regain his points classification lead from Petacchi.
His move is perfectly timed and he takes the points at the last sprint. Petacchi did not appear to figure in the points at this sprint.
A new attack has gone clear now, and it's Josef Jufre from Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada.
It's helmet removal time in the field, and Rabobank's Karsten Kroon has just dropped two helmets at the side of the road for his soigneur to retrieve.
16:48 CEST 152 km/20 km to go
Zabel's mission is accomplished (the intermediate sprint), and he's already out the back and looking to get the autobus rolling with the other sprinters.
Two Domina Vacanze riders- Michele Scarponi and a teammate- are forced to stop for a puncture. The wheel change doesn't go smoothly but Scarponi is back up and being paced back by his mate.
David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) sets the pace in the main field now as the race begins to take shape on the Alto de los Villares. Roberto Laiseka joins him and there is a two-man Euskaltel attack in the works.
US Postal's Rubiera continues to suffer in this year's Vuelta and he's dropping out the back of the first group.
A small group is forming at the front, including David Millar, who had moved clear just before the acceleration by Etxebarria and Laiseka. US Postal is leading the chase with Heras in third position and Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen on his wheel.
As the group comes back together, Laiseka has another go and moves clear on his own.
Fassa Bortolo's Dario Frigo is showing signs of fatigue as the Vuelta enters the final week, and he's losing contact with the leaders.
Laiseka has 20" over the lead group as Luis Perez (Cofidis) jumps clear in pursuit. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Kelme) follows suit and tries his own attack. US Postal remains at the front of the group but with a steady tempo, not riding all out.
Rasmussen and Vuelta leader Isidro Nozal continue to sit behind Roberto Heras, who is on the wheel of Manuel Beltran. George Hincapie is leading the US Postal charge.
Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com) is the next to attack and he quickly catches and passes Garcia Quesada.
The attacks continue but the GC leaders are content to watch each other and keep the tempo steady.
Laiseka has 29", as Kelme's Oscar Sevilla launches a very fast attack from the lead group.
A group of five is forming in pursuit of Laiseka with Inigo Cuesta and Daniel Atienza (Cofidis), Oscar Sevilla (Kelme), Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2), and Juan Miguel Mercado (iBanesto.com).
Laiseka has crossed the summit of the Alto de los Villares alone, with the five man chase group just behind.
17:08 CEST 162 km/10 km to go
The five chasers are slowly being pulled back by the peloton on the slight descent after the first climb.
Michael Rasmussen has a teammate with him, Levi Leipheimer, who's looking strong just before the Sierra de la Pandera and leading the chase.
Laiseka is now alone in front, the chasers have been caught. David Millar is still up with the first peloton and is working at the front.
The field is hitting the first slopes of the Pandera and Laiseka's gap is tumbling under the pressure of several teams.
US Postal is back in charge as Beltran charges up the climb with Heras on his wheel. King of the mountains Cardenas is there, as is Rasmussen.
Cofidis is riding an aggressive race, with Cuesta accelerating once more. He turns to see what damage is done, but the answer is none.
The gradient is not so steep right now and the riders are trying to recover before the next round of attacks.
Cardenas is still on his own out front.
Txema del Olmo (Milaneza) tries an attack with Cuesta behind him.
Marcos Serrano leads the ONCE charge as Gonzalez de Galdeano returns to the front of the group.
Cardenas continues with his attack with 30" in hand but two chasers trying to close the gap behind.
At the back of the peloton Laiseka has done well to hang on after his early attack. Carlos Sastre is in the group still for CSC.
Beltran has taken over the pacemaking for ONCE with Heras on his wheel. Beltran looks to be suffering and Heras is going to have to make a serious move soon if he wants to gain any time on the ONCE men.
17:20 CEST 167 km/5 km to go
Aitor Osa (iBanesto) attacks again and catches/drops Inigo Cuesta. The reaction comes from Michael Rasmussen with Heras on his wheel as they hit the steepest portions.
Heras takes over the move from Rasmussen as the race hits the moment of truth. The gaps are opening at the back of the main group.
Heras and Rasmussen are going clear! They've caught Del Olmo up front and go straight by.
Nozal is losing ground along with several ONCE teammates.
Heras is still on the attack but Rasmussen has dropped off the pace, replaced by Osa, who has been caught by the US Postal leader.
Cardenas is still alone.
Heras drops Osa and has caught Cardenas at the front of the race.
Oscar Sevilla is chasing, pacing his teammate and leader Alejandro Valverde.
Heras is now 34" ahead of Isidro Nozal, gaining time, but not enough yet to take over the race lead.
Heras forces the pace and Cardenas sticks to his wheel.
Further back, Nozal has his teammate Serrano working for him, 40" behind Heras.
17:28 CEST 170 km/2 km to go
Race leader Nozal is losing more time to Heras, but he's managing his effort well so far. The gap is just under a minute.
Nozal is hanging tough but still losing time. Gonzalez de Galdeano sits up just enough to let Serrano and Nozal get his wheel, so there are now three ONCE riders chasing the two leaders.
Heras is giving it everything with Cardenas still glued to his wheel.
17:31 CEST 171 km/1 km to go
Valverde and Sevilla are still chasing behind the two leaders, 11" back. They're both grinding their way up the climb and it's not quite clear who's the stronger of the two.
Heras and Cardenas are within 1km of the finish.
Heras and Cardenas hit a slight descent after the summit of the climb before the road kicks up once more in the final 500m. Cardenas will no doubt want the stage win, but Heras will as well, not to mention any seconds he can get on GC.
Heras tries to attack as Valverde comes from behind and catches the two leaders!
Valverde gets the stage win in a perfectly timed capture and attack! Cardenas gets second ahead of Heras and Sevilla.
Michael Rasmussen leads a chase group into the final turn but it's Perdiguero
who comes across the line, followed by Luis Perez then Rasmussen. Beltran, Claus
Moller, and Unai Osa round out the top ten for the stage.
Isidro Nozal and his ONCE teammates come in 1'13 behind the stage winner and Heras. Nozal has lost some time, but will maintain his race lead.
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 4.20.39
2 Felix Cardenas (Col) Labarca-2-Café Baqué
3 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 0.02
4 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 0.10
5 Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Domina Vacanze-Elitron 0.56
6 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone
7 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank
8 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor
9 Claus Møller (Den) Milaneza-MSS
10 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com 1.02
General classification after stage 15
1 Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski 50.01.40
2 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski 3.03
3 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 4.02
4 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 5.23
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 6.37
6 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com 7.11
7 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 8.28
8 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone 8.33
9 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com 9.59
10 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) Domina Vacanze-Elitron 10.59
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