59th Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, September 4-26, 2004
Stage 17 - September 22: Plasencia - Estación de Esquí La Covatilla, 169.8
Commentary by Hedwig Kröner, with additional reporting from Martin Hardie
Complete live report
Live coverage starts: 14:30 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST
Welcome back to Cyclingnews Vuelta live coverage. Today's stage is the
17th of this year's loop around Spain, and the riders are getting closer and
closer to Madrid in today's 169.8 km from Plasencia to Estación de Esquí La
Covatilla, a ski resort as the name indicates. Today could be quite decisive,
as there are two nearly identical cat. 1 climbs, Puerto de Piornal and Puerto
de Honduras, one cat. 3 climb to Alto de El Cerro and the special category ascent
to Estación de Esquí La Covatilla to top it off. In between, the riders will
pass three intermediate sprints, at km 19.5 in Tejada de Tietar, at km 114.8
in Hervas and at km 159.6 in Bejar.
The stage went off very fast, and with Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
attacking from the first kilometre, a break of six riders formed: Constantino
Zaballa (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), Volodymir Gustov
(Fassa Bortolo), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak Hearing Systems), José Luis Arrieta
(Illes Balears-Banesto) and Alberto Lopez De Munain (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
After 7 km, the riders already had a one-minute lead, and at km 19.5 in Tejeda
de Tietar, the break was 6.24 in front. The first intermediate sprint there
was won by Tadej Valjavec (Phonak Hearing Systems), followed by Alberto Lopez
De Munain (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and José Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto).
Of course, today's stage is still overshadowed by yesterday's news on Tyler
Hamilton testing positive for blood transfusion. In a press
conference yesterday evening in Zürich, the Phonak rider claimed his innocence.
The Vuelta continues without him since last Friday, when the Phonak rider pulled
out of the race due to stomach problems.
14:27 CEST 30km/140km to go
The six breakaways have extended their lead to 9.33. None of the riders really
can harm the general contenders in any way, as Constantino Zaballa (Saunier
Duval-Prodir) is the best-placed amongst them at 31.05 behind Roberto Heras
(Liberty), bearer of the race's Golden jersey.
14:51 CEST 41km/129km to go
During the first hour, 41.2 kilometres have been covered.
At the start in Plasencia, Cyclingnews' Martin Hardie caught up with
Santi Perez, who feels very confident today: "I am a combative rider... I feel
very strong. Heras will go on the attack today on La Covatilla. He needs to
distance Valverde. Heras is a great climber and he will be racing at home today.
But don't forget Valverde was second in the mountain time trial. I will race
hard today. I put nearly two minutes into Heras on Sierra Nevada and he had
nothing to say. Up until that time Heras had taken time out of us in the two
mountain top finishes and for today that will be the reference. If I can, I
will go with him when he launches his attack. I want to win another one and
La Covatilla is a climb that could be good for me."
14:54 CEST 47km/123km to go
Alberto Ongarato (Fassa Bortolo) has abandoned at the foot of the first cat.
1 climb, Puerto de Piornal.
14:58 CEST 52km/118km to go
At the top of the first category climb, Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), José Luis
Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto) and Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval-Prodir)
take the points in that order. The break still has an 8.55 lead on the peloton.
Cyclingnews' Martin Hardie is at the finish on Covatilla mountain, where
people are streaming up. He reports over 25 degrees in the sunshine.
It's different country from the last few days because it's higher and more fertile.
But the mountain's bare, and one can see all the "km to go" banners sticking
out beside the road as it's zig-zaging up the mountain.
15:10 CEST 79km/91km to go
The break is now starting to ascend the second climb of today, Puerto de Honduras
(cat.1). The peloton is still taking things easy and the gap hasn't changed.
Jan Boven (Rabobank) is the second rider to abandon the race today.
15:19 CEST 89km/81km to go
The bunch's pace does not look relaxed - the field is now stretched as a blue
Liberty train is leading, Jan Hruska taking all the wind in front.
The gap is still 8.52. The second hour of the race is complete, 40.8 km were
15:28 CEST 93km/77km to go
The effort that the Liberty Seguros team is now putting into the race is probably
not so much intended to catch the six breakaways, as none of them is a threat
to Roberto Heras. It is more likely that Manolo Saiz wants to weaken Alejandro
Valverde and his Kelme team even before reaching the final climb up to La Covatilla.
15:31 CEST 95km/75km to go
And this effort has consequences: The pace up this second climb is high, and
the peloton is already close to falling apart. What's more, the road looks bad
which makes it even harder.
The front group has also lost one of its riders: Constantino Zaballa (Saunier
Duval-Prodir) has been left behind, as Volodymir Gustov (Fassa Bortolo) gets
a water bidon from his team car.
Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa) is not with the Liberty group anymore.
Alejandro Valverde is riding beside Vinokourov at the back of the bunch, jersey
wide open. It is hot.
The break is still 6.50 away.
15:40 CEST 96km/74km to go
Heras, Mancebo, Gutierrez are all in front right behind the Libertys. It is
odd to see Valverde at the back of this stretched out group - surrounded by
his teammates. There are about 60 riders in this peloton.
Oscar Sevilla (Phonak) is getting some water bottles from his team car, catching
up with the peloton now. Santi Perez should be there, too, as the pace can't
be that high. Floyd Landis (USPS) is also taking some bidons.
15:49 CEST 97km/73km to go
The five breakaways have reached a little flatter part of the mountain about
3 km to the peak. Behind, Liberty's still leading.
Stefano Garzelli (Caldirola) is also at the back of the bunch.
15:55 CEST 100km/70km to go
Isidro Nozal, at 3.45 from Heras on GC, is condemned to get water at his team
The front men have now reached the top of the second climb, Puerto de Honduras.
Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) is the first up there.
Nacor Burgos and Josep Jufre (Relax-Bergasol) have also called it quits on today's
stage, making it four riders to abandon.
16:02 CEST 102km/68km to go
The front riders are on a wild descent through a forest on narrow road, but
at least they will be able to take a breath and some shade.
The peloton behind them is nearly at the top of the climb now.
16:07 CEST 105km/65km to go
The first three to pass the mountain top are Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), José
Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto) and Alberto Lopez De Munain (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Cardenas effectively takes the mountains jersey from Roberto Heras, who has
another jersey more important to defend today.
16:11 CEST 114km/56km to go
The front five have reached the second intermediate sprint of today in Hervas.
They are on a flat, two-lane road now, while the peloton is chasing down the
16:17 CEST 120km/50km to go
The peloton has reached the second intermediate sprint, which was won 6.48 minutes
ago by Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), Volodymir Gustov (Fassa Bortolo) and Tadej
Valjavec (Phonak Hearing Systems) in that order.
16:22 CEST 120km/50km to go
Cyclingnews' Martin Hardie reports a terrible heat of 33°C at the stage
finish in La Covatilla. And that is still somewhat above the flat part of the
stage where the riders are now. The wind must feel like a hair dryer.
The road surface is still very bad, too.
16:26 CEST 125km/45km to go
Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) is now well inside the bunch and not at the back
anymore. The pack is headed towards the third cat. climb at Alto de El Cerro,
still led by Liberty' Giampaolo Caruso. All the GC contenders are there, preparing
for the final ascent toward the finish in about 30 km.
16:34 CEST 127km/43km to go
The five breakaways do show some signs of fatigue, but are far from giving up
yet. Each of them takes his turn, and they climb the cat. 3 mountain steadily.
Behind, same picture: Liberty's Caruso leading relentlessly. Some Saecos try
to bridge a gap behind for Cunego now, who has a little difficulty.
The fifth rider to abandon today is Brian Vandborg (CSC).
16:39 CEST 128km/42km to go
Some huge puppets on stilts, disguised as witches and wizards, show the way
along the road for the five front men, still ascending bravely as their lead
has grown to 6.45 again.
José Miguel Elias (Relax) is dropped from the bunch.
16:44 CEST 131km/39km to go
At the top of the Alto de El Cerro, Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), José Luis
Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto) and Tadej Valjavec (Phonak Hearing Systems)
take the mountain points in that order. It's far from over, as they are still
The peloton is winding up the mountainside, with some riders in a little difficulty
at the back. The blue Liberty train is still headed by Caruso - he's really
Erki Pütsep (AG2R) has abandoned. That leaves only one rider from the French
team on the Vuelta: Inigo Chaurreau.
16:53 CEST 135km/35km to go
In the town of El Cerro, the bunch is stretched out in the chase.
The front group are already at the foot of the last ascent up towards La Covatilla.
Another rider called it quits: Peio Arreitunandia (Cafes Baque).
17:00 CEST 138km/32km to go
The last 18 km of this stage are very hard: about 1000 metres of altitude difference
from 3 % at the beginning to 10 % at the steepest passages, averaging 5.8 %.
Valverde is lad to the back of the bunch by two teammates. Maybe he's had some
technical problems, maybe he's bluffing. But the big gear he is pushing suggest
17:02 CEST 147km/23km to go
Santi Perez (Phonak) is within the bunch right behind Erik Zabel (T-Mobile),
looking good. Francisco Mancebo's there too.
Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) has attacked out of the
chase group. Is this a message to Liberty from Valverde?
Rodriguez is speeding up the false flat.
20 km to go for the break. They are taking their last bidons from the team cars.
17:14 CEST 149km/21km to go
At the last intermediate sprint in Béjar, Alberto Lopez De Munain (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
takes the points, followed by Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) and José Luis Arrieta
17:17 CEST 150km/20km to go
The climb starts gently with 3 %, but gets tougher each kilometre. The four
breakaways have been in front since km 3, and are starting to look a little
Behind, Rodriguez is caught by the peloton.
17:21 CEST 155km/15km to go
For the front guys, it's 15 km to go now. The lead to the bunch is still over
Valverde tosses his helmet away. The real fun will begin soon.
17:23 CEST 156km/14km to go
Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) attacks his fellow breakaways, followed by José
Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto). The lead has shrunk to 4.08, so he thought
it was a good time to go on a solo.
17:27 CEST 158km/12km to go
Tadej Valjavec (Phonak Hearing Systems) joins Cardenas and Arieta in front.
17:31 CEST 159km/11km to go
Rodriguez (Kelme) got dropped now. Landis is having serious problems, as well
as Sevilla (Phonak).
Liberty is driving up that mountain as if they were on a motorcycle. The bunch
is stretched with many riders not being able to follow. The gap to the front
break is only 3 minutes now.
17:34 CEST 162km/8km to go
The peloton is at the 10 km to go mark now. Valverde is sitting right behind
Heras, ready to attack?
The three in front are passing the 8 km mark.
Carlos Sastre (CSC) is attacking! Nobody is following him from the main field.
In front, Cardenas has left the other two.
Liberty is still riding hard at the front of the bunch. Sastre managed to get
away, 2.14 behind Cardenas who is now on a 9 % stretch.
17:39 CEST 163km/7km to go
Nozal is finished, he is pulling out of the chase. Beltran too.
The chase group has caught Sastre.
Alberto Lopez De Munain (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is caught by the peloton.
The main contenders Heras, Valverde, Perez, Mancebo are together. Vinokourov
is with them too.
6 km left for Cardenas.
17:42 CEST 164km/6km to go
Heras attacks! Santi Perez takes his wheel. The others can't follow anymore.
Mancebo, Valverde can't follow, they're looking at each other.
Santi Perez leads Heras now, but can't take off neither.
17:45 CEST 165km/5km to go
5 km to go for Cardenas.
Heras and Perez have a 20 second lead on the bunch, Heras is swaying to the
sides slightly. They're catching Arieta.
17:48 CEST 166km/4km to go
Valverde can't follow, he already lost 49 seconds on Heras. His teammate gives
him some water and motivation, but it doesn't work.
Cardenas is giving it everything. He still has more than a minute lead before
Heras an Perez. But will this be enough?
Heras and Perez reach the 3 km mark. Still one minute on Cardenas.
17:53 CEST 168km/2km to go
Valverde is now already 1.10 behind Heras and Perez. Cardenas should be able
to take it to the finish.
17:56 CEST 169km/1km to go
Cardenas passed the flamme rouge.
Behind, Heras is having serious problems and can't follow Perez anymore.
17:57 CEST 170km/0km to go
Cardenas wins the stage, with Perez right behind him!
Heras comes in third.
1 Felix Cardenas (Col) Cafes Baque 4.52.08
2 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 0.29
3 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.01
4 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 1.15
5 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis, le credit par Telephone 2.05
6 Angel Gomez (Spa) Paternina-Costa De Almeria 2.18
7 Jorge Ferrio (Spa) Paternina-Costa De Almeria
8 Francisco José Lara (Spa) Paternina-Costa De Almeria
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC 2.45
10 Miguel A. M. Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir 3.03
Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme 3.11
General classification after stage 17
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros
2 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems 1.13
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme 2.15
4 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto 2.16
the commentary team