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59th Vuelta a Espańa - GT

Spain, September 4-26, 2004

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Vuelta a Espańa fantasy game

Vuelta a España fantasy game

Stage 18 - September 23: Béjar - Ávila, 196 km

Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Martin Hardie

Complete live report

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CEST
Estimated finish time: 17:15 CEST

14:29 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the Vuelta a España, which is in its final four days as of today. The 18th stage takes us from Roberto Heras' home town of Béjar and finishes in the walled town of Ávila, with its famous cobbled approach. The last winner here in 2002 was Aitor Gonzalez, but the Fassa Bortolo rider will not be able to repeat that today, as he pulled out before the start claiming to be suffering from a stomach virus.

With four categorized climbs and almost two hundred kilometres, Stage 18 will be for sure another day in which to win or lose the whole Vuelta. The main difficulties in order of appearance will be the Alto de Vallejera (Cat. 3), the Puerto de Peńa Negro (Cat. 1), the Puerto de Serranillo (Cat. 1), and the Cat. 2 Puerto de Navalmoral, which rises 20km before the finish in Ávila.

The day's three sprints are at: Puente del Congosto (km 25.7), Navarredonda de Gredos (km 86), and Navalmoral de la Sierra (km 165.3).

The weather is somewhat cooler today, in the mid-20's but still sunny.

14:45 CEST   
Alexandre Vinokourov and Michael Barry also didn't sign in this morning, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they are out of the race. We'll confirm that ASAP.

The stage has gotten off to a quick start, with 47.2 km covered in the first hour. Over the first climb, the Cat. 3 Vallejera, mountains leader Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque) took the points ahead of Jorge Ferrio (Paternina-Costa De Almeria), David Latasa (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) and Unai Osa (Illes Balears-Banesto). The four were caught on the descent but the attacks continued.

At the first sprint in Puente del Congosto (km 26) it was points leader Erik Zabel (T-Mobile Team) picking up a valuable 4 points ahead of teammate Stephan Schreck and José Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears-Banesto).

After 31 km, a group with Joan Horrach and José Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears-Banesto), Ivan Parra and Hernan Buenahora (Cafes Baque), Rubén Plaza and Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Patrick Calcagni (Vini Caldirola), Bram Tankink (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Juan Fuentes (Saeco) got clear. They were chased by David Llorente (Paternina) for a while, but he couldn't make contact.

At the 55 km mark, the break had an advantage of 4'19 over the peloton and 3'40 over Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel), who was trying to close the gap alone.

14:46 CEST   
Cristian Moreni (Alessio) has abandoned.

14:49 CEST   
The break reached the Cat. 1 Puerto de Peña Negro with Juan Fuentes (Saeco) going over the top first ahead of Ivan Parra (Cafes Baque), Hernan Buenahora (Cafes Baque), Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Rubén Plaza (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Patrick Calcagni (Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie), Bram Tankink (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank) and Joan Horrach (Illes Balears-Banesto).

Laiseka closed to within 2'10 of the break on the climb, with the peloton still at 4'24.

14:56 CEST    97km/109km to go
At the second intermediate sprint in Navarredonda de Gredos, it's Veneberg taking the points ahead of Buenahora and Pascual Rodriguez.

The second hour has been raced at 40.1 km/h, not bad considering the Cat. 1 climb! The break leads Laiseka by 2'04 with the peloton at 5'07, led by Liberty Seguros.

15:03 CEST   
The breakaway is racing downhill at a rapid clip, en route to the day's second climb, the Puerto de Serranillo. At the moment, the 10 leaders have 2'04 on Laiseka and 6'11 on the peloton. None of the leaders is a threat to Heras on GC - Horrach is the best placed in 29th at 43'52.

15:05 CEST    103km/93km to go
It's warmed up to 30 degrees again at the finish, with a bit of a tailwind blowing.

The break is suffering a bit as it heads uphill again.

15:07 CEST   
Alexandre Vinokourov (T-Mobile) and Michael Barry (USPS) have been confirmed as non-starters.

15:10 CEST    105km/91km to go
Laiseka has given up his effort and looks to be on his way back to the peloton. He got within 1'38 of the break, but couldn't close the gap.

15:15 CEST    108km/88km to go
The break is flying down the last 10km before the Puerto de Serranillo. It's a very fast road, with wide sweeping bends. Plenty of vegetation too.

Liberty is setting a steady tempo in the peloton, probably not wanting to push things too much today. Valverde might try to take some time back in the finale in Avila, a la Aitor Gonzalez a couple of years ago.

15:19 CEST    115km/81km to go
The leaders are now in Villarejo del Valle at the foot of the next climb.

Floyd Landis (USPS) has abandoned.

15:25 CEST   
Regarding the Hamilton case, Phonak has announced in a press release that "The blood samples examined in the B-Test under the UCI procedure are positive. The B-Test blood samples taken under IOC however will turn out negative. Since the new method is an effort based on probability and interpretation measurements, uncertainties will remain in this examination and procedure in any case."

Phonak added that it is now setting up its own panel of scientific experts to "look into the entire method and data and report as to whether the analysis conducted at the lab in Lausanne in connection with the B-testing is reliable. In order that the scientific board can commence its work the entire files have to be released from UCI and/or IOC. This is so far not the case although requested by Tyler Hamilton."

15:28 CEST    120km/76km to go
The 10 leaders are now on the second big climb of the day, all together and struggling on the lower slopes. Most have their jerseys unzippered.

The peloton is still on the descent, at 6'47 behind the break. It's a similar situation to yesterday's stage.

15:31 CEST    124km/72km to go
Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano looks a bit tired as he leads the Liberty train at the bottom of the Puerto de Serranillo, nearly seven minutes behind the leaders. The peloton is still quite large, as the tempo hasn't been too high today.

It looks to be too high for Laiseka, who is now struggling at the back of the bunch, paying for his earlier efforts to try to get up to the break.

15:35 CEST   
The speed does start to pick up a little in the bunch, with Liberty in a long line in front. The 10 leaders are still together, but suffering. Their gap is 5'52.

15:40 CEST    127km/69km to go
Juan Fuentes (Saeco) has dropped off the back of the break, looking for his team car. Tankink is leading now with Veneberg and Horrach on his wheel. Fuentes comes back.

Lower down the mountain, Liberty has set a steady but hard enough tempo so that no-one should feel like attacking.

15:42 CEST   
Unai Osa (Illes Balears) has put that theory to junk as he attacks the peloton in pursuit of the break. But he'll have to close a 5 minute gap on his own - not easy.

15:44 CEST   
Aha - here goes Mancebo (who obviously did sign in)! He goes after his teammate Osa and suddenly there is a Cunning Plan.

15:45 CEST    128km/68km to go
Mancebo has pulled off a move that has caught the Liberty led peloton by surprise. He's now with Osa, and the set move can be executed. The pair are 4'43 behind the break, with the peloton another 15 seconds back.

15:47 CEST   
The peloton has definitely picked up the pace in pursuit of Mancebo and Osa, who are about 15 seconds ahead and now only 4 minutes behind the break, where there are two more Illes Balears riders. An enterprising move by Mancebo, who started the day in fourth overall at 2'16.

15:49 CEST   
Mancebo is doing most of the work with Osa hanging onto his wheel. The peloton has lined out now and is gradually shedding riders. Igor Gonzalez has done his job, and is out the back.

15:51 CEST    130km/66km to go
Liberty has five riders (Serrano, Baranowski, Gil, Heras, Nozal) in pursuit of Mancebo and Osa, who have caused a few problems with their attack on the Puerto de Serranillo. They have limited the damage to about 20 seconds, and the pair will need more than that in order to stay away. They realise it and sit up. Full marks for trying though.

The gap to the leading break of 10 is now 3'21.

15:56 CEST    131km/65km to go
Baranowski has taken over the pace making in the peloton, which is down to about 40 riders. The gap to the 10 leaders has dropped to 3'00 as a result of Mancebo's antics a few kilometres earlier. But if the tempo eases up a bit, then the break could stay clear over the next mountain.

Mikel Pradera (Illes Balears) attacks and takes Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis) with him. Well, Illes Balears won't lie down without a fight!

15:58 CEST   
Pradera and Vasseur work together as they near the final part of the climb. Neither are threatening on GC - maybe this is a setup move for Mancebo on the last climb?

15:59 CEST   
Vasseur accidentally drops Pradera. He slows and waits for the Illes Balears rider, who is suffering.

The break is still 3'00 ahead, now being pursued by a lunatic of some sort.

16:02 CEST    133km/63km to go
Over the top of the climb, it's Fuentes who beats Parra(?) for the points in a bit of a sprint.

16:05 CEST    135km/61km to go
With 60 km to go, we still have a group of 10 riders in front: Joan Horrach and José Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears-Banesto), Ivan Parra and Hernan Buenahora (Cafes Baque), Rubén Plaza and Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Patrick Calcagni (Vini Caldirola), Bram Tankink (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Juan Fuentes (Saeco).

They are chased by Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis) and Mikel Pradera (Illes Balears) at 2'17, with the peloton led by Mancebo and Perez (now in the white jersey) coming up at 2'44. Mancebo's tempo has split the peloton into bits, but the top GC riders are there. The rest of the peloton is 20 seconds behind at the top of the climb.

16:06 CEST   
Mancebo and Perez drive a 19 man group on the descent of the Puerto de Serranillo. Heras is definitely there, as is Luis Perez. Is Valverde?

16:09 CEST    140km/56km to go
The leaders hit Serranillo, but they're through it in the blink of an eye. Behind them the race has picked up, with a group led by Mancebo and Perez leading the remnants of the peloton by 10 seconds. They are picking up Vasseur and Pradera, who went over the top of the climb ahead. The second peloton is closing the gap.

Results of the climb: 1. Fuentes, 2. Garcia Acosta, 3. Parra, 4. Buenahora

16:13 CEST    145km/51km to go
The peloton reforms, 2'50 behind the break. But Garzelli is having none of it and attacks hard. We've still got another 15 km of descending, and Garzelli can go downhill fast. But not quick enough for the Liberty train...he's caught.

16:15 CEST   
Liberty has assumed the position at the front again with four riders, then Santi Perez (Phonak) and Heras.

16:20 CEST    151km/45km to go
Impressive - Igor Gonzalez is back leading the peloton, despite having been dropped on that last climb. He's passed by Maarten den Bakker, who gives a bidon to Pieter Weening, also in front of the peloton.

The leaders still have around 3 minutes.

16:27 CEST    155km/41km to go
The break has now been allowed some freedom as the Liberty train is at full strength on the front of the peloton. The latest time gap is 3'47 to the 10 in front.

16:34 CEST    160km/36km to go
The peloton passes through Burghohondo, 4'00 behind the break, which has another 5 km of flat before the final climb, the Cat. 2 Puerto de Navalmoral.

16:37 CEST   
Vasseur and Pradera have survived! They are 52 seconds behind the leading group and should be able to make the junction. Impressive descending.

CN correspondent Martin Hardie reports from the finish in Avila that it's a tailwind sprint wit the last 300m uphill. But the entrance into the town is tricky, passing along the cobbles alongside the outer wall in the last 2 km.

16:38 CEST    163km/33km to go
A pony has tried to insert itself into the peloton, but is dropped by the pace of the Liberty Seguros train. The race director orders it out of the caravan, and the (riderless) pony obliges. Any relation to TinTin of Gent-Wevelgem fame a few years ago?

16:42 CEST    164km/32km to go
There's some action in front, as Calcagni and Veneberg attack at the foot of the last climb. Calcagni is now solo, having created a nice gap. But the break behind is starting to get organised.

16:45 CEST    165km/31km to go
Horrach and Parra have set off in pursuit of Calcagni, who is still going strongly as he reaches 31 km to go. They catch him. Then a Kelme rider - Rubén Plaza - joins the fun. But he blows up.

The rest of the break self destructs in pursuit. Veneberg has had enough, and gives up. Rodriguez goes off the front in search of Plaza and finds his teammate in a pool of lactic acid. But they still catch the three leaders, until Parra attacks! Another Cafes Baque win?

16:47 CEST    167km/29km to go
Parra is now alone, but the other four: Horrach, Calcagni, Plaza and Rodriguez are chasing at 10 seconds. No sign of the rest of the break.

The sprint in Navalmoral de la Sierra was won by Calcagni ahead of Parra and Horrach

16:50 CEST    168km/28km to go
Garcia Acosta and Buenahora have made it up to the chase group, but it's splintered again as Rodriguez and Horrach set off after Parra. Rodriguez looks at Horrach to chase, but the Illes Banesto rider says nada.

16:51 CEST   
Three leaders now: Ivan Parra (Cafes Baque), Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) and Joan Horrach (Illes Balears). They have 4'25 on the peloton, which doesn't seem interested in closing the gap down.

Igor is leading the peloton for Liberty.

Parra attacks again. He doesn't like company.

16:54 CEST   
Jan Ullrich has won the Coppa Sabatini in a three man sprint ahead of Pellizotti and Boogerd (apologies to all readers who were taping the coverage to watch later on this evening. Oh wait...)

16:56 CEST    169km/27km to go
Parra is now 5'02 ahead of the peloton, but is being caught again by another rider - is it Rodriguez or Horrach? He's making life difficult in the Current Race Situation dept.

It's Rodriguez. Two leaders.

17:01 CEST    171km/25km to go
Rodriguez and Parra form an unlikely pair in front of the race, as Parra definitely doesn't want to arrive with the Spaniard in a two man sprint. He attacks again, but Rodriguez answers with an acceleration of his own and it goes nowhere. The climb is not really steep enough to suit Parra.

Behind, the peloton is thinning out again as Banesto lifts the pace. Mancebo in second wheel, then the Libertys with Heras in sixth. Mancebo attacks....

17:02 CEST   
Mancebo leads a group of about 10 riders, with Heras, Gil, Serrano, L + S. Perez...

Mancebo attacks again!!

17:03 CEST   
Mancebo is throwing everything into this as he hammers towards the top of the climb, with a group of 9 riders in pursuit containing Heras. But they get him back, led by Koldo Gil. Watch out for Perez.

17:04 CEST    174km/22km to go
Santi Perez counters! Heras and Valverde are onto him in a flash.

Over the top, Parra goes over ahead of Pascual Rodriguez.

17:05 CEST    175km/21km to go
Piepoli, Sastre, Serrano and Mancebo are chasing Santi Perez, Heras and Valverde. They can see the summit. They're picking up some of the earlier breakaways.

17:07 CEST    177km/19km to go
In the Heras group, Santi Perez does a strong turn. Valverde clings to the other two - he can't do any more. Mancebo is now 45 seconds behind.

They pick up Veneberg and Pradera. No time for salutations.

17:09 CEST   
Heras's group goes over the summit 3'54 behind the leaders, with another 29 seconds back to Mancebo's group which has caught Horrach, and also has Luis Perez, Marcos Serrano and Carlos Sastre.

17:11 CEST    179km/17km to go
Mancebo now has Garcia Acosta and Horrach as company as well as L. Perez, Sastre and Serrano. They are chasing S. Perez, Heras and Valverde at 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, Parra and Javier Pascual Rodriguez have 3'55 at 20 km to go. One of them will win, surely.

17:13 CEST   
Racing for the stage win we have Ivan Parra and Javier Pascual Rodriguez. There are bits of the early break trying to catch them. Parra takes a drink from his car with 16 km to go.

The race for the GC is interesting but it looks like Mancebo's group is closing the gap to the Heras trio. It's 7 seconds. Veneberg is with them too.

17:15 CEST    181km/15km to go
Ruben Plaza has joined the Heras group, but the gap between them and the chasers is now zero. The gold jersey group: Heras, S. Perez, Valverde, Plaza, Mancebo, Garcia Acosta, Horrach, Sastre, L. Perez, Serrano, Veneberg.

17:16 CEST    184km/12km to go
In between the two leaders and the Heras group are: Patrick Calcagni (Vini Caldirola), Hernan Buenahora (Cafes Baque), Bram Tankink (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Juan Fuentes (Saeco), Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis).

It's 3'48 with 15km to go, so the stage winner will not come from Heras's group. Watch for Valverde in the finale in Avila though.

17:17 CEST    186km/10km to go
Fuentes is now back with the Heras group, which numbers 12. The leading pair have 10 km left, mostly downhill.

17:19 CEST    188km/8km to go
Garcia Acosta and Horrach are driving the Heras group at 3'30 behind the two leaders. Calcagni, Buenahora, Tankink and Vasseur are still in between.

Santi Perez grabs a drink from his car.

17:21 CEST    189km/7km to go
Javier Pascual Rodriguez does a turn with 8 km to go, then Parra. The chasers have 10 km to go, with Serrano now grabbing a bidon from the car. It must be allowed today.

Parra attacks but Rodriguez is far too strong and sits in the saddle, not even giving the Colombian a gap.

17:23 CEST   
Correction: the other Illes Balears rider in the Heras group is Pradera, not Horrach.

17:24 CEST    190km/6km to go
The leaders have 6km left, with Javier Pascual looking the stronger. Parra will be going for Cafes Baque's second stage win, while Javier will attempt Kelme's fourth victory.

17:27 CEST    192km/4km to go
The leaders reach 4 km to go as the Heras group is pursued by a much larger group on the descent at 30 seconds.

17:28 CEST    193km/3km to go
Heras's group is now about 25 riders strong, with Nozal, Ferrio and Gomez joining on, among others. Another big group is chasing them at 30 seconds. The gap to the two leaders is 2'57 with 3 km to go.

17:28 CEST   
Rodriguez and Parra are now on the outskirts of Avila. Rodriguez tightens his shoe straps as they reach the wall...

17:30 CEST    194km/2km to go
Parra leads under 2km to go, with Rodriguez looking relaxed behind him. Parra is going to pull off something special to beat the Kelme rider in a sprint.

17:30 CEST   
The road goes uphill in the final 2km, with Rodriguez taking over for a steady turn, hands on the hoods.

17:31 CEST   
They're on the cobbles with 1.5 km to go and Rodriguez leads, Parra has problems, but he can follow.

17:31 CEST   
Rodriguez looks back and sees that he has a metre or two, and makes it tough for Parra on the cobbles. There are huge crowds sitting under the walls of the city, cheering the two riders on.

17:32 CEST    195km/1km to go
Rodriguez leads all the way until 1km to go. Parra gets ready

17:32 CEST   
The road flattens out but it's still cobbled. 750 m to go and Rodriguez leads Parra. He must be confident.

The cobbles finish.

17:34 CEST    196km/0km to go
Rodriguez takes a drink with 500m to go. Why? Parra doesn't move. Rodriguez is still on the hoods of the bars, while Parra is on the drops. They wait, and Parra swerves from side to side. Rodriguez gets in the drops and goes as soon as Parra gets out of the saddle with about 100m to go. He wins!!!

The chasing group is led in by Horrach with Buenahora and Calcagni at 20 seconds. Then Vasseur at 33 seconds, followed by Tankink.

17:35 CEST   
Sastre has a little gap as he reaches 500m to go, the Heras group having split again. But Valverde easily wins the sprint with Mancebo, Garzelli and Heras right behind. No changes to the GC.


1 Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme       5.02.58
2 Ivan Parra (Col) Cafes Baque                                   
3 Joan Horrach (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto                           0.19
4 Hernan Buenahora (Col) Cafes Baque                       
5 Patrick Calcagni (Swi) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie          0.24
6 Cedric Vasseur (Fra) Cofidis, le credit par Telephone              0.35
7 Bram Tankink (Ned) Quick.Step-Davitamon                            0.37
8 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme                1.33
9 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto  
10 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie         
11 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros   

General classification after stage 18
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

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