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59th Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, September 4-26, 2004

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Vuelta a España fantasy game

Stage 9 - September 12: Xátiva - Alto de Aitana (Alicante), 162 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

14:26 CEST   
Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the ninth stage of La Vuelta. The next three days leading up to the rest day will be a real test of the recovery powers of the GC riders. Today's 162 km stage between Xátiva and the Alto de Aitana will be the first real mountain top finish of this year's Vuelta, with the final climb measuring 13.3 km at an average gradient of 5.7% with parts of 9%. On its own it's not such a steep climb, but the addition of three Cat. 2 and three Cat. 3 climbs before it will really make it tough. Combine that with another hot day and twisty, narrow roads filled with potholes, and this is going to be a hard stage.

There are the usual three intermediate sprints, at El Palomar (km 23), Relleu (km 115.2) and Penaguila (km 145).

US Postal still has a stranglehold on the golden jersey, with Floyd Landis wearing it today after finishing third in yesterday's time trial. Manuel Beltran is in second place at 10 seconds, with Tyler Hamilton in third.

14:40 CEST   
178 riders started this morning in Xativa, with Angelo Furlan (Alessio) and Patrick Sinkewitz (Quick.Step-Davitamon) not among them. The latter was forced to pull out with gastric problems and has been suffering from diarrhoea for the last few days (we know you all want to know this).

The stage started at 12:56 and almost immediately, the riders started climbing out of town. Constantino Zaballa (Saunier) was one of the first to attack after 5 km, and the attacks continued. Vladimir Miholjevic (Alessio) and Michele Scotto d'Abusco (Lampre) broke away just before the first intermediate sprint at km 23 and crossed the line in that order. Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis) joined them and was third across the line. The three continued to press their advantage, and on the Cat. 3 climb of Albaida (km 34.2) it was Miholjevic first ahead of Scotto d'Abusco and Vasseur. Francisco Tomás Garcia was fourth.

The break was brought back after 41 km and the first hour was raced at a brutal speed of 42.6 km/h (taking into account the heat and the climbs).

Denis Menchov crashed after 10 km, but was able to get back in the race.

14:48 CEST    73km/89km to go
It seems as though something has affected the Ag2r riders today, as Andy Flickinger, Julien Laidoun and Stéphane Berges have all abandoned. Saeco's Giosue Bonomi has also pulled out.

After 50 km, a group of 14 riders attacked: José Luis Arrieta, Mikel Pradera and Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears-Banesto), Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval), Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), Tadej Valjavec and Bert Grabsch (Phonak), David Fernandez (Paternina-Costa De Almeria), Manuel Quinziato (Lampre), Francisco Cabello (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), David Zabriskie (US Postal), Rene Andrle (Liberty Seguros), Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank) and Mikel Artetxe (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

The group was able to forge a decent lead and on the Cat. 3 climb of La Margarida, Zaballa crossed first ahead of Cardenas, Fernandez and
Quinziato with a 2 minute gap to the peloton.

On the Cat. 2 climb of Alto de Tollos (km 63), Lastras was first ahead of Cardenas, Valjavec, Fernandez, Cabello and Zabriskie. The gap at the top was four minutes back to a somewhat damaged peloton.

Steve Zampieri (Vini Caldirola) has abandoned.

14:49 CEST   
Illes Balears is very well represented in the break, with three riders. Not only that, both Arrieta (at 5'05) and Lastras (at 5'56) are well placed on GC. There is still a lot of climbing to come, however.

14:54 CEST   
Today is retirement day in the Vuelta. T-Mobile has lost another: Tomas Konecny (they're down to only four riders now). Also Iñigo Cuesta (Cofidis), Max Van Heeswijk (US Postal Service) and Martin Hvastija (Alessio-Bianchi) have all pulled the pin. That's 11 riders so far today who either didn't start or abandoned.

15:03 CEST    84km/78km to go
The 14 leaders are now down to 13, as Quinziato has been dropped. Victor Peña and Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Kelme) had a small gap over the peloton, but have now been caught. The gap to the leaders is 3'18.

15:08 CEST    88km/74km to go
Cyclingnews correspondent Martin Hardie reports that the final climb is very rough with lots of potholes and lots of spectators as it winds its way through sparse pine trees and almost Greek terraces. With 7 km to go, there's a sign that says "Manolo Saiz, the black hand of cycling." Saiz isn't very popular here, as it's Vicente Belda country.

Ag2r has lost Nicolas Inaudi as well - that's the fourth rider from that team that has abandoned today.

15:17 CEST    92km/70km to go
Kelme is leading the peloton in pursuit of the 13 man break, some 3'09 back. Although Kelme does have a rider in front - Cabello - Illes Balears has better placed riders so Kelme is interested in pulling them back.

But now Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Kelme) accelerates, taking Manuel Beltran (USPS) and Darius Baranowski (Liberty) with him. The gap has reduced to 2'43, and Illes Balears is working hard in the break.

15:20 CEST   
They're climbing the Puerto de Tudons, a long Cat. 2 ascent. In the peloton, Marcos Serrano crashes on a sharp hairpin. He's not hurt, but he has to wind his handlebar tape back on as he climbs.

A new group detaches itself from the front of the peloton with Nozal, Jimenez Schreck and a few others.

15:24 CEST   
At the top of the climb it's Paternina's David Fernandez taking the points after a hard sprint against Cardenas. The lead group of 13 is in bits, still holding 2'45 over the peloton.

The chasing group of seven is only a few seconds ahead of the bunch at the top of the climb. Jimenez accelerates. At the back of the bunch, Beloki is suffering along with Joachim.

15:26 CEST    95km/67km to go
David Fernandez, perhaps feeling the effects of his effort just earlier, takes the wrong line around a corner and slides out. He's not too badly beaten up, and is back on his bike again. The roads on this descent aren't too bad, even though it's technical.

15:27 CEST   
Two more bite the dust: Carlos Torrent (Paternina) and Robert Hunter (Rabobank). That's at least 14 riders pulling out today.

15:29 CEST    98km/64km to go
At the moment we have three riders in front, with the remnants of the 13 man group chasing behind them on the descent. It looks like Cardenas, Lastras and Valjavec.

The results of the Puerto de Tudons: 1. Fernandez, 2. Cardenas, 3. Lastras, 4. Valjavec, 5. Arrieta, 6. Cabello.

Jimenez is trying to get up to the front group, taking the descent solo.

15:35 CEST    104km/58km to go
The three leaders are now in Sella with 58 km to go, while the peloton makes its way slowly down the descent, led by Postal. It's a strange speed - certainly not a chasing tempo.

15:38 CEST    107km/55km to go
The peloton is about 70 riders strong, perhaps less. Jaksche is at the back, signalling for his team car. Evans is there too.

15:40 CEST    109km/53km to go
The peloton has dropped back to 4'10 behind the three leaders (Arrieta, Cardenas and Valjavec). In between there are Mikel Pradera and Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears-Banesto), Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval), Bert Grabsch (Phonak), David Fernandez (Paternina-Costa De Almeria), Francisco Cabello (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme), David Zabriskie (US Postal), Rene Andrle (Liberty Seguros), Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank) and Mikel Artetxe (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Eladio Jimenez (Kelme).

15:49 CEST    114km/48km to go
US Postal has started its train, with one Kelme rider there too. There's another seven Posties behind him.

The gap to the three leaders is 5'18, which almost gives Lastras the virtual gold jersey. The rest of the early break is following the three leaders at 48 seconds.

15:52 CEST    116km/46km to go
Cardenas takes the intermediate sprint (but no bonus seconds for this one) at Relleu (km 115) ahead of Valjavec and Lastras. The chase group with Mikel Pradera and Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears-Banesto), Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval), Bert Grabsch (Phonak), David Fernandez (Paternina-Costa De Almeria), David Zabriskie (US Postal), Rene Andrle (Liberty Seguros), Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank) and Mikel Artetxe (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is at 1'03.

Kelme is leading the peloton, with three riders now.

15:55 CEST    118km/44km to go
The Kelme-led peloton is 4'47 behind the three leaders at the sprint at Relleu. The chase has begun.

15:58 CEST   
Fernandez, who crashed earlier, is not in the chasing group. He's now being dropped from the peloton, looking rather battered and sorry.

16:02 CEST    123km/39km to go
The leaders are on the Cat. 2 Alto de Torremanzanas with 39 km to go. This is a nasty little climb, with a 12 percent section near the top. The peloton is flying along in pursuit, and the rest of the early break is slowly losing ground in between the leading trio and the peloton.

O'Grady is sitting on the back of the bunch, but this is not a stage for him. All the sprint points will be swallowed up by the leaders. Zabel is also here.

Beloki is having troubles staying with the peloton.

16:04 CEST    124km/38km to go
There's a crash in the peloton and Cunego, Fuentes and Evans are down. It's not serious, and they're back on their bikes very quickly.

Cioni is going off the back on the climb, as are quite a few others.

16:05 CEST    125km/37km to go
Beloki is now in the caravan, but going backwards. He's found a Saeco rider for company.

16:07 CEST   
David Blanco (Kelme) decides that the peloton is not going fast enough, and attacks. US Postal lets him go.

16:09 CEST   
The Saunier Duval car pulls back and has a chat to Beloki. "Keep going, only 37 km to go". "But boss, it's uphill."

16:11 CEST   
Tyler Hamilton (Phonak) looks to be in all sorts of trouble on the 12 percent bit of the Torremanzanas, and is being waited on by Sevilla. But they're off the back of the peloton. Sevilla is shouting encouragement at Hamilton, riding 5m in front. The American is definitely in trouble.

16:13 CEST    126km/36km to go
Sevilla is now leading a group of 15 with Hamilton in tow. But the front part of the peloton is gone.

David Blanco (Kelme) is catching Den Bakker, one of the early breakaways. Also Cabello is there.

Meanwhile, the three leaders are hurting: Valjavec, Lastras and Cardenas.

16:15 CEST   
Cardenas takes the points on the Cat. 2 Torremanzanas ahead of Valjavec and Lastras.

Blanco's group now has Artetxe, Cabello and Den Bakker in it, and they're picking up more. Cabello pulls off.

16:18 CEST   
Blanco rides away from his small group, catching Bert Grabsch and dropping him.

In front: Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears), Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak).

Then: Mikel Pradera and José Luis Arrieta (Illes Balears-Banesto), Constantino Zaballa (Saunier Duval), David Zabriskie (US Postal), Rene Andrle (Liberty Seguros).

Then David Blanco (Kelme) and then the peloton, led by US Postal. Blanco is over the top of the climb at 3'10.

16:20 CEST    130km/32km to go
The peloton is over the top of the climb at 4'37, then Hamilton's group at 5'00. He should get on before the final climb.

16:23 CEST    131km/31km to go
The results of the climb: 1. Felix Cardenas (Cafes Baque), 2. Tadej Valjavec (Phonak), 3. Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears), 4. Zaballa, 5. Pradera, 6. Arrieta.

Zabriskie and Andrle are also in that second group, then Blanco on his own, followed by the peloton.

Hamilton is getting close to the bunch again.

The three leaders are on the Puerto de Benifallim, a Cat. 3 climb.

16:24 CEST   
Blanco now catches Andrle. He won't get much help from him.

16:26 CEST    133km/29km to go
Andrle doesn't last long and as soon as the road goes up again, Blanco drops him. There are now just seven riders in front of him, but he still needs to make up 3 minutes.

The peloton is about 50-60 riders strong, led by US Postal. Floyd Landis looks pretty good today in hold.

16:28 CEST   
There are some dark clouds in front of the riders...

16:29 CEST   
Hamilton and Sevilla are almost back on the peloton. Hamilton looks knackered. He signals to Sevilla to go forward, but Sevilla stays with Hamilton.

16:31 CEST   
Hamilton continues on at his own pace. Sevilla rejoins the peloton.

Cardenas takes the points on the climb ahead of Lastras and Valjavec. Cardenas will have the mountains jersey, surely. Blanco is now 2'58 behind them. Pradera, Arrieta and Zaballa are ahead of Blanco but are being caught.

16:34 CEST    136km/26km to go
It's suddenly started raining and the three leaders are on the descent of the Benifallim. Cardenas is being dropped by the other two, but not by much. This is extremely dangerous.

Zaballa takes fourth on the climb, then Arrieta. On

16:36 CEST   
Blanco is now just 2'41 from the leaders, as he catches Zabriskie (who is still here obviously) on the descent. The peloton is 4'50 behind the leaders.

16:39 CEST    143km/19km to go
Thanks Eurosport for the credit :-) You realise that I'm making all this up.

16:40 CEST   
Blanco is now with Arrieta on the descent, nearly losing it on a wet bend. Valjavec has punctured it looks like - no-one descends that slowly!

16:42 CEST    145km/17km to go
Lastras and Cardenas are continuing with their breakaway, not really waiting for Valjavec. Blanco and Arrieta are now picking up Zaballa.

The roads are drier at the bottom. US Postal, with six men, are on the front of the bunch.

16:43 CEST   
Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Kelme) has crashed, and abandons his bike on the side of the road as his team car gives him another. He's on his way again.

16:46 CEST    147km/15km to go
The two leaders are on wet roads again, getting ready for the final 13 km of pain on the Alto de Aitana. This is not going to be fun. The peloton is about 50 riders strong, still around 5'00 behind. Cardenas and Lastras could well hold on for the win.

16:48 CEST   
Blanco and Arrieta pass the sprint at Penaguila 2'37 behind Cardenas and Lastras. Valjavec is somewhere in between.

16:50 CEST    149km/13km to go
The peloton is 4'40 behind the break at the sprint in Penaguila. Not really chasing yet. The Posties are doing enough to keep the jersey on Floyd's shoulders.

16:51 CEST    150km/12km to go
Cardenas and Lastras are on the climb with 12 km to go, being chased by Blanco and Arrieta at 2'31. Well, Blanco is the one doing the chasing. Then the peloton at another 2'09.

16:53 CEST    151km/11km to go
The two leaders pass through some tiny, narrow roads and have to take it very steady.

Valjavec is ahead of Blanco and Arrieta, who are now 2'04 behind the two leaders. He'll probably ride up the climb at his own pace. Blanco is only 2'58 down on GC, so this could be interesting.

16:55 CEST   
A couple of Liberty riders have now taken command of the peloton as it hits the last climb. The pace increases.

In front, Lastras looks ok as he sits on Cardenas' wheel, bobbing a little from side to side. Lastras started the day at 5'56, so he's not in the virtual gold yet.

16:58 CEST    152km/10km to go
Lastras takes over from Cardenas with 10 km to go, the pair riding well, now shedding their helmets. The roads are dry enough now.

Blanco and Arrieta are at 2'09, with the peloton another 1'55 back.

Cardenas accelerates, but Lastras hangs on.

16:59 CEST    153km/9km to go
Liberty's Baranowski is driving the peloton hard with Beltran in white in second wheel. The pace is pretty high, much greater than the two leaders.

Vinokourov is dropped.

17:00 CEST   
Cruz stops and takes his helmet off, waiting for his team car. No hurry.

The peloton is at 3'23 at 10 km to go.

17:03 CEST    154km/8km to go
Baranowski's pace is furious, and the peloton motors past Arrieta, who has been dropped by Blanco. The peloton is perhaps 35 riders now. Luis Perez has moved up to second wheel, ahead of Beltran. Floyd is in fifth.

The two leaders are at 8 km to go.

17:03 CEST   
Sevilla is dropped with a couple of the remaining Ag2r riders and Vinokourov.

17:05 CEST    155km/7km to go
The bunch thins to 25 riders, all due to Baranowski's work. The gap is down to 2'26 and falling fast. Blanco's run looks to be at an end.

17:06 CEST    156km/6km to go
Lastras and Cardenas are still together in front, but are now just 2'20 ahead of the peloton. Now it gets steep with 6 km to go. There are big crowds on the sides of the roads, going wild as usual.

17:08 CEST   
Baranowski has got some help from a Liberty teammate, as the bunch is less than a kilometre behind the two leaders now.

Cardenas attacks, Lastras reacts, and hurts a lot. But he holds the Colombian.


17:10 CEST   
Nozal is now on the front and setting a serious tempo. Heras is in the front group, and perhaps has a chance for a win. Cunego is falling back a bit, but Landis is very well placed. Mancebo and Menchov are there.

Nozal does much damage. Heras is following him and Landis as well. The gap is 1'30 with 6 km to go.

17:11 CEST   
Landis and Mancebo are being dropped. Beltran is dropped. Nozal is hammering and he and Heras have about four riders for company.

17:13 CEST    157km/5km to go
Nozal, Heras, Valverde, Piepoli, Sastre, Menchov and a Paternina rider are closing in on the leading two with 5 km to go. Landis and Mancebo are just off the back. Valverde is dropped with Menchov and Sastre. Ouch. Ouch.

They catch Zaballa, who managed to hold on for this long. Impressive.

The two leaders are at 36 seconds.

17:14 CEST    158km/4km to go
Nozal keeps on driving and just in front, Cardenas tries to get rid of Lastras again. But they only have 25 seconds.

The chase group: Heras, Nozal, Ferrio, Piepoli.

17:16 CEST    158km/4km to go
Finally they catch David Blanco with 4 km to go. The two leaders have only 15 seconds. Chasing them are Mancebo and Sastre. Menchov is also back there.

Cardenas and Lastras haven't got long in front.

17:17 CEST    158.5km/3.5km to go
Heras is a picture of concentration, glued to his teammate Nozal's wheel. Then Jorge Ferrio (Paternina) and Piepoli (Saunier).

Mancebo and Sastre aren't too far behind. Blanco goes backwards very very fast.

Cardenas and Lastras are caught with 3.5 km to go.

17:19 CEST    160km/2km to go
Three clicks to go and it's getting foggy. It's still Nozal driving with Heras on his wheel, then Piepoli and Ferrio. Then Sastre, Menchov and Mancebo.

Heras attacks!

17:19 CEST    160km/2km to go
Piepoli manages to catch Heras, and the two are away. Nozal and Ferrio are next...

Hamilton is over 7 minutes down.

17:21 CEST    160km/2km to go
Nozal is now sitting behind Ferrio, not having to work but he does anyway. Heras is riding away from them with Piepoli on his wheel. Heras looks back. He wants to be alone.

Valverde and Menchov are suffering a bit further behind, but there are a few riders ahead of them.

Heras and Piepoli have 15 seconds on Nozal with 2 km to go. Nozal has attacked Ferrio, and is en route to third.

17:22 CEST   
Heras puffs his way through the mist, still with Piepoli on his wheel. The Italian could certainly take the victory away.

Nozal is coming back...

17:22 CEST   
Mancebo has now caught Ferrio, the pair being the fourth and fifth riders on the road.

17:23 CEST    161km/1km to go
Heras and Piepoli go under 1km to go, with Nozal at 12 seconds, then Mancebo at 19 seconds. Ferrio can't follow.

17:23 CEST   
It looks like Heras is riding for GC, as he doesn't look at Piepoli to take a turn.

17:24 CEST   
Valverde is coming back too, but in front it's all Heras and a bit of Piepoli. Nozal should take third. 500m.

17:25 CEST   
Heras leads all the way as the mist gets thicker. Valverde is firing, mowing down Mancebo and Ferrio.

17:25 CEST    162km/0km to go
Piepoli attacks with 400m out and Heras can't follow. Piepoli wins by 30-40 metres.

17:30 CEST   
Heras is at 5 seconds across the line, then Nozal at 10 seconds, Ferrio, Mancebo, Valverde, Menchov, Sastre, Landis (at 0'55) and Aitor Gonzalez. Floyd keeps the jersey!


1 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir                   4.29.35
2 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros                              0.05
3 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros                               0.10
4 Jorge Ferrio (Spa) Paternina-Costa De Almeria                    0.15
5 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto                    0.25
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme              0.30
7 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears-Banesto                        0.41
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                     0.52
9 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor             0.54
10 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo                              1.09

General classification after stage 9

1 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor         31.46.48
2 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal Service p/b Berry Floor           0.33
3 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Banesto                    0.38
4 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros                               0.51
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme              0.57

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