Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

59th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 4-26, 2004

Preview     Map    Profile    Start List    Results 

Vuelta a España fantasy game

Vuelta a España fantasy game

Stage 17 - September 22: Plasencia - Estación de Esquí La Covatilla, 169.8 km

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

14:14 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).

14:26 CEST   
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.

15:04 CEST   
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 covered.

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.

15:33 CEST   
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.

15:37 CEST   
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.

15:44 CEST   
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 car.

The front men have now reached the top of the second climb, Puerto de Honduras. Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) is the first up there.

15:57 CEST   
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 descent.

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 going strong.

16:51 CEST   
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 strong today.

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 no difficulty.

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.

17:08 CEST   
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 (Illes Balears-Banesto).

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 tired.

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 6 minutes.

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.

17:35 CEST   
Carlos Sastre (CSC) is attacking! Nobody is following him from the main field.

In front, Cardenas has left the other two.

17:37 CEST   
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.

17:41 CEST   
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.

17:43 CEST   
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.

17:50 CEST   
Cardenas is giving it everything. He still has more than a minute lead before Heras an Perez. But will this be enough?

17:52 CEST   
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!

17:58 CEST   
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

Mail the commentary team