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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    Results

Stage 7 - Friday, September 12: Huesca - Cauterets (France), 190km

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: 12:30 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:30 CEST

14:26 CEST    
Welcome back for Cyclingnews' live coverage of Stage 7 of the Vuelta a España. The first week is just about finished, and ONCE remains in control of the general classification as the race heads into the Pyrénées mountains.

Four categorised climbs are on the menu today, including the Alto de Monrepos (Cat. 2), Alto del Portalet (Cat. 2), Col d'Aubisque (HC), and the climb to Cauterets-Cam Basque (Cat. 1). The race makes an incursion into France, and the four climbs will no doubt cause some damage in the peloton. Recovery will be the key, both during this stage but also from the previous day's effort. Not only is this the hardest stage yet, it is also the longest since the beginning of the Vuelta.

Yesterday's individual time trial saw Isidro Nozal defend his race lead perfectly, with the added bonus of winning the stage. Nozal beat David Millar by 1'20, and leads the general classification ahead of ONCE-Eroski teammate Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano and US Postal's Manuel Beltran. Today's first mountaintop finish will be an important indicator of who is likely to go the distance in this year's Vuelta.

14:40 CEST    88 km/102 km to go
The race situation after two hours on the road is as follows: A group of 10 riders is 50" ahead of the main field, and a few minutes ago the break has just gone through the intermediate sprint at Escarrilla. Oscar Pereiro took the sprint ahead of Joan Horrach and Fabrizio Guidi.

The full composition of the break is: Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Joan Horrach (Milaneza-MSS), Fabrizio Guidi (Bianchi), José Jufre (Colchon Relax-Fuenlabrada), José Vicente Garcia Acosta (iBanesto.com), José Luis Rubiera (US Postal), Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank), Francisco Cabello (Kelme-Costa Blanca), and Jan Schaffrath (Telekom).

The break is on the slopes of the second climb of the day, the Alto de Portalet.

14:54 CEST    
The break has changed somewhat but there are still nine riders clear and their advantage is growing as they head up the Alto de Portalet. Rubiera and Schaffrath are gone and Giampaolo Cheula (Saunier Duval-Vini Caldirola) has joined the group.

The gap to the main field is 1'45".

15:07 CEST    93 km/97 km to go
The nine leaders are nearing the summit of the Portalet. The mountain points are actually awarded before the actual summit of this climb. First over the line for the mountain points was Horrach, followed by Jufre and Pereiro. Their gap has continued to go up and the break now has over 2'15 on the peloton.

15:17 CEST    
The break's advantage has already fallen as ONCE takes control of the peloton on the descent of the Portalet. The gap now is 1'50. The next climb, the Aubisque, will probably see some of the first serious attacks.

Up front in the break Garcia Acosta and Pereiro are forcing the pace downhill but have realized that the rest of the break remains just behind.

15:22 CEST    110 km/80 km to go
Two abandons to announce so far today: Massimo Appollonio (Saunier Duval-Vini Caldirola), and Frank Vandenbrouke (Quick.Step-Davitamon). No word yet on why VDB packed it in.

The race has started very quickly today, with an average speed over 40km/h for the first two hours, and now the descent of the Portalet is being taken very quickly.

The gap from the break to the peloton is 1'53. ONCE is in complete control at the head of the field, with both Gonzalez de Galdeano and race leader Nozal being well protected by their teammates.

15:31 CEST    126 km/64 km to go
As ONCE continues to set the pace in the main field, several riders are dangling off the back as the race heads uphill once again. The race is on the lower slopes of the Aubisque.

Concerning Frank Vandenbroucke, directeur sportif Serge Parsani explains that he has been suffering the past few days and does not have the fitness necessary to keep pace. Parsani said he considered it both a physical and mental problem, implying that VDB could have stayed in the race and ridden into better form. He was not certain what the implications would be for the rest of the season and specifically the world championships.

15:34 CEST    
The main field is essentially intact heading up the Aubisque, but Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2-Café Baque) has jumped clear in an effort to catch the break and try to save his king of the mountains jersey.

Jörg Jaksche continues, as usual, to set the pace for ONCE, while at the back some groups are now beginning to split off, with points leader and double stage winner Alessandro Petacchi one of the early casualties.

15:40 CEST    
Cabello and Garcia Acosta are both losing contact with the lead group. Cheula is the next to start drifting backwards, though he's keeping the distance close for the moment.

Quick.Step's Kurt Van de Wouwer is trying to attack the main field.

15:46 CEST    
Both Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano are looking good at the head of the main peloton, though the ONCE ranks are thinning somewhat in front.

Cardenas has succeeded in bridging the gap to the leaders as the lead group continues to redefine itself. Guidi has just been dropped and we're down to five riders in the lead: Pereiro, Jimenez, Horrach, Cardenas, and Jufre.

Horrach is starting to have some trouble.

US Postal's Chechu Rubiera is having trouble keeping pace in the main field. The USPS team will be interesting to watch, as Manuel Beltran currently sits ahead of Roberto Heras on GC. Beltran is a good all around rider, and certainly a better time trial rider than Heras, but their positions on the GC could change quickly depending on Heras' form in the high mountains.

15:49 CEST    
Some quesions may soon be answered... Luis Perez (Cofidis), winner of stage 2, has attacked the main field. Beltran tried to get his wheel but was unable, so it was Heras who took up the chase, pulling a small group clear.

Heras' acceleration has not yet prompted a big reaction from ONCE, but with others like Francisco Mancebo in the move, ONCE won't let them go far.

Only Pereiro and Cardenas are left up front as the early break has completely fallen apart.

15:53 CEST    132 km/58 km to go
Heras may be making a good move, as Gonzalez de Galdeano is down to one teammate with him and Nozal is not to be seen at the head of the first chase group.

Heras' group is catching the two leaders (Cardenas and Pereiro). The US Postal leader continues to force the pace with a group of about 8 riders, including Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen.

ONCE's Jose Azevedo is leading the chase with Gonzalez de Galdeano, with Manuel Beltran just behind for US Postal.

15:55 CEST    
The new lead group includes, among others, Heras, Perez, Pereiro, Scarponi (Domina Vacanze), Rasmussen, and Cardenas. The gap to the ONCE group is 38". Nozal is indeed still in the second group, riding several places down from Azevedo and Gonzalez de Galdeano.

16:00 CEST    135 km/55 km to go
The leaders are heading into the mist as they climb higher up the Aubisque. Pereiro is having trouble at the back of the group but is hanging on. Alejandro Valverde is in the move for Kelme, and Aitor Osa for iBanesto.com.

David Etxebarria (Euskaltel-Euskadi) has just attacked the first chase group. Gorka Gonzalez has just bridged up to his teammate so there are now two Euskaltel riders chasing the leaders.

Heras continues to force the pace up front and the break now has 55" over the group of race leader Nozal.

16:09 CEST    138 km/52 km to go
The leaders have just passed the summit of the Col d'Aubisque with 1'04 on the chase group. The two most dangerous riders up front are Roberto Heras, leader of US Postal, and Cofidis' Luis Perez, who could emerge as a podium contender if he keeps up his good form.

16:15 CEST    146 km/44 km to go
Just to clarify, the break includes the following riders: Roberto Heras, Luis Perez, Michael Rasmussen, Aitor Osa, Michele Scarponi, Alejandro Valverde, Txema Del Olmo, and Oscar Pereiro.

Cardenas has been distanced a bit on the descent of the Aubisque but is not far behind and should close the gap. In fact, Cardenas had crashed earlier on the descent but obvsiouly did not suffer any serious damage. The descent was a dangerous one, with a lot of fog and some wet roads.

The gap is still over a minute back to Nozal's group as the leaders hit the beginning of the short Col de Soulour.

16:19 CEST    
Aitor Gonzalez, defending Vuelta champion, has attacked the main field and is finally looking good in this year's race as he tries to bridge to the leaders. Meanwhile, race leader Nozal has- true to his word- started to put himself back in the role of teammate and is helping pace Gonzalez de Galdeano and the chase group. They have some work to do, however, because Heras' group still has over a minute on this very dangerous stage.

16:25 CEST    
Aitor Gonzalez has been pulled back by Gonzalez de Galdeano, who is also taking responsibility for the chase of the Heras group. ONCE's grip on the stage has disappeared, and though the gap is not too large now, Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano have found themselves somewhat isolated and on the wrong end of an important split.

On the descent of the Soulour the conditions are improving as the leaders continue to press ahead, but their gap is shrinking, down now to 51" ahead of the Nozal group.

16:32 CEST    159 km/31 km to go
Isidro Nozal, leader of the Vuelta, is heading the chase once again for the leaders caught out by Heras' move. Slowly but surely ONCE is cutting down the advantage, which is now around 48".

Manuel Beltran is still present for US Postal in the chase group, along with CSC's Carlos Sastre, and a host of iBanesto riders including Francisco Mancebo, Unai Osa, and Leonardo Piepoli.

Del Olmo has dropped out of the lead group. David Etxebarria, who for a while now has been stuck in no man's land between the break and the chase, is drifting back to the chase since he was unable to bridge to the leaders.

16:35 CEST    
The chase group continues to force the ONCE duo of Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano to do all the work as they try to catch the leaders before the final climb to Cauterets. Nozal is on the radio seeking advice from team director Manolo Saiz as Gonzalez de Galdeano returns to second position after a short pull.

16:44 CEST    
On the long and fast descent, Aitor Osa and Michael Rasmussen have broken clear of the first group. As the road finally flattens out they have a good gap on the lead group and are truly forcing the pace before the final climb of the day. They have 43" on the chasters.

The rest of the lead group is down to just a few riders. Heras is back in the first chase group but Perez, Cardenas, and Valverde are still clear with 57" over Nozal's group, which has picked up two more ONCE riders.

16:50 CEST    175 km/15 km to go
Osa and Rasmussen are working together but starting to look a bit strained as they try to open up as big a gap as possible before the final climb.

The previous break has in fact come back into the fold, but just as quickly a new chase group has formed behind the lead duo and ahead of the Nozal group (which now contains Heras). Currently chasing the leaders are Iñigo Cuesta (Cofidis), Santos Gonzalez (Domina Vacanze), Felix Cardenas (Labarca 2), Gorka Gonzalez (Euskaltel), Leonardo Piepoli (iBanesto), and José Gutierrez (Kelme).

Rasmussen and Osa have 1'10 on the chasers, who themselves are 21" ahead of the Nozal/Heras group. The two leaders are on the foot of the climb to Cauterets. The helmets are off... and the race is on.

16:55 CEST    
Felix Cardenas, who's been on the attack all day, is flying up the climb with three riders on his wheel, chasing the two leaders. Cardenas is with Gorka Gonzalez, Leonardo Piepoli, and Carlos Garcia Quesada.

The peloton is still being led by ONCE, with two riders ahead of their leaders Nozal and Gonzalez de Galdeano. US Postal's Beltran is on Galdeano's wheel, but Heras is sitting closer to the back of the group, which is perhaps 20-25 riders strong.

The peloton is starting to close in on the middle group led by Cardenas.

16:56 CEST    178 km/12 km to go
Rasmussen has dropped Aitor Osa with 12km to go! Michael "Chicken" Rasmussen is going for it now, and still has over a minute in hand over the peloton.

17:00 CEST    180 km/10 km to go
The cards are on the table now. Luis Perez has started a move which only race leader Isidro Nozal and Manuel Beltran can follow. Beltran is a dangerous rider, sitting just seconds behind Gonzalez de Galdeano on general classification. The race is starting to explode behind. Some good news for Kelme, however, as Oscar Sevilla is testing his legs and looking to be on the mend from his injuries.

Rasmussen continues to lead up front with 10km to go, but the hardest part of the climb still to come.

Nozal has dropped off the pace behind Beltran and Perez.

17:03 CEST    181 km/9 km to go
Rasmussen is still looking good with fewer than 10km to race. He's on a flat portion now, pushing the big chainring and looking for time.

Sevilla is going well, but Nozal is going backwards, and the two are crossing paths. In front of them Perez and Beltran continue to chase Rasmussen.

17:09 CEST    183 km/7 km to go
Rasmussen has 1'02 on Perez and Beltran, and 1'23 on the peloton. He's still in with a shot at victory but the steepest part of the climb is just around the corner, with percentages up to 10%.

The crowds are enthusiastic through Cauterets and the weather is in France is cooperating with the Vuelta.

Heras is in third position in the peloton, behind the omnipresent ONCE riders.

17:10 CEST    
Quick.Step's Kurt Van de Wouwer, still in with the favourites in the peloton, has launched his own attack. Teammate Virenque was in trouble early today, so Kurt is trying to give a good show for Quick.Step, which also lost Vandenbroucke in the early hours of racing.

17:13 CEST    
Iker Flores (Euskaltel) is the next to attack the peloton, but he's gone nowhere quickly. Next up, king of the mountains Cardenas, who gets a gap but must be tired after a long day of aggressive riding to try to keep his jersey.

17:16 CEST    
Roberto Heras puts in a strong acceleration to catch Cardenas, with Gonzalez de Galdeano (and the rest of the group) on his wheel. Just as he catches Cardenas, the Labarca rider attacks again.

Aitor Gonzalez is just off the back of the group of favourites, which looks to be getting smaller. Race leader Nozal has been dropped and is around 30" back, but Gonzalez de Galdeano is still in contact with Heras and the rest. Other team leaders in trouble are Carlos Sastre and Oscar Sevilla.

17:20 CEST    188 km/2 km to go
Michael Rasmussen is holding off the chase quite well and is within the final 2km. The riders in the peloton (which is really a group of around ten riders) appear to be watching each other more than chasing, which bodes well for Rasmussen.

Rasmussen still has a minute in hand ahead of Beltran and Perez.

17:22 CEST    189 km/1 km to go
Out of the saddle and on a faster false flat, Rasmussen is digging deep for the stage win. He's under the red kite of 1km to go.

Behind, Cardenas has joined Beltran and Perez.

17:23 CEST    
Rasmussen is set for the stage win, and Beltran is racing for the overall lead. He's put in an acceleration to test the legs of Cardenas and Perez.

17:25 CEST    
Rasmussen salvages a poor start for Rabobank and salutes the crowd to celebrate his victory. Just over five hours of racing .

Cardenas jumps clear in search of second place on the stage, chased by Beltran. Cardenas gets it, and in the process more king of the mountains points. Beltran comes in a few seconds later, ahead of Perez and Unai Osa, who has put in a fast few kilometres.

Dario Frigo also comes in, moving up in the general classification.

17:27 CEST    
Nozal looks to have saved his race lead from Manuel Beltran. He's raced well both for his team leader Gonzalez de Galdeano, and for himself after a time trial win yesterday.


1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                            5.01.14
2 Felix Cardenas (Col) Labarca-2-Café Baqué                      0.54 
3 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                     0.58
4 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis, Le Crédit par Téléphone              1.08
5 Unai Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com                                    1.10
6 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo                                1.17
7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com                           1.24
Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                  1.40
Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                               2.45

General classification after stage 7

1 Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                         
2 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor                     0.55
3 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski                1.22

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