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Photo ©: Bettini

58th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 6-28, 2003

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Stage 20 - Saturday, September 27: San Lorenzo de El Escorial - Alto de Abantos, 11.2km ITT

Complete Live Report

Commentary by Jeff Jones, 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: 14:08 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST

14:27 CEST    
Welcome to Cyclingnews' coverage of the 20th and penultimate stage of the Vuelta a España, an 11.2 kilometre time trial between San Lorenzo de El Escorial and Alto de Abantos. Although short, this is not an easy time trial at all, especially after nearly three weeks of hard racing. Starting from an altitude of 1040m, the riders hit a steep wall in the first kilometre and a half, with a maximum gradient of 17 percent. However that is the most difficult part of the course, as for the rest of it the gradients are between 4 and 8 percent, with a flat/downhill section at the halfway point. The finishing altitude is 1,650m, making the average gradient for the climb 5.6 percent.

We can expect the best riders to do times of around 21-22 minutes on this climb, and Roberto Heras will certainly have to do something like that if he is to take a two minute deficit back from race leader Isidro Nozal. Nozal can afford to lose 10 seconds per kilometre, but he will need to ride hard today, at the same time ensuring that he doesn't go too hard in the first kilometre. Nozal is better against the watch than Heras, but Heras is the better climber and that should tip the balance his way today.

On yesterday's final climb, Nozal lost 1'29 to Heras over a shorter distance, however that was at the end of a tough stage so things will be a bit different today when both riders are fresh. Most are picking Nozal to hang onto his lead today, and a reasonable estimate would be that he loses another minute to Heras, but still wins the Vuelta by nearly a minute. We'll see.

14:38 CEST    
It's a fairly late start today, with the first rider, José Maestre (Relax Fuenlabrada) setting off at 14:08. Riders follow at 1 minute intervals until the last 20 riders (top 20 on GC) who leave at 2 minute intervals. Heras will ride at 17:04 while Nozal is off at 17:06.

Weather: It's cool and overcast today, and there's not much wind. Temperatures are in the low 20's, conditions that are ideal for time trialling.

14:50 CEST    
A few riders have finished now, with the fastest time being set by Guido Trenti (Fassa Bortolo) in 29'20. Jose Maestre was 4'18 slower, so perhaps times of 21-22 minutes might be hard to come by today. But even Trenti's time (average: 22.9 km/h) doesn't seem to be that quick for a climb of this nature. However there's no reason for many riders to go hard today, as most aren't in contention for the GC.

14:55 CEST    
Trenti's time is quickly eclipsed by Saeco's Igor Pugaci, who comes across the line in 27'53, not bad but still well off the expected pace. Niki Aebersold (Phonak) is 43 seconds behind him, with Rubens Bertogliati (Lampre) at 57 seconds.

15:04 CEST    
We've been under way for nearly an hour now, with over 50 riders having started. Shortly we'll see David Millar (Cofidis) in action (his start time: 15:03). David has ridden well in both Vuelta time trials, but has been beaten each time by Isidro Nozal after holding the fastest time for most of the stage. Today's stage doesn't really suit him, but he showed the other day that he could climb quite well, and also has the advantage of being under a lot less pressure than the GC riders.

15:13 CEST    
Millar is now well on his way, and is heading towards the first time check at 6 km. The fastest finisher is now Aitor Garmendia (Team Bianchi) who knocked 2 seconds off Pugaci's time for a time of 27'51. Interestingly, Garmendia was 40 seconds slower than Pugaci at 6 km, demonstrating the importance of not blowing yourself up early in a mountain time trial.

Garmendia's time doesn't last long though, as one of the ONCE men, Mikel Pradera comes across in 27'29.

15:19 CEST    
Millar is through the 6 km check in 13'55, 33 seconds quicker than Pugaci's mark, and on track for a 26:something at the finish.

15:28 CEST    
Fabrizio Guidi has just left the start house in S. Lorenzo del Escroial, ready for 30 minutes of pain. Most riders are choosing to use standard road bikes for this TT, no special time trial equipment which adds weight to the bike.

Parts of the course are cobbled too, which partially explains the slower than expected times. Climbing on cobbles is not easy.

15:30 CEST    
Here comes Millar, also riding a standard bike with no aero helmet, and finishing in a time of 26'17, over a minute faster than Pradera. Millar is usually a good benchmark for time trials, so we'll see what the pure climbers end up with.

15:37 CEST    
Toni Tauler (Kelme) is home in 27'11, which will give him the second best time behind Millar.

The first part of the climb is cobbled, which combined with the very steep gradients will make for a very tough beginning.

15:41 CEST    
Bobby Julich comes through in 28'23, looking quite relaxed. But still good enough for 9th best so far.

15:47 CEST    
Angelo Lopeboselli (Cofidis) has caught his minute man in the last kilometre and finishes in a time of 27'54 (8th place). Parts of this climb are very technical, with narrow roads, cobbles and plenty of corners. The cobbled start is particularly tough and many riders are having difficulty taking the corners hard.

15:52 CEST    
Levi Leipheimer is now under way, looking fairly smooth on the drops as he negotiates the first section. In front of him is Santi Blanco (Relax) who is taking it a bit easier and smiling at the motobike.

Fabrizio Guidi has ridden very well, finishing in 27'18, third fastest and not at all bad for a sprinter.

Juan Miguel Mercado has left now.

15:54 CEST    
Fabian Jeker (Milaneza) is hammering, having knocked 38 seconds off Millar's time at the 6 km check! If he can hold this he'll definitely go under 26 minutes, possibly under 25...

16:00 CEST    
Floyd Landis comes home in a good time of 27'14, for third fastest. He certainly pushed himself, and has been riding very well in the last few days.

Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel) has also gone quite quick to the 6 km check, crossing in 13'36 for second fastest behind Jeker.

16:02 CEST    
Carlos Garcia Quesada (Kelme), who looked very relaxed and happy at the start, now looks to be in a bit of pain as he finishes in a fraction under 28 minutes for the 12th fastest time.

16:05 CEST    
Fabian Jeker has done a very good ride to finish in 25'23, nearly a minute faster than Millar and looking like a very good time for this course.

16:08 CEST    
Levi Leipheimer has gone through the 6 km check in 13:53, third best behind Jeker and Laiseka.

Angel Vicioso (ONCE) is now home in a time of 27'35, for 7th so far.

Roberto Heras is warming up, looking very focused and calm.

16:10 CEST    
Laiseka comes in with the second best time of 25'40, 17 seconds slower than Jeker. Not a bad effort from the lanky Euskaltel rider.

16:16 CEST    
Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Kelme) has just left, meaning that there are 33 riders to come. Carlos Sastre (CSC) is in front of him, hammering up the cobbled wall at the start cheered on by a big crowd.

Levi Leipheimer, still in the drops and looking smooth, is home in a time of 25'56, which will give him third fastest behind Jeker and Laiseka. A much better finish to the Vuelta for Leipheimer than the start.

16:24 CEST    
Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com) has just set off for his ride, using a perfectly standard bike as are all the other riders. He finds a smooth section in the first cobbled part, and has the big chainring in action.

16:28 CEST    
Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo) starts his ride, and looks as though he means business. Meanwhile, Carlos Sastre is past the 6 km check in 13'45, third fastest.

The leader is still Fabian Jeker with 25'23, followed by Laiseka at 17 seconds and Leipheimer at 33 seconds.

16:32 CEST    
Jose Luis Rebollo (Relax) has given it everything, and comes across in a time of 26'40, 6th fastest. Now it's the turn of Iker Flores (Euskaltel) to start. Like many riders, he chooses to ride with his sunglasses on his forehead. It's not sunny today so there's no real need for shades.

16:38 CEST    
Felix Garcia Casas (Bianchi) is now on his way, followed by Txema Del Olmo (Milaneza). Both are top 20 GC riders, and will not be taking it easy today.

16:42 CEST    
Carlos Sastre finishes in 26'14, for fourth best time so far. Meanwhile, Marcos Serrano (ONCE), who has played a very big role in keeping Nozal out of too much trouble, has started his ride. Despite all his work, Serrano is still placed 14th on GC.

Claus Moller (Milaneza) is home in 26'47 for 9th.

Oscar Sevilla (Kelme) has now started.

16:44 CEST    
Constantino Zaballa (Kelme) has ridden well too, finishing in 26'32 for 6th place provisionally.

16:47 CEST    
Michele Scarponi (Domina) has just started, as the 11th best rider on GC. He is chasing his teammate Santos Gonzalez, who is only 30 seconds behind him on GC.

16:50 CEST    
As mountains champion Felix Cardenas starts, iBanesto's Aitor Osa comes home in a time of 26'18, just slower than Millar for 6th best time.

Cardenas is now on the cobbles at the foot of the climb, in the small ring, nagivating his way through the crowds.

16:51 CEST    
Piepoli is a bit quicker than his teammate Osa, finishing in 26'17, just a second faster.

Dario Frigo is now home in 25'42, third fastest time and 19 seconds slower than Jeker.

16:55 CEST    
The seventh rider on GC, Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) has set off very quickly, and is looking for a good time today to try and move up to 5th on GC. He'll need a minute on both Beltran and Mancebo to do that.

16:57 CEST    
Oscar Sevilla is past the intermediate check in 13'57, which is 40 seconds slower than Jeker at the same point. Yesterday must have taken it out of Sevilla, who has been riding well of late.

Manuel Beltran is now on his way, and is one of the few riders with a pair of clip on bars. He won't have much of a chance to use them though.

Santos Gonzalez (Domina) has taken the first 6 km well, passing in 13'38 for third fastest. Meanwhile, Francesco Mancebo starts at a fairly measured pace.

17:01 CEST    
Scarponi has lost 53 seconds to Jeker and more than 30 seconds to Santos Gonzalez at the 6 km mark, meaning that he may lose his 11th place on GC to his teammate.

Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) is now on his way. Just three riders to come: Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, Roberto Heras and Isidro Nozal.

Cardenas is past 6 km in 13'28, 11 seconds slower than Jeker who has the top time so far.

17:02 CEST    
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano sets off with a big effort, and will try and keep his podium spot from Valverde's clutches. He can afford to lose a minute to the Kelme rider. He appears to have a very small front wheel too, but that may be an illusion caused by the frame.

Now we have Roberto Heras - standard bike, no cap or sunglasses. Let's see what he can do today.

17:06 CEST    
Isidro Nozal mounts up in the starting house, clad in a gold skinsuit and dark glasses. He too doesn't have a cap. He crosses himself, then sets off for the ride of his life (again). He does have a following car, but Manolo Saiz is of course not in it after his expusion yesterday.

Igor tackles the steepest 17 percent section where there are huge crowds. He looks comfortable though and is in a small gear.

17:08 CEST    
Sevilla has ridden better in the second half, finishing in 26'06 for 5th best time.

Heras is over the steepest section now, just as Nozal is suffering up it. Many people are cheering Nozal as he nears the top.

Santos Gonzalez is home in a time of 25'30 for second best. He'll surely take 11th from Scarponi on GC.

17:11 CEST    
Nozal is out of the saddle nearly the whole way on this steep section, which is very tough. He takes a drink at the top, then hits the downhill section where he can recover a bit.

Heras is flying though, and is on track for a good time it looks like.

17:13 CEST    
Heras gives it everything as he approaches the halfway check. He has taken 14 seconds out of Nozal already, but will probably need more than that.

Felix Cardenas finishes in 25'22, beating Jeker's time! Cardenas is the new leader provisionally.

17:16 CEST    
After 3 km, Nozal has lost 30" to Heras. Well, he doesn't want to lose any more than that per kilometre! Nozal is looking smooth though, and pedalling a small gear.

Heras is now on the downhill before the 6 km mark.

17:18 CEST    
After four kilometres, Nozal is 38 seconds behind Heras, who has gone out very hard in this TT.

Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano is past the 6 km check in 14'29 for 36th place. He is in danger of losing his podium spot to Valverde.

Heras is past 6 km in 13'26, not the quickest time but faster than Cardenas at the same point.

17:20 CEST    
Nozal is 47 seconds down on Heras after 5 km. The boy's going to cut it fine... He certainly won't win this time trial.

He is past 6 km in 14'17, which is 51 seconds slower than Heras. He has a just over a minute left of his GC lead.

Rasmussen is home in 26'50, which will put him in the top 30.

17:23 CEST    
Nozal is now 1 minute behind Heras with 3 km to go. He can't panic now, but he's got to give it everything over this final part of the climb. Heras is pulling away all the time.

17:25 CEST    
Heras has caught Igor Gonzalez! That's a 2 minute gap, and that must give him confidence. Heras has 2 km to go and is suffering a bit.

Nozal is keeping his cadence low as he tackles the steeper parts of this seemingly endless climb.

17:26 CEST    
Valverde has crossed in 25'22, fractions of a second faster than Cardenas! An awesome ride. He will take the podium place from Igor.

Heras is now 1'23 in front of Nozal!

17:28 CEST    
Heras is flying! He's now 1'40 in front with less than 1 km to go. What an awesome ride. Nozal is fading, and could well lose the Vuelta.

17:29 CEST    
Heras finishes in a time of 25'08 which will win him the stage. And the Vuelta?

17:30 CEST    
Nozal is suffering big time, and is now 1'55 behind Heras. That's the critical time!

Nozal is finished. He'll lose the Vuelta by 20 seconds it looks like.

17:32 CEST    
Nozal puts it in a massive gear with 500m to go and tries to get some speed going. There's nothing left in the tank and he's losing buckets of time. He'll be 2'30 behind at the end.

17:34 CEST    
Nozal is finally home in 27'31, totally knackered and totally beaten. Heras wins his second Vuelta. What an incredible finish. Nozal was clearly at the end of his strength in this final week. Once again, the leadership of the Vuelta changes hands in the final time trial.

In the general classification, Heras now has 28 seconds lead over Nozal, with Valverde moving into third ahead of Igor. It can only be described as a disastrous day for ONCE.

It can also be described as a great day for US Postal, which has (effectively) won both of the grand tours this year it has contested. And finally Heras gets his reward after several years of hard work for Lance Armstrong in the Tour. It was again a remarkable ride by him today.

Thanks for following this very exciting stage with us. Tomorrow will be a calmer affair, a 145 km stage around Madrid which should end in a bunch sprint. Interestingly, Alejandro Valverde has taken the points jersey from Erik Zabel by a single point - what can he do tomorrow?


1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                    25.08
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca                   0.14
3 Felix Cardenas (Col) Labarca-2-Café Baqué                         
4 Fabian Jeker (Swi) Milaneza-MSS                               0.15
5 Santos Gonzalez (Spa) Domina Vacanze-Elitron                  0.22
6 Roberto Laiseka (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                       0.32
7 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                               0.34
8 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Rabobank                                0.48
9 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca                        0.58
10 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com                                  1.03

General classification after stage 20

1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                 65.40.33
2 Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                            0.28
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca                   2.25
4 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski               3.27

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