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Photo ©: Bettini

58th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 6-28, 2003

Main page    Start List    Stage profile     Map     Latest Live Report    

Stage 16 - Tuesday, September 23: Jaen - Sierra Nevada, 162km

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: 13:06 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST

14:20 CEST    
Welcome back after the second rest day for Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Vuelta a España. Stage 16 follows a similar pattern to the previous race, once more providing a mountaintop finish after a stage with no other notable difficulties. The parcours becomes a bit more undulating from the day before, but the climb of the Sierra Nevada (HC) will no doubt shape the day's racing. The Sierra Nevada is a frequently used climb, noted for its 30 kilometre length more than any leg breaking gradients. Nonetheless, an average of 5.7% for such a long climb is not small task.

Isidro Nozal (ONCE-Eroski) is still in control of the race lead, having lost some time Sunday to chief rival Roberto Heras, but maintaining his composure and limiting the time gaps. Heras followed the US Postal plan, letting his team set a strong tempo before the climb to La Pandera, then putting in his own attack when the going got steep. Unfortuantely the damage was limited, and Heras was also deprived a stage victory. The Sierra Nevada will present a formidable obstacle today, but may not provide the opportunity Heras would need to reclaim minutes on Nozal.

14:42 CEST    62 km/100 km to go
A break is on, as usual, and the group has 52" on the main field, which is bring driven by Labarca 2-Café Baque.

The composition of the break is as follows: Aitor Osa, Jose Luis Arrieta, Pablo Lastras, Daniel Atienza, Joan Horrach, Pedro Diaz Lobato, Antonio Tauler, Carlos Garcia Quesada, Santiago Perez, Pedro Horillo, Carlos Sastre, Mario Aerts, Jose Luis Rubiera, Unai Etxebarria, and David Etxebarria.

14:52 CEST    
Two men have moved ahead of the break, which was perhaps getting too big to work well together. Pedro Diaz Lobato and Antonio Tauler are ahead of the break, while Felix Cardenas has drifted back to the main field, which his Labarca 2 team continues to lead.

14:58 CEST    
Two Domina Vacanze riders have come to the front to set the pace, along with most of the Labarca 2 riders who are still riding en masse. The race is moving quickly on a long gradual descent.

Up front, Lobato and Tauler have 25" on the first chase group, which is 37" ahead of the main field.

15:05 CEST    81 km/81 km to go
The field is steadily pulling back the main breakaway group, but the two leaders will stay clear a bit longer. The pace has eased up somewhat, and a number of riders have pulled over for a roadside pit stop.

15:11 CEST    83 km/79 km to go
Antonio Tauler has just had a front wheel puncture while in the lead with Lobato. It happened right before the feed zone, so once he got rolling he also got lunch. Lobato grabs his food as well and waits for Tauler, since there's no point in trying to carry on without some help.

Their gap has gone up, nearly two minutes now, and the rest of the early break has been caught by the peloton.

15:16 CEST    
The main field has taken a liesurely cruise through the feed zone and riders are fueling up for the 30km climb of the Sierra Nevada. The two men out front should increase their advantage now, but the leaders in the field aren't too worried about their progress yet. The camera motorcycles are participating in the feed, both handing out energy bars and retrieving musettes from riders. So far everyone's in a good mood, but that's bound to change...

15:25 CEST    
The peloton is at a crawl right now, perfectly content to let Lobato and Tauler do their thing up front. A thirty kilometre climb to finish the stage will do more than enough damage that it's far less important to keep the pace high before the climb. Certainly the pace will pick up, but for now it's easy going in the bunch.

There was an intermediate sprint earlier in the race, specifically at Huelma (km 46). This was taken by Unai Etxebarria ahead of David Etxebarria (both Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mario Aerts (Telekom).

Also of interest was a small third category climb of the Alto de la Fuensanta. First over the summit were Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com), Joan Horrach (Milaneza-MSS), and Lobato.

15:32 CEST    104 km/58 km to go
The leaders are just 30km from the start of the climb to Sierra Nevada, while behind riders like Oscar Sevilla and José Vicente Garcia Acosta are sharing jokes in the main field. They're even singing!

Perhaps turned off by the show tunes, or perhaps just bored, two riders from Labarca 2 have gently eased off the front in an effort to get things moving again.

15:35 CEST    
The two leaders have profited from the lull in the peloton and their advantage has jumped up to seven and a half minutes. The pace is slowly picking up in the peloton, however, and the break will not be forgotten. Tauler and Lobato would need an enormous gap to have any real hope of staying clear on the 30km Sierra Nevada climb. Once again it's Labarca 2 setting the pace in the main field.

15:46 CEST    
The chase is on and the gap is starting to fall. Teams are moving to the front in formation, including notably US Postal and ONCE for their leaders Heras and Nozal, but also Kelme, which for the moment does not have to chase because Tauler is still up the road.

15:50 CEST    117 km/45 km to go
The two leaders enter Granada with most of the advantage still in hand, but they're getting closer to crunch time at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. The weather is favorable and the crowds are out in force.

Lobato takes the intermediate sprint, but Tauler didn't bother contesting it.

15:58 CEST    
Rabobank is now lending a hand to Labarca 2 at the head of the main field as the pace continues to increase.

Through the narrow streets in Granada, Tauler takes a bad line through a corner, but both leaders stay upright.

The peloton is increasingly stretched out, which will soon prove necessary anyway given the numerous obstacles in the middle of the roads of Granada.

For the intermediate sprint, Zabel rockets from the main field with Petacchi on his wheel. Zabel looked to have the sprint but Petacchi was coming around quickly. In the end, however, it was Zabel who nipped the Italian at the line.

16:07 CEST    
Lobato and Tauler have left Granada behind, with 6'45 advantage over the peloton. Labraca 2 and Rabobank continue to lead the chase.

Lobato gets some words of encouragement from his directeur sportif as the two men press on.

16:10 CEST    129 km/33 km to go
The riders are enjoying sun in the valley, but the clouds look a bit more menacing on the horizon as they approach the foot of the Sierra Nevada.

The two leaders have hit the early slopes and have promptly removed their helmets.

16:13 CEST    
The peloton is moving considerably faster now as the leaders' teammates begin push the pace before the foot of the climb. US Postal has sent several riders forward, but it's still Labarca 2 (with only 2 left) doing most of the work. The gap is down below six minutes now.

David Millar hands over his helmet and one from a teammate at the back of the field.

16:16 CEST    
US Postal kicks in now and the team's effort is already causing some damage in the field behind. So much so, in fact, that Matt White and a Rabobank rider find themselves with a small gap over the field and quickly sit up, having no intention of breaking away.

The gap to Tauler and Lobato is down to five minutes.

16:19 CEST    
Floyd Landis, Cyclingnews' diary writer extraordinaire, takes over with the tempo with Beltran on his wheel and Heras in third position. The other team leaders are moving forward to keep tabs on Heras and brace themselves for the attacks to come.

On the other end, Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo) is already in trouble, although his general classification hopes left the building some time ago.

Floyd's cooked after a long effort and Beltran takes over up front.

16:21 CEST    
Beltran looks to be in a bit of pain as he tries to up the pace, and Heras has a few words with him.

The first attack comes from Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com), who churns away in the big chainring and immediately gets a gap.

16:24 CEST    
Another rider jumps clear. José Gutierrez (Kelme) goes with Fabian Jeker on his wheel. Their move gets a reaction from the field and Heras helps close the gap.

Nozal is still up front but doesn't look super today.

16:27 CEST    
More riders are trying to go clear, including Leonardo Piepoli and Santiago Perez. Euskaltel and Cofidis are trying to follow the move, along with Sven Montgomery from Fassa Bortolo.

The main field is dwindling and even though the climb is not too steep, it still hurts and there's a long way to go. Beltran is toward the back of the group, not looking his best.

16:29 CEST    
Oscar Sevilla is forcing the pace up front with Heras on his wheel, at the same time that Beltran loses contact with the group. The attackers (except the lead duo) appear to have been caught as Gutierrez and Sevilla lead the Kelme charge.

Sevilla accelerates ago and is causing a lot of pain behind.

16:34 CEST    
Nozal has two teammates in front of him and they let a few riders pull clear with a small gap.

Sevilla goes again! Piepoli gets his wheel again and this time mountains leader Felix Cardenas follows the move.

Heras misses the wheel but takes up the chase, with Gonzalez de Galdeano on his wheel.

16:35 CEST    
Heras catches Sevilla's move but the pace remains high and a split is forming. Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen sees the danger and jumps across- as does Kelme's Valverde- to catch the train.

Missing from this new move are Nozal and Beltran, notably.

Tauler and Lobato, lest we forget them, are still clear.

16:37 CEST    
This is a great move for Kelme, because Valverde has the opportunity to make up serious ground on Manuel Beltran in the general classification.

Nozal has managed to make contact with the Sevilla/Heras group.

Unai Osa attacks again as the peloton tries to establish a steady rhythm on the long climb.

16:42 CEST    145 km/17 km to go
Sevilla is on the attack once more, with Cardenas and Daniel Atienza (Cofidis) on his wheel. He catches Juan Miguel Mercado (iBanesto), who had jumped clear just prior.

Up front Tauler has called it a day and has sat up, waiting for the capture. Lobato carries on with the escape but his time is limited.

16:43 CEST    
Nozal, Gonzalez de Galdeano, and Heras are marking each other, content for the moment to let Sevilla and Cardenas gain some time.

Lobato has less than a minute with a chase group of four (Sevilla's group) coming up behind.

16:45 CEST    
The race has hit a slight descending portion of the Sierra Nevada, giving a much-needed break for the riders.

Tauler, drifting back, uses what little energy he has left to pace Sevilla for about 50 metres as the foursome comes through. Now there's one man left of front with the four chasers closing quickly.

16:49 CEST    148 km/14 km to go
The group of four (Sevilla, Cardenas, Mercado, Atienza) is very much in search of a stage win. The fight for the general classification has yet to really begin.

Mercado tries to attack this group and gets a bit of a gap as Sevilla takes up the chase.

16:51 CEST    
Valverde is trying to pick up time, in between the Sevilla group and the peloton. iBanesto's Piepoli decides this is a move worth joining and makes a big effort to bridge the gap. The peloton is down to about 20 riders, with two ONCE riders setting the pace.

16:55 CEST    150 km/12 km to go
Levi Leipheimer decides it's time to remove the shades and signals the camera motorcycle to take his glasses back to the team car.

Leipheimer is looking relatively comfortable on the climb and is still up in the main group along with teammate Rasmussen.

Piepoli and Valverde have been joined by Txema del Olmo (Milaneza), behind the leaders and ahead of the peloton. Sevilla is looking behind and sees that Valverde's group is coming up. The junction is made with 12km to race.

17:02 CEST    153 km/9 km to go
Lobato has finally been caught after a long break, and has tried to grab the back of the Sevilla group as it comes through. It lasts for a brief moment, but he's too tired to hold the wheels.

17:07 CEST    155 km/7 km to go
Manuel Beltran, who was off the back of the peloton, has managed to regain contact. All of the top ten in the general classification are present, except Valverde, who is out ahead in the seven man attack.

In the lead group, Mercado has attacked again and gets a gap quickly. The others don't chase immediately.

17:08 CEST    156 km/6 km to go
Nozal is stuck to Heras' wheel, and both riders are toward the back of the peloton.

Mercado is continuing his effort as the six others in the break watch each other and hesitate to take the initiative to chase, 14" behind.

17:13 CEST    
Beltran is summoning the strength to force the pace in the main group, and his effort has coaxed Heras up to the front positions. Heras has been very quiet thus far and his chances to make a difference are narrowing. Nozal has followed Heras up to the front of the group.

Mercado is still alone up front ahead of the chasers, who look to have lost one member of the group.

Heras is starting an attack in the peloton and Rasmussen grabs his wheel, with Unai Osa chasing behind.

17:15 CEST    157 km/5 km to go
It's now or never for Heras and he's putting a lot of pressure on this move. The peloton is starting to split up behind. Gonzalez de Galdeano has ended up in a split behind and is riding hard to maintain his second place overall.

Heras has dropped Osa, and continues with Rasmussen on his wheel. Nozal is chasing behind with the help of Marcos Serrano.

17:16 CEST    
Atienza has dropped from the leading group (the first chase behind Mercado), and was unable to catch the wheels of Heras and Rasmussen as they blew by.

Heras is coming up quickly on the Sevilla/Valverde group, and has 30" on Nozal's group behind.

17:18 CEST    160 km/2 km to go
Rasmussen isn't doing any work setting the pace, preferring to stick to Heras' wheel for as long as possible.

17:20 CEST    
Nozal continues to suffer behind Heras' group, but the time gaps aren't too significant (40"). Gonzalez de Galdeano, however, is losing time in a third group farther back.

17:21 CEST    161 km/1 km to go
Up front, Cardenas has come close to catching Mercado up front but Mercado is still clear in the final kilomtre. The rest of the break is 20" back, with Heras and Rasmussen chasing behind them.

17:22 CEST    
Cardenas has caught Mercado! Without Valverde, this could be Cardenas' day for a stage win. Immediately he attacks Mercado and is going clear.

17:23 CEST    
Cardenas is within the final kilometre and looking good for the stage win. He's looking behind constantly but the gap on Mercado is good.

Two arms in the air and the king of the mountains wins the day.

17:25 CEST    
The favourites continue to come in. Heras took 54" out of Nozal, who did a fine job of defending his leader's jersey. Gonzalez de Galdeano recovered some ground as well to finish alongside the ONCE leader.


1 Felix Cardenas (Col) Labarca-2-Café Baqué           4.09.33
2 Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) iBanesto.com                 0.05
3 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca                 0.18
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca  
5 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) iBanesto.com                    0.21
6 Txema del Olmo (Spa) Milaneza-MSS                      0.31
7 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com                            0.58
8 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor              1.02 
9 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                             
General classification after stage 15
1 Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                 54.13.10
2 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski        3.03
3 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor              3.09
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca            5.00
5 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor             5.16

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