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Photo ©: Bettini

61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 3 - August 28: Córdoba - Almendralejo, 220 km

Live report

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Shane Stokes

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

14:22 CEST   
The longest stage of the race has two third category climbs in the first 30 kilometres, which limits the opportunities for escapees as there is a long way to go after these springboards. The final kilometre is completely flat, but has a couple of nasty bends that are tailor-made for the handling skills of Robbie McEwen. Expect to see Davitamon-Lotto on the front for their team sprinter.

14:30 CEST   
Welcome to the third stage of the Vuelta a España, a 220 km long journey between Córdoba and Almendralejo. It's the longest one of the race, in fact, and the riders also have to cope with 40 degree temperatures out on the road today. That will not be easy.

Besides the two mountain sprints, there are also two intermediate sprints at Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo (km 82.6) and Azuaga (km 128).

14:42 CEST    90km/130km to go
The stage started shortly after midday with all 189 riders signing on. It was an uphill start, and with the first climb - the Alto de Villaviciosa - after only 6 km, the peloton stayed together. At the top, and probably hurting a bit after yesterday's long solo effort, Mario De Sárraga (Relax-Gam) won the points ahead of his teammate Jorge García, then José Antonio Garrido (Quick Step-Innergetic) and Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team). That gave him the mountains jersey for at least another day.

Immediately after the climb, Enrico Franzoi (Lampre-Fondital) and Hervé Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis) and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir, who tried to get in yesterday's break) attacked, and straight away got clear of the bunch. Race leader Thor Hushovd's Credit Agricole team was happy to let the trio go, as they could take all the bonus seconds en route and not really threaten the jersey, even if De La Fuente is only 20 seconds down on GC.

After an hour, the leaders had covered 30.1 km (mostly uphill) and had a 5'30 gap over the bunch, where Credit Agricole was riding tempo. On the second climb, the Alto del Aire, it was De La Fuente ahead of Franzoi, Duclos-Lassalle and then Mads Kaggestad (Credit Agricole) in the peloton.

After two hours, the average increased to 36.5 km/h, with the gap going up to 6'40. At km 80, the lead was 7'42, the highest to date. De La Fuente also won the intermediate sprint at Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo ahead of Duclos-Lassalle and Franzoi. They are worth 6-4-2 bonus seconds.

After the sprint, the tempo has picked up a little behind, and the gap has been reduced to 7'06.

14:54 CEST    100km/120km to go
The three leaders are at the feed zone, and grab their bags that are hopefully filled with extra bidons. It's very hot out there today. The feed zone is located 520m above sea level, like most of the rest of the stage. That is it's main distinguishing feature.

14:56 CEST    103km/117km to go
The peloton has reduced the gap a little further, and it's now down to 6'47 as the main bunch also rides through the feed zone. Although a three man break is harder to pull back than a lone leader, the peloton is not going to make its task too difficult. Yesterday, the maximum gap was 13'05, and the stage was much shorter!

15:06 CEST    115km/105km to go
We leave Andalucía behind us and enter the province of Extremadura. The terrain is flattish and the leaders have a good tempo going, with 6'40 of their advantage intact.

15:12 CEST   
When looking at the profile of this stage before the start, one name sprang to mind: Rigoberto Uran.

The Colombian who rides for Tenax-Salmilano would be ideally suited to this stage. The only problem is that his team isn't actually here.

Blame the heat.

15:17 CEST    120km/100km to go
After three hours of racing, the average speed has lifted to 37.4 km/h. That means the last two hours have been run at around 41 km/h.

The leading three are not getting any further ahead, as Milram and Credit Agricole lead the chase, 6'38 behind.

15:22 CEST    126km/94km to go
The front trio is approaching the second and final sprint of the day at Azuaga, holding a 6'30 advantage over the main bunch. It's baking hot, and the temps are over 40 degrees at the moment.

15:31 CEST    129km/91km to go
Carlos Barredo (Astana) has suffered a puncture, but is on his way again after a wheel change. Meanwhile, the three up front have passed the intermediate sprint with 6'20 of their lead intact. Results of that sprint shortly.

15:48 CEST   
The early starts continued for some riders today. The UCI's medical inspectors visited several teams at 7:00am for blood tests. The teams concerned were Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears, Phonak, Quick Step, Relax-Gam and Liquigas. All riders were declared fit to start.

16:03 CEST    155km/65km to go
While we're on the subject of potential winners of this stage are not necessarily racing, Martin has written in with the following picks:

1 Djamolodine Abdoujaparov
2 Mario Cipollini
3 Jan Svorada

He asks whether we should expand the category to include dead people. Admittedly, that could create quite a large pool to pick from.

In the actual race, Credit Agricole and Milram are working solidly to bring the break back to heel.

16:13 CEST   
For those wondering, Hervé Duclos-Lassalle is the son of Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle, who won Paris-Roubaix twice. Hervé is 26, and hasn't quite followed in his dad's rather large footsteps.

Interestingly, in last year's second stage of the Vuelta, Duclos-Lassalle broke away with David de la Fuente. The latter was too strong for the Frenchman and eventually left him behind, but it didn't matter as he was caught on the last climb and Leonardo Bertagnolli (a teammate of Duclos-Lassalle's) won.

16:17 CEST    160km/60km to go
Duclos-Lassalle is covered in sweat and water that he's been pouring over himself. The three ride along a gunbarrel straight road through the brown landscape under the bright blue sky. The gap is now 5'39.

16:18 CEST   
Credit Agricole is getting help from Davitamon and Milram in the chase. The sprinters teams have this stage in hand again.

16:22 CEST    163km/57km to go
De la Fuente does another strong turn as the three ride through olive groves. The peloton is stretched in pursuit. Riders are going back to the team cars almost continuously to get bidons of water.

16:25 CEST   
After four hours, the average is up to 37.8 km/h. Nacor Burgos (Relax-Gam) punctures, but it doesn't take long to get back to the bunch.

The results of the second sprint (sorry about the delay): 1. David de la Fuente, 2. Enrico Franzoi, 3. Hervé Duclos-Lassalle.

16:28 CEST    166km/54km to go
The leaders take a right hander, direction Valencia de las Torres, and get a cheer from a small crowd gathered here. They are working well together, with De la Fuente looking the strongest. Duclos-Lassalle takes a bidon from a neutral motorbike.

16:35 CEST   
Race leader Thor Hushovd chats to Fabian Cancellara as he sits behind his Credit Agricole train. Hushovd is also nicknamed "Schwarzy", in reference to a certain Governator of California and great method actor of the past three decades.

16:37 CEST    170km/50km to go
The lanky Olivier Kaisen (Davitamon-Lotto) is working on the front of the bunch now, keeping the pace up. The bunch will probably start to up the tempo soon to catch the break. It's now 5'09.

16:40 CEST    172km/48km to go
Credit Agricole has started to lift the pace, as they want to protect Hushovd's jersey. The gap is 4'57. De La Fuente is the virtual leader, and has taken 12 bonus seconds today. But he needs 20 seconds to take the jersey. That's quite possible if the break stays away, but it's a long way to go yet.

16:43 CEST   
The leaders ride through Llera with just under 48 km to go. They can sense a bit of urgency, and are working harder to stay away.

16:47 CEST    175km/45km to go
Although the leaders are riding harder, the bunch is in proper chase mode, and has reduced the advantage to 4'07.

Franzoi, the cyclo-cross specialist, does a turn on the front of the break.

16:52 CEST    178km/42km to go
The road undulates a little more through the sparse, tree studded terrain. De La Fuente is talking to his director in the car, grabbing an energy gel on the way. The trio leads by 3'58.

16:55 CEST   
The break works, with De la Fuente signaling for Duclos-Lassalle to go through. The Frenchman looks to be the weakest of the trio, but you never really know until they start attacking.

16:58 CEST   
One of the Liquigas riders, Dario Andriotto, gets a few bidons from the team car. It seems that the handover is quite difficult, and takes a good half a minute. You wouldn't want to drop it, after all.

17:00 CEST    183km/37km to go
Now it's Bäckstedt's turn to grab bidons, but he doesn't spend as long at the team car.

Credit Agricole's Bodrogi drops back for some too.

The gap is 3'43 as the bunch negotiates a small road.

17:02 CEST    186km/34km to go
Chris Horner has been relieved of his duties today, it looks like, and is at the rear of the peloton, squirting water on himself.

The leaders ride through Hinojosa Del Valle, which doesn't take very long.

17:05 CEST    188km/32km to go
Horner hasn't quite been relieved of his duties. He flies up the side of the bunch with a lot of bidons to give to his teammates. Some kids waving a Spanish flag adorned with a black bull cheer on the peloton as it passes by.

17:07 CEST    189km/31km to go
The peloton passes through Hinojosa Del Valle, 3'34 behind the break. The effort on the faces of the workers is evident. Caucchioli, Charteau are up there for Credit Agricole, Kaisen for Davitamon, Becke for Milram, and several more.

17:10 CEST    191km/29km to go
The front trio passes 30 km to go, and still has more than three minutes on the chasing peloton, where Credit Agricole is doing most of the work.

17:15 CEST    195km/25km to go
Duclos does a short but fast turn, then flicks his elbow for Franzoi to come through. The Italian does the same, and De la Fuente takes his turn. It's more downhill now as the leaders reach Ribera Del Fresno with under three minutes.

17:19 CEST    197km/23km to go
The bunch is in full flight now as it flies past the white walled buildings of Ribera Del Fresno, 2'31 behind the break. Davitamon, Credit Agricole and Milram are really working. It takes approximately a minute to get through town.

17:21 CEST    199km/21km to go
There's even a Quick.Step rider in the chase now. Bettini profited from the work of the sprinters teams yesterday, and he might want to have another go today, even if he said he wouldn't risk anything in light of the world championships.

17:23 CEST    199.5km/20.5km to go
Up another false flat, the break is doing its utmost to stay ahead of the peloton. But the gap is now just 2'05 with a little over 20 km to go.

17:25 CEST    201km/19km to go
There's not even a hint of a cloud in the sky as the race heads towards the finish in Almendralejo at high speed. The difference under the 20 km to go banner is just 1'34.

17:27 CEST    202km/18km to go
Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel) still finds the time to get bidons from the team car.

David de la Fuente does another strong turn and the sweating Hervé Duclos-Lassalle comes past him, followed by Franzoi. The break is giving it everything to stay away, but it isn't enough.

17:29 CEST   
The road widens as the bunch rides through more olive groves. Up front, the trio is trying desperately to stay clear.

17:30 CEST    204km/16km to go
And De la Fuente attacks on a slight descent. Duclos-Lassalle can't follow, and only Franzoi is left with the leader.

17:31 CEST    205km/15km to go
The two leaders go under 15 km to go, and the speed is a lot higher now they can sense the finish. But there is no panic in the bunch.

17:33 CEST    206km/14km to go
The bunch is under 15 km to go just 1'06 behind Franzoi and De La Fuente. These two have been away since kilometre 6 - 200 km in front now!

Duclos-Lassalle waits for the bunch and is absorbed.

17:35 CEST    207km/13km to go
Van Impe is the Quick.Step rider on the front of the bunch, keeping the tempo up over 50 km/h. The two front riders are just 50 seconds clear now.

The finishing straight today will be tricky. It's narrow, two cars wide at most, and there are a few corners.

17:37 CEST    208km/12km to go
Despite the best efforts of David de la Fuente and Enrico Franzoi, they're going to have a hard time making it much past 10 km to go. Full credit for trying. It's not easy to spend 200 km in front in 40 degree heat with just a couple of others for company.

17:39 CEST    209km/11km to go
The bunch has eased up a little, leaving the two in front with 44 seconds as they go under 11 km to go. That will give the leaders some hope.

17:40 CEST    210km/10km to go
10 km left and it's 38 seconds. They're going to need more than that as Credit Agricole lifts the pace to warp speed.

17:41 CEST    212km/8km to go
The bunch cuts another 5 seconds off in that kilometre, with Bodrogi doing a monster turn. The two leaders have 35 seconds as they approach 8 km to go. The road is completely straight and the bunch has the break well in its sights.

17:42 CEST   
That was a good turn by Bodrogi, removing another 7 seconds from the breakaways. The gap is 27 seconds with 8 km to go.

17:43 CEST    213km/7km to go
Franzoi looks back and sees the bunch looming. He and David de la Fuente run out of gas in the block headwind, and sit up. Nice try though.

17:45 CEST    215km/5km to go
That will make things slightly easier for the bunch, which is grouped together under the control of Credit Agricole's Laszlo Bodrogi. Part of the bunch splits on a traffic island, and has to take the long way around.

17:46 CEST    216km/4km to go
Now the sprinters trains start to form as we approach the outskirts of Almendralejo. 4 clicks to go in the bike race.

17:47 CEST    217km/3km to go
One of the AG2R riders is on the front, working for JP Nazon. Milram has set its train up just behind AG2R.

17:47 CEST   
The headwind makes it easy to gain position, but hard to keep it. AG2R, Liquigas , Quick.Step and Milram are giving it full gas.

17:48 CEST    218km/2km to go
A Quick.Step rider does a big turn up to 2 km to go, then AG2R challenge on the left. But Quick.Step comes back. Bettini is well placed in third wheel. Perhaps too well placed. Hushovd is in about 10th.

17:49 CEST    219km/1km to go
Bettini lets a couple of Milrams go ahead of him as a Saunier Duval rider attacks inside the final kilometre. Nice move!

17:49 CEST   
The Saunier rider - Millar - can't hold it. He's caught inside 500m to go as Rodriguez leads out McEwen.

17:50 CEST    220km/0km to go
McEwen has to go very early again and is beaten again. Ventoso wins it!!! Hushovd is second, and keeps the jersey. A very similar sprint to yesterday.

17:53 CEST   
In the end, Saunier Duval got it right. Davitamon's Fred Rodriguez lost his momentum when Napolitano came around him. McEwen had to go then, but Ventoso rode a great sprint on the left to beat Hushovd, O'Grady, Zabel, and McEwen.

17:57 CEST   
So there you go, another surprising finish in a bunch sprint. Hushovd has increased his lead in the general classification and is now 11 seconds clear of O'Grady, with Ventoso in third place at 12 seconds.

That's all folks. Time for some cold sangria...


1 Francisco José Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir            5.43.45
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                          
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                               
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                
5 Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                         
6 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                     
7 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                 
8 Pedro Horrillo (Spa) Rabobank                               
9 Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                 
10 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance                   
General classification after stage 3
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                          10.10.13
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                                   0.11
3 Francisco José Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir               0.12
4 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                       0.14
5 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC                                0.19
6 Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team CSC                                       
7 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team CSC                                      
8 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC

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