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58th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 6-28, 2003

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Stage 21 - Sunday, September 28: Madrid - Madrid, 145.8km

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: 13:52 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST

14:18 CEST    
Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the final stage of the Vuelta a España, the last grand tour of the 2003 season. After three weeks of racing and a varied parcours, the Vuelta gives a nod to tradition by offering a more ceremonial road stage to wrap things up. Madrid will once more host the final day of racing, which will conclude with eight laps of a finishing circuit in the center city. Almost certainly a stage for the sprinters, the Madrid stage will offer fans repeated glimpses of the race, whose overall classification will have been set after the previous day's mountain time trial.

And what a time trial it was. Roberto Heras absolutely dominated the uphill test, taking an incredible 2'23 out of Nozal in the 11.2km hill climb. Heras steadily chipped away at Nozal's lead over the last week of the Vuelta, and by the end of the week Nozal and his ONCE team had all but fallen apart. With a Vuelta victory for Heras, US Postal Service has accomplished the rare feat of two grand tour wins in a single season but with different riders.

This is the third year in a row that the Vuelta has been decided in the final or penultimate stage, which has been a time trial. This year is a sweet revenge for Heras, who last year lost his overall lead to a storming Aitor Gonzalez in the final stage.

14:30 CEST    
In the pre-race sign in, the ONCE-Eroski and iBanesto.com teams exchanged jerseys as a special gesture for Spanish cycling at the end of the Vuelta. For both teams, which lose their title sponsors at the end of this season, the final Vuelta has been an important event. Unfortunately for ONCE, the team's grip on the race, which it controlled since day 1, eroded in the final days and US Postal's Roberto Heras has emerged on top as the winner of the Vuelta. Nonetheless, the team put in a strong performance, and despite his weakening in the final days, Isidro Nozal emerged as a likely contender for grand tours to come.

As for the racing, the peloton has started slowly, enjoying warm sunshine and the festive atmosphere of the final day of racing.

14:53 CEST    
The mood was relaxed and pleasant at the start of today's final stage, and Roberto Heras looked satisfied alongside team director Johan Bruyneel. Today's race will, like the final stage of the Tour de France, will most likely be one for the sprinters, and the two top men of this year's race have been Alessandro Petacchi and Erik Zabel.

Zabel was leading the points classification, but lost his polka dot jersey to Kelme's Alejandro Valverde, who rode a great time trial yesterday and also moved himself into third overall. He only leads Zabel by one point, however, and Petacchi is not far behind, so the points jersey is certainly still up for grabs.

14:56 CEST    29 km/116.8 km to go
Speaking of the points race, Telekom has just given Erik Zabel a perfect leadout and he's taken the first intermediate sprint. Valverde was third behind Telekom's Wesemann, and gave Zabel a pat on the back after the sprint.

Now that the racing is on, US Postal has moved to the front to keep race leader Roberto Heras out of trouble.

15:07 CEST    
With the second sprint coming up just 10km after the first, the pace remains high and the peloton is stretched out heading for the next chance to pick up valuable points.

15:12 CEST    37.8 km/108 km to go
Erik Zabel has taken the second intermediate sprint, and is the leader of the points classification on the road. US Postal leads the field now, which has slowed considerably now that the first two sprints are taken care of. The third sprint will come at kilometre 79.

15:23 CEST    
It's all smiles for US Postal as the peloton continues to amble along. Heras' teammates are sharing in their job well done up front, while the race leader hangs back a bit.

The first hour of racing was run at an average speed of just 30 km/h.

15:33 CEST    48.8 km/97 km to go
Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2-Café Baque) seemed to do a bit of a helmet swap but opted to stick with their own brands... Cardenas today will take home the orange jersey for best climber of the 2003 Vuelta, and looks forward to more big results in Europe having moved to Labarca 2 from the Colombian Orbitel 05 team prior to the Vuelta.

15:41 CEST    
Isidro Nozal, leader until yesterday afternoon, has decided he's not done yet... He's "attacked" alone and moved clear of the peloton, though it's hard to believe this move is going anywhere... US Postal naturally picks up the pace a bit behind, but Nozal is not serious, and isn't really persisting.

15:45 CEST    
Needless to say Nozal's little escape didn't last long, it was more a chance for some TV time than a real attack. Or more appropriately, a chance to heed the call of nature.

In the pack Alejandro Valverde is smiling and chatting away, content with the knowledge that third place overall is his even if he loses his points jersey back to Erik Zabel.

15:50 CEST    
Now it's back to team duty for Isidro Nozal, who drifts back to the ONCE team car to fetch some bidons for his teammates.

16:02 CEST    
It's still status quo in the peloton, which is riding a bit faster but definitely not racing. The Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada team is taking a turn at the front, enjoying its turn at the head of the field and in front of the cameras. The team is finishing the Vuelta in its entirety.

16:10 CEST    75.8 km/70 km to go
Cyclingnews spoke with Kelme's Oscar Sevilla before the start today to get his thoughts on what began as a very difficult Vuelta with a crash early in the first week. "We've ended up well, happy that we got in the podium (Alejandro Valverde)," Sevilla said. "As for me, I'm satisfied and content after what happened to me (in Santander).”

"I'm happy with Alejandro's third place," he added. "We all have been working. I think we are all satisfied after the positive results. This year has been different because of my bad luck. At the end things improved; I hope I can get a victory before the end of the season."

16:19 CEST    
Cyclingnews also asked CSC director Bjarne Riis for his thoughts on the Vuelta.

"It's been an interesting Vuelta for sure, especially yesterday which was a big spectacle," Riis said. "It was not great for us because we didn’t get the results that we wanted. We have hoped Carlos (Sastre) could have done better in the classification, but he was sick with a fever and bronchitis in the Pyrenees. It was not possible for Sastre to do anything and, of course, that hurt the team a lot."

Riis nonetheless is content with the team's season overall. "Of course the Tour was better than the Vuelta for us," he explained. "I think that with the team we have, we had a very good season. In the spring we did very well with (Tyler) Hamilton and in the Tour with the whole team as well. I think that was more than we could ask for our team. I’ve already got good riders (for next year). I will have Basso and Jaksche, so I will have a good team for next year."

16:22 CEST    75 km/70.8 km to go
The race is passing through Fuenlabrada, naturally with the Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada riding in the first positions and making a good showing. Soon the pace will begin to pick up again as the race approaches the third intermediate sprint.

16:34 CEST    79 km/66.8 km to go
Telekom has moved to the front, along with its leader Erik Zabel, preparing for the intermediate sprint. The pace picks up dramatically and a Kelme rider tries to get into the mix to complicate matters for Zabel. Valverde's nowhere to be seen, however.

Zabel looks set to take an easy sprint, but in fact the Kelme rider (Antonio Tauler) snatches the points ahead of the German.

16:44 CEST    
Madrid is on the horizon and the race is unlikely to slow down at this point. Although Petacchi and Zabel are the obvious favourites for a sprint win, there are in fact a number of riders who could challenge, including Valverde but also Angel Edo (Milaneza), Tom Boonen (Quick.Step), and Angelo Furlan (Alessio), among others.

16:49 CEST    
Two riders will finish their 10th Vuelta today: Felix Garcia Casas (Bianchi) and Francisco Cabello (Kelme). They share the honour of most Vuelta finishes among the riders still in the race.

16:54 CEST    
The first real attack of the day (if you could call it that) comes from a Paternina rider, who tries to start a move but gets all of about 10 metres on the field, led now by US Postal. One of the Postal riders applauds him (in a seemingly mocking fashion) as he's caught.

16:58 CEST    
As the race hits the streets of downtown Madrid, the crowds are quite large on the sides of the wide boulevards. There is talk of shortening the length of today's stage (by skipping one of the finishing circuits) due to the incredibly slow pace thus far.

US Postal has picked up the pace considerably now, stretching the field out behind.

17:01 CEST    105 km/40.8 km to go
Benoit Joachim takes a long pull for US Postal before flicking his elbow and signalling for a teammate to take over as the peloton heads for the first passage of the finish line. Matt White now takes up the charge.

17:04 CEST    
Sevilla has punctured and is now forced to chase among the team cars to get back onto the back of the field. He's found a few teammates waiting to help him back, which is not so simple because of the tight U-turns in the final circuit.

A Labarca 2 rider has jumped clear and is now putting in the first attack on the finishing circuits, passing under the finish line with seven laps to go.

17:06 CEST    
It's Cesar Garcia Calvo who's gone clear, and for the moment he's going well with a modest advantage over the US Postal-led field. USPS is riding single file, however, and looks eager to keep the race under its control.

17:09 CEST    
Garcia Calvo is caught and it's the Telekom and Fassa Bortolo teams that take over at the head of the field.

17:13 CEST    
Paternina's Carlos Ramon Golbano attacks with six laps of the circuit to go and holds a 200m advantage over the peloton, but it doesn't last too long and he's swept up by the field.

17:18 CEST    
The next attack comes from Cofidis' Luis Perez, along with Simone Masciarelli of Saunier Duval. The pace is too high, however, and after several minutes they're pulled back once more.

17:21 CEST    119.8
With five laps left there is no one team controlling the race now, disrupted a bit by the last few attacks. The pace is still fairly fast and the field is stretched out on the long straightaway.

Time for another attack, nonetheless, and Alessio's Alessandro Bertolini puts in a powerful acceleration. He's joined by iBanesto's José Vicente Garcia Acosta.

17:26 CEST    
Four laps to go and the breaks aren't sticking under the pressure of the main field. Three riders have a slight advantage but the chances of staying away are slim.

17:29 CEST    
Unai Etxebarria, Bekim Christensen and Carlos Golbano were away but are about to be caught by the field, dangling some 30 metres off the front.

Phonak is leading the charge in the peloton with two men on front and some Fassa Bortolo men just behind.

17:33 CEST    130 km/15.8 km to go
Erik Zabel can be seen about 15 riders back, up front but not too close to the action just yet. Fassa Bortolo takes over at the front with two riders. The 180 degree turns, despite the wide roads, do a good job of disrupting the pacemakeing by certain teams, and out of each turn new attacks begin.

Domina Vacanze's Gianpaolo Mondini attacks with three laps to go and goes clear by himself, but it's tough for anyone to get more than a few seconds advantage.

17:37 CEST    
Mondini, Italian national time trial champion, resisted for a bit, but in due time has been pulled back by the field.

17:39 CEST    
Bobby Julich takes a pull for Telekom as yet another rider tries to break clear on the right side of the road. A Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada rider tries his luck, but he doesn't get very far.

The last lap was ridden at just over 51 km/h.

Two laps of the circuit to go.

17:42 CEST    
CSC is helping set the pace, perhaps thinking of Michael Sandstod for a late attack. Behind Telekom and Fassa Bortolo are steadily winding up the field for Zabel and Petacchi.

Giovanni Lombardi (Domina Vacanze) tries an attack and gets a small gap.

17:44 CEST    
The entire field is stretched out now as the finish draws near. The day's first attacker, Cesar Garcia Calvo, is hanging onto the back of the long line.

The pace is indeed picking up, and the previous lap was run at 52.5 km/h. The riders at the back are destined to stay there as positioning becomes increasingly important (and difficult) to maintain.

17:45 CEST    
The race is heading into the last lap as Alessio tries to get into the mix at the front for its man Furlan. Telekom has Mario Aerts on the front now working for Zabel, who has moved into about 5th position right near Petacchi.

17:47 CEST    140.8 km/5 km to go
The Vuelta is in the final lap of the finishing circuit and the pace has eased just slightly thanks to a break in the rhythm up front. The sprinters' teams are getting it back together though and winding things up with about 5km to go.

17:48 CEST    
Quick.Step's David Canada has taken advantage of the lull and launched an attack, but he's quickly caught by the Telekom and Fassa Bortolo teams.

17:50 CEST    
The pace is up to 54 km/h as Fassa Bortolo has four riders pacing Petacchi, with Zabel just on his wheel. Serguei Ivanov is the last one in the train before Petacchi. One man pulls off and the train is now three ahead of Petacchi.

17:51 CEST    
Bianchi is moving up in the ranks for Fabrizio Guidi, and Fred Rodriguez is also trying to get in the action for Saunier Duval. Furlan is also present, along with Tom Boonen.

Fassa Bortolo has disappeared from the front as a number of teams try to position themselves for the win.

17:52 CEST    144.8 km/1 km to go
Final kilometre and Lombardi puts in another acceleration as Fassa Bortolo and Telekom try to get back into the front positions.

17:53 CEST    
Fassa Bortolo is looking for Petacchi. Several riders, Zabel included, are a bit boxed in as the sprint begins.

Zabel comes around the right side and gets past several riders with an impressive burst of speed, but he can't quite catch Petacchi, who powers to his fifth stage victory! Fred Rodriguez comes in third.


1 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                   3.51.18
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Telekom                      
3 Fred Rodriguez (USA) Saunier Duval-Vini Caldirola
4 Alexandre Usov (Blr) Phonak
5 Angel Edo (Spa) Milaneza-MSS                 

Final general classification
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                 
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
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com                         4.47
6 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                   5.51
7 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                             5.56
8 Felix Cardenas (Col) Labarca-2-Café Baqué                    6.33
9 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com                                  6.51
10 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone           7.56

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