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59th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 4-26, 2004

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Stage 3 - September 6: Burgos - Soria, 157 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' coverage of stage 3 of the Vuelta between Burgos and Soria. Somewhat shorter than yesterday at only 157 km, today's stage is another one for the sprinters as it contains no categorised climbs. There are a few hills en route, including a gentle drag between km 10 and 33, followed by a short descent and then another gradual climb up towards the first intermediate sprint at Duruelo de la Sierra (km 93.6). There are two more sprints to follow, at Vinuesa (km 111.8) and Toledillo (km 135.5). The finish in Soria is slightly uphill.

14:47 CEST   
Today's stage started with a little bit of cloud cover and some spitting rain but still with warm temperatures in the mid-20's. All 187 riders took the start in Burgos, with Max van Heeswijk (USPS) wearing the golden leader's jersey, and hoping to pull off a stage win today.

After 24 km, Bert Roesems (Relax-Bodysol) made the first attack, which was chased down. A counter attack went with 10 riders as follows:

David Zabriskie (US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor), Stephan Schreck (T-Mobile Team), Francisco Cabello (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), Xavier Florencio (Relax-Bodysol), Alessandro Cortinovis (Lampre), Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel), Francisco Garcia (Cafes Baque), Ellis Rastelli (Alessio-Bianchi), Jurgen Van Goolen (Quick.Step-Davitamon), Thomas Bruun (Team CSC).

14:50 CEST    44km/113km to go
The 10 breakaways were caught at km 36 and a new round of attacks followed, with Martin Hvastija (Alessio-Bianchi), Kevin Hulsmans (Quick.Step-Davitamon) and Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank) the next to try. These three have gained 10 seconds on the bunch.

14:57 CEST    51km/106km to go
Hvastija goes back to the peloton, while Hulsmans and Veneberg continue their attempt to escape. The pair are joined by Benoît Joachim (US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor) and Andy Flickinger (Ag2R Prevoyance).

15:07 CEST    63km/94km to go
The four man breakaway has established itself now, reaching a 1'47 lead at the 55 km mark. The road climbs now for the next 40 km, passing via the feed zone at Quintanar de la Sierra (km 82).

15:11 CEST    64km/93km to go
Of the quartet, Joachim is the best placed on GC, lying in second overall at just 2 seconds behind his teammate Van Heeswijk. If he can take one of these intermediate sprints (6, 4, 2 seconds bonus) then he will probably take the jersey tonight.

At the back of the peloton, Juan Manuel Garate (Lampre) is getting assistance from the race doctor.

15:13 CEST   
To ensure the break gets a bit of a lead, a Rabobank and Quick.Step rider are at the front of the peloton, sitting next to a couple of Fassas. This should give the four leaders a few minutes more, as the peloton is not riding hard now.

15:16 CEST    66km/91km to go
Joachim's leading group now has a 3'30 lead as the peloton comes up through Castillo de la Reina. US Postal obviously doesn't have to do any chasing work today, so it'll be up to the sprinters teams (probably just Fassa Bortolo) to chase. But it's not time yet.

15:19 CEST   
Cyclingnews' Martin Hardie spoke to German sprinter Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) this morning, inquiring as to whether he was interested in taking the leader's jersey. "It's hard to take the leader's jersey here today because I am 25 seconds behind and a win will give me only 20," Zabel said. "I will just take it as it comes...it's a nice race and we are all relaxed."

15:27 CEST    72km/85km to go
The pace in the bunch is still quite relaxed, with a couple of Quick.Steps sitting at the front. It's early days yet to start chasing, and no-one looks particularly interested.

The weather is quite pleasant now, with plenty of blue sky peeking through the clouds. The four leaders are working well together, everyone doing their turn.

15:31 CEST    77km/80km to go
The slow pace of the peloton has allowed the leaders to build up a 6'50 lead, and that is enough for the sprinters teams. Saeco is riding on the front now to keep the leaders in check.

15:39 CEST    80km/77km to go
Saeco's chase hasn't done much to the lead of the four in front, and it's now up to 7'28. But there are reinforcements for Saeco now, with five riders on the front of the bunch. Maybe today's finish suits Damiano Cunego....

15:41 CEST   
USPS team director Dirk Demol drives up to Joachim in the break and gives him some advice. Joachim will soon be the virtual leader, assuming he takes a few seconds in the bonus sprints.

Saeco now has seven riders in front. This is getting serious!

15:45 CEST    83km/74km to go
The advantage of having a team time trial to kick off the Vuelta means that the leading team can pass around the leader's jersey by juggling bonus seconds. That's what US Postal is doing now. Demol was quoted on Belgian TV as saying that it will be a reward for Joachim's hard work during the year.

The leaders are now at the feed zone at Quintanar de la Sierra, all of them grabbing feed bags and refueling. The lead is 7'30.

15:53 CEST    87km/70km to go
The peloton rides through the feed zone with Saeco pushing the pace. There's a slight downhill before the road climbs again. The bunch is becoming rather stretched.

Joachim does a strong turn in the break, then Flickinger, Hulsmans and Veneberg take over.

15:57 CEST    92km/65km to go
Vinokourov grabs his feedbag at the front of the peloton, with Botero behind him. The Colombian throws out most of his lunch but stows some of it in his mouth and back pocket. He chats to Saunier Duval's Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero, who will be his teammate at Phonak next year (see today's news).

15:58 CEST    93km/64km to go
The Saecos have eased off the chase, having received no help from any other teams. The leaders are approaching the first sprint in Duruelo de la Sierra.

16:00 CEST    94km/63km to go
Joachim takes the lead shortly before the sprint, but the others understand what he has to do. The Luxembourger wins ahead of Veneberg and Flickinger, and now effectively has the leader's jersey. He might end up with a few minutes lead if the bunch doesn't wake up.

16:02 CEST    96km/61km to go
The peloton has fallen into a bit of a post-prandial torpor, and there is no organised chase on. There's an Alessio rider - Ruslan Ivanov - on the front together with a Cafes Baque and a Phonak. Race leader Van Heeswijk is sitting right down the back.

16:05 CEST    99km/58km to go
The leaders still have seven minutes plus as they reach Covaleda with 59 km to go. It's more downhill now towards the finish in Soria, and that will help the break.

The peloton is still uninterested in the chase. Saeco has given up, Fassa is nowhere to be seen, and T-Mobile probably doesn't want to work too hard for Zabel today.

16:10 CEST    102km/55km to go
The peloton reaches the sprint in Duruelo de la Sierra an incredible 9'09 behind the break. There is little chance it will be caught now.

None of the leaders are really threatening for the final general classification, so the GC teams aren't particularly interested in chasing. But it's odd that the sprinters' teams haven't put on the gloves, because after the first week of the Vuelta it gets hard.

16:14 CEST   
Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) is in better spirits than he was in July, when he pulled out of the Tour de France after not performing to expectations. We spoke to him this morning in Burgos, and the defending champion was more upbeat. "I am feeling good, much better than in the Tour which was horrible," said Heras.

16:20 CEST    109km/48km to go
The leaders will be starting to think about their chances in the final 50 km. None of them are really top sprinters, so it should be a matter of who is the strongest and can perhaps attack in the finale.

It's now raining lightly on the leaders, who have 9'30 over the bunch, which is being led by Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme. It's too late to catch the leaders.

The rain starts to come down harder...The rain jackets come out in the peloton.

16:25 CEST    112km/45km to go
It was only a very brief shower, and both the break and the peloton are riding on dry roads again. There is some discussion among the breakaways before the next sprint at Vinuesa (km 111.8).

Predictably, Joachim takes the sprint ahead of Flickinger and Hulsmans. That's 12 bonus seconds so far today, and he'll probably take the next 6. But perhaps not contest the finish.

It's now raining again. Oh well.

16:26 CEST   
Cofidis and Kelme are working hard now, and this will have an effect on the 9'30 lead. The peloton is still dry, while the break is riding through a storm.

16:30 CEST    115km/42km to go
Vasseur is on the front of the bunch just as it starts to rain again. White is up there for Cofidis, and there are several Kelme riders there too. An Illes Balears rider shows himself at the front - José Luis Arrieta.

16:33 CEST   
Koldo Gil (Liberty) runs off the side of the road, but it's not too serious. He gets going again, somewhat gingerly, but is now amongst the caravan chasing back on.

The Kelme leader realises that he can't see in the rain, and takes his sunnies off.

After the tempo increase in the bunch, the breakaways have 8'06 of their lead.

16:39 CEST    118km/39km to go
The four breakaways, currently riding on dry roads again, cross a dam wall at Embalse Cuierda del Pozo, riding well together.

Of the four leaders, Joachim has the most career race wins (4), while Hulsmans and Flickinger have two each. Veneberg has yet to win a professional race. Joachim's wins have mostly been Luxembourg championships, but Flickinger won the GP Ouest France last year.

Iñaki Isasi (Euskaltel) punctures and gets a fast change from his mechanic.

16:40 CEST   
The chasing peloton is picking up speed, as Aitor Silloniz (Euskaltel-Euskadi) drops off the back in search of his team car. The bunch rides across the dam wall now, in dry conditions.

16:44 CEST    122km/35km to go
Thanks to the work of Kelme, Cofidis and CSC, the gap to the four leaders has come down to 6'27. It's not over yet, but the leaders are now working a bit harder.

16:48 CEST   
Joachim has got his head down now, working hard in the lead group which now has just 5'20 of its once 9'40 lead. Cofidis and Kelme may pull this one out of the fire yet...

16:51 CEST    130km/27km to go
The leaders have just 26 km to go now, and should be able to hold off the hunting peloton. But it's not going to be a big gap at the end. Flickinger takes a water bottle from his team car.

16:53 CEST    132km/25km to go
Matt White and Arnaud Coyot are the men in front for Cofidis, but it's Kelme doing the bulk of the chasing work. A couple of Saeco riders get to the front too, perhaps sensing an opportunity for Cunego.

Veneberg takes a big swig from his bidon and gets back into the four man train in front, which is riding very hard. Hulsmans looks to be suffering the most.

16:54 CEST   
Joachim is riding very strongly, and flicks his elbow for Hulsmans to come through. The Belgian does, but he's hurting. It's 4'30....

16:56 CEST    135km/22km to go
The peloton is riding flat out too, and has a very long tail as it eats up the breakaways' advantage. 4'15 now, and the break has over 20 km to go. A T-Mobile rider has joined in the fun. There's also a Phonak up there. White comes through, signaling to his teammate to do shorter turns.

16:58 CEST    137km/20km to go
The leaders reach the last intermediate sprint at Toledillo, and it's Joachim who takes the six seconds again (18 for the day) followed by Hulsmans and Flickinger.

It's starting to rain again at the finish, and this could end up in a very wet bunch sprint.

16:59 CEST    139km/18km to go
White is doing a lot of work at the head of the peloton, and with Kelme, T-Mobile and Phonak all up there, the pace is furious. The breakaways have less than four minutes.

17:03 CEST    139km/18km to go
At the sprint at Toledillo, the gap is just 3'18. It's coming down at 2 minutes per 10 km, which means the leaders will be caught with a few km to go. It was looking pretty promising for a while there! But it's not over yet.

Lampre has come to the front to help Cofidis, T-Mobile, Saeco and the rest.

17:04 CEST    140km/17km to go
The leaders are struggling up the final climb in today's stage. If they can get to the top with a couple of minutes, they might have a chance. But it doesn't look good.

It's beginning to rain again on the leaders.

17:06 CEST   
The wind is very strong at the moment, blowing against the riders which is making it very tough for the breakaways. The peloton is not lined out though, as the speed is not great on this long, wide climb.

The leaders are nearly at the top though. The wind is vicious.

17:08 CEST    142km/15km to go
The leaders, Veneberg, Flickinger, Joachim and Hulsmans, have now got 15 km to go until the finish in Soria. Behind them the peloton can smell blood with Tomas Konecny (T-Mobile) driving the tempo, 1'42 back.

17:10 CEST   
Joachim is sitting on the break now, possibly realising that he needs to save something in order to finish with the peloton and take the jersey. The bunch is just 1'20 behind.

17:12 CEST    145km/12km to go
The only sprinters' team not to have contributed to the chase today is Fassa Bortolo. But surely when he sees the finish, Petacchi will become motivated.

52 seconds with 12 km to go.

17:13 CEST    147km/10km to go
The T-Mobile led peloton is rapidly hauling in the leaders, pulling them back to 41 seconds now with 10 km to go.

17:15 CEST   
The break is working hard along the wet roads, but the peloton is right behind them. It's T-Mobile all the way, with several teams fighting for position.

17:16 CEST    148km/9km to go
Like a swarm of angry bees, the bunch has the break in its sights. 20 seconds separates the two groups with 9.5 km to go. Hulsmans looks back and sees them coming.

17:17 CEST    149km/8km to go
The rain comes down as the break is caught just under the eight km to go banner. Hulsmans tries for a bit longer, but there's no way.

17:18 CEST    150km/7km to go
T-Mobile is being joined by Saeco and Vini Caldirola at the head of the peloton. 7 km to go and this will be a tough sprint. At least it's not too dangerous.

17:21 CEST    152km/5km to go
The bunch exits the main road (although some don't want to) and Alejandro Valverde (Kelme) has placed himself at the front. They're now on a two lane road, descending gradually.

17:21 CEST   
It's raining hard at the finish and the bunch has just five km to go. This is going to be interesting.

17:22 CEST    153km/4km to go
Liberty Seguros has put a couple of riders in front again, keeping the tempo up. Vinokourov is well positioned near the front.

17:23 CEST    154km/3km to go
Aha, some Fassa riders are getting to the head of the bunch. Also Van Heeswijk. Zabel has punctured his rear wheel. D'oh!

17:24 CEST    155km/2km to go
Zabel gets a quick wheel change but there's no way he'll catch the peloton. The bunch is lined out now as Paolini (Quick.Step) attacks on an uphill. He gets a gap.

17:24 CEST   
Luca Paolini drives out of the saddle to the top of the hill. He has 100m and the peloton is breaking up behind him.

7 seconds...

17:25 CEST   
Paolini hammers on the wet roads with less than 2 km left. He gets caught by the front of the peloton just over the top of the hill. It's a very strung out peloton though.

17:26 CEST    156km/1km to go
No team has control of the race at the moment as Vino positions himself well in the final km. Igor Gonzalez is also up there.

17:27 CEST    157km/0km to go
Vinokourov follows Horillo up the left hand side of the road, catches him and passes him. But it's a bit early and Valverde comes off his wheel and easily wins the stage! O'Grady and Menchov second and third, then Freire and Garzelli. Valverde won by several bike lengths.


1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme       3.43.17
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, le credit par Telephone            
3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears-Banesto                        
4 Oscar Freire (Spa) Rabobank                                      
5 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros                              
6 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola-Nobili Rubinetterie        
7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto                    
8 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo                               
9 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco                                       
10 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile Team                                 

General classification after stage 3
1 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor    9.16.00
2 Max Van Heeswijk (Ned) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor     0.16
3 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor         0.22
4 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor            
5 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor  

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