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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 5 - August 30: Plasencia - Estación de Esquí La Covatilla (Béjar), 178 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

14:31 CEST   
Greetings and welcome to the fifth stage of the Vuelta a España, the first serious mountain stage in this year's race, and one that will give us a good indication of who will fight it out for the final GC. Following yesterday's relatively short 142 km leg, today is 178 km between Plasencia and the ski station at La Covatilla in Bejar. The final climb is a special category ascent taking the riders up to almost 2000m, but there are also two cat. 1 climbs: Puerto de Piornal and Puerto de Honduras at km 52.7 and km 100.5, and the cat. 2 Alto de Lagunilla after 138 km. There are two intermediate sprints at Jaraiz De La Vera (km 136.5) and Cabezuela Del Valle (km 79.8).

14:43 CEST   
188 riders started today's stage in Plasencia, and the bunch rolled out at 12:15 in front of a huge crowd. The only non-starter was Andre Korff, who was sick and didn't sign on. Carlos Barredo (Astana) made the first attack, which was caught by the peloton, and although his Astana teammates were very active, no-one could get away before the first sprint at Jaraiz de la Vera (km 31). The honours there went to Milram's Daniel Becke ahead of Laszlo Bodrogi (Credit Agricole) and Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval). Charly Wegelius (Liquigas) crashed, but was able to rejoin the bunch.

A counter attack of 10 after the intermediate sprint went nowhere, and the bunch was still together by the time it hit the base of the Puerto de Piornal with 42.1 km covered in the first hour. At the summit of the climb, a group with the following riders had formed: Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), David Arroyo, Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Vladimir Gusev, Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic), José Miguel Elias, Ángel Vallejo (Relax-Gam), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team).

The gap at the top was 1'40, with Angel Vallejo taking the points ahead of Xavier Florencio, Benoît Joachim, Jose Miguel Elias and Pietro Caucchioli. The lead has been hovering between 1'28 and 1'40, with CSC doing the work in the peloton.

14:47 CEST    85km/93km to go
The leading break is now on the second climb of the day, the Puerto de Honduras, still holding a slender 1'28 on the bunch. Thor Hushovd has had a mechanical problem, but it's not too serious.

The results of the first sprint at Cabezuela Del Valle (km 79.8): 1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), 2. Xavier Florencio (Bouygues), 3. Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux).

14:49 CEST   
Of the breakaways, Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) is the best placed on GC, in fifth overall at 34 seconds. He can climb, but it's unlikely he will be among the top riders at the finish.

14:56 CEST    93km/85km to go
Wegelius has crashed again, and this time it's enough to force him to abandon. Bad luck for the Brit. The leading group, meanwhile, has upped its advantage to 2'09.

15:01 CEST   
The weather today is definitely not as hot as in previous days. There's a nice breeze blowing and the countryside is most scenic around here.

15:11 CEST    101km/77km to go
The Puerto de Honduras has taken its toll, and the break has split in half. In front, we have Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Vladimir Gusev, Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), José Miguel Elias (Relax-Gam), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team) and Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R). Then at 36 seconds, Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Ángel Vallejo (Relax), Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval). The peloton follows at 4'24.

15:20 CEST   
Discovery's Vladimir Gusev is first to the top of the Puerto de Honduras, followed by Caucchioli (CA), Joachim (Discovery), Jose Miguel Elias (Relax) and Sergio Paulinho.

15:32 CEST    115km/63km to go
The two front groups have rejoined on the descent, and now we have a big happy family with: Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic - best on GC at 0'34), Vladimir Gusev, Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), David Arroyo, Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), José Miguel Elias, Ángel Vallejo (Relax-Gam), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom), Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval).

The bunch trails 4'20 behind, not an insurmountable task by any means.

15:39 CEST    120km/58km to go
The lead break has flown past the feed zone, which is towards the bottom of the descent of the Honduras, and is now en route to the penultimate climb of the day, the Alto de Lagunilla.

15:46 CEST    125km/53km to go
After three hours of very mountainous racing, the average speed is a brisk 38.3 km/h. The peloton has pulled back the lead group to 3'18, and with another two climbs to come, it doesn't look like this break will go that far.

15:53 CEST   
Iban Mayo has a mechanical, but gets a bike from a teammate and is brought back to the bunch on the climb of the Alto de Lagunilla. CSC is still setting a solid tempo.

Benoît Joachim has attacked the lead group on the climb, as race leader Thor Hushovd is dropped by the bunch.

15:59 CEST    133km/45km to go
The peloton is just 2'09 behind the leaders now, who have caught Joachim. Rasmussen leads Caucchioli, Gusev and a couple of others up to the Luxembourger.

16:00 CEST   
Australian champion Will Walker (Rabobank) is clinging onto the back of the bunch.

Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) has retired from the race, and that is quite possibly the end of his career.

16:04 CEST   
Rasmussen sets a good pace on the climb, with Caucchioli and Elias on his wheel.

The lead group is now: Vladimir Gusev (best on GC at 48 seconds, Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), José Miguel Elias, (Relax), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team).

16:06 CEST    137km/41km to go
Elias sprints for the mountain points and gets them at the summit of the Alto de Lagunilla, ahead of Caucchioli.

CSC's Lars Bak is sweating in the heat just over two minutes behind the break. The peloton is still a good 50 riders strong. Valverde is well placed near the front.

16:08 CEST    139km/39km to go
Joaquin Rodriguez and Paolo Bettini are caught just at the top of the climb, with the bunch 2'24 behind the lead group.

16:11 CEST   
A correction: Benoît Joachim is also in the lead group, where Iñigo Landaluze has just attacked.

16:13 CEST    141km/37km to go
There's not much of a descent after this climb, and Landaluze has a bit of a gap over the rest, who are just choosing to ride tempo. The peloton passes through a forest in pursuit of the lead group. Caisse d'Epargne have their boys on the front: Three ahead of Valverde.

16:14 CEST   
Florencio and Gomez are caught by the bunch.

16:15 CEST    143km/35km to go
Ángel Vallejo (Relax) is the next rider to be caught by the Caisse d'Epargne led bunch. Torsten Hiekmann (Gerolsteiner), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R) and Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux) should be next.

16:17 CEST   
Landaluze has 12 seconds on the rest of the break, but has to really work for it. They won't be able to see him much as the road curves around, goes up and down and is often shaded by trees.

16:20 CEST    147km/31km to go
The peloton is now very strung out, with 70-80 riders following the wheels of Caisse d'Epargne. The final climb to Covatilla awaits...

Landaluze has extended his lead to 20 seconds as he negotiates another small descent.

16:23 CEST    150km/28km to go
Rasmussen is still doing quite a bit of work in the first group behind Landaluze. Caucchioli sits on his wheel, with the two Discoverys next. Rasmussen probably wants to keep ahead to help Menchov on the last climb.

16:25 CEST    152km/26km to go
The high tempo is shedding riders quickly now. Bettini is dropped by the bunch, which is approaching the Covatilla.

Landaluze has 1'04 on Rasmussen's group, then the bunch is another 1'26 back.

16:29 CEST    153km/25km to go
Landaluze, the lone leader, is cheered on as he puts him between himself and the break. He has 1'25 now, with the peloton at over 3'00. The Euskaltel rider is doing well.

16:32 CEST    154km/24km to go
Four Caisse d'Epargne riders lead Valverde in the peloton, and their pace has reduced the peloton already before the last climb. CSC with Sastre is right behind. This will be a battle royale between the big guns.

Jose Luis Arrieta, Torsten Hiekmann and Eric Leblacher are all caught by the bunch. Only eight left in front.

16:33 CEST    156km/22km to go
Landaluze powers along by himself through Cantagallo. He is maintaining three minutes on the bunch.

16:36 CEST    157km/21km to go
The first chasing group with Gusev is working well together, but still losing ground to Landaluze. Ho ho. The gap between the leader and the first chasers is 1'30. Landaluze is on one of the last downhills before the last climb.

Pereiro, who hasn't been working in the bunch, moves up beside cap'n Valverde.

16:37 CEST    158km/20km to go
Landaluze goes under 20 km to go, and has a couple of km left before the climb starts.

16:38 CEST   
The chase group has knocked half a minute off Landaluze's lead, and passes under 20 km to go just 56 seconds behind.

16:39 CEST    159km/19km to go
And now the peloton flies under the banner at 2'22 behind the leader. The fireworks are about to start.

16:41 CEST    160km/18km to go
Landaluze is in Bejar now, and is suffering as the road goes uphill as the Covatilla starts.

16:43 CEST    161km/17km to go
Vladimir Karpets moves up beside Valverde, who still has four teammates in front of him. Three now, as one has dropped off. They still have their teammate Arroyo up front, who was in that first chase group.

16:45 CEST   
Landaluze puts his head down as the lower part of the climb is relentless. It's not super steep, but there's no let up. The chase group is just 30 seconds behind.

16:47 CEST    162km/16km to go
The peloton, meanwhile, is just 1'45 behind the leader. Valverde gets out of the saddle and stretches his legs. He hopes they'll be good today.

Today's final climb is 18.2 km long at 5.6%, with sections of up to 10.5%.

16:48 CEST    163km/15km to go
Landaluze goes under 15 km to go, reaching into his back pocket for a bit of food. He grabs a drink as well. The climb only gets harder from here on. He has 28 seconds on the first group, and 1'21 over the bunch.

16:50 CEST   
The first part of the climb is more of a power climb, but with about 8 km to go, it kicks up and gets a whole lot harder.

Landaluze is looking back and is absorbed and dropped by the seven chasers. The group is: Vladimir Gusev (best on GC at 48 seconds), Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), José Miguel Elias, (Relax), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team).

16:51 CEST    165km/13km to go
Landaluze is quickly on his way back to the bunch. His pre-emptive strike did not work.

The bunch is only 49 seconds behind the leaders.

16:52 CEST   
The bunch is about 40 riders strong now, and is less strung out than it has been. The road is plenty wide enough, and although it's uphill, it's not steep. Menchov sits in the middle of the bunch next to Ardila.

16:54 CEST    166km/12km to go
Benoît Joachim, salt caked on his shorts, has been working a lot for Gusev in the break, which is going to have trouble staying away from the main bunch. Landaluze is now at the back of the peloton, getting ready to peel off.

16:55 CEST    167km/11km to go
Alberto Benitez (Saunier Duval) attacks the bunch on a flatter section, and gets a gap immediately. He has a 50 second gap to close on his own. The tempo increases behind...

16:57 CEST    168km/10km to go
Benitez explodes and the peloton passes him when the climb steepens again. One of the Astana riders punctures - Vino?

In front, Gusev attacks, but that only succeeds in getting rid of Joachim. Rasmussen has disappeared too.

16:59 CEST   
Paulinho spots the team bus parked on the side of the road and asks for some food. But there's no-one there to give him one.

Gusev attacks again and again, but can't get rid of anyone. Then Paulinho reacts and Arroyo goes with him. Elias tries to close the gap with the other two, but he's goooone.

Paulinho has a decent gap on Arroyo.

Joachim is caught by the bunch.

17:00 CEST    169km/9km to go
Paulinho looks solid as he rides at a good tempo. The bunch is not going super hard yet, but it's still Caisse d'Epargne in front. Boogerd is well placed near Valverde.

17:02 CEST   
Paulinho goes under 9 km to go, and is about to hit the hard part of La Covatilla. Arroyo follows him at a handful of seconds, then Gusev, Caucchioli and Elias.

De La Fuente is the next Saunier rider to attack the peloton. He is in the white combination jersey, and has a similar jersey to Valverde from a distance. He goes under 9 km at 1'07, then the peloton at 1'18.

17:04 CEST    170km/8km to go
Paulinho is now at 8 km to go as Valverde puts in a little acceleration. CSC is on the front with Cuesta and Sastre. Then Brajkovic (Discovery), so Danielson is not far behind.

Arroyo catches Paulinho.

17:05 CEST    171km/7km to go
Zubeldia is dropped by the bunch as everyone bar Arroyo and Paulinho are caught.

17:06 CEST   
The two leaders are on the steep 10 percent part of the climb at 7 km to go, still riding well. Cuesta is really damaging the bunch. He has Sastre and Valverde on his wheel, then Di Luca who is riding well, and Kashechkin.

17:06 CEST   
Menchov is being dropped too. Not good for Rabobank's chances!

17:07 CEST    172km/6km to go
Paulinho and Arroyo continue to work as Jose Angel Gomez Marchante attacks on a very steep corner. He gets a small gap, but it could be very costly.

17:08 CEST   
The main bunch is now less than 15 riders strong. Beltrán is there at the back, as is Vinokourov, Danielson and Sanchez.

17:10 CEST   
CSC's Cuesta is still doing the damage, setting it up for Sastre. But can the CSC captain pull off yet another big ride in a grand tour?

Di Luca and Kashechkin are well placed, and Piepoli is there too.

17:11 CEST    172.5km/5.5km to go
Gomez Marchante is still between the two leaders and the bunch, which is 35 seconds behind the front. The climb steepens again, and Cuesta checks back to see how Sastre is going.

Vinokourov is dropped now.

17:13 CEST    173km/5km to go
Cuesta pulls off with just over 5 km to go. It's up to the favourites to go now. Valverde attacks, with Sanchez and Brajkovic on his wheel. Di Luca and Sastre are next, then Danielson.

Mayo is dropped.

17:15 CEST    173.5km/4.5km to go
Gomez Marchante has caught the two leaders, who are just 20 seconds ahead of Valverde's group, where the attacks continue. Di Luca looks good, while Sastre is hanging tough. Di Luca forces the pace with Valverde on his wheel, and Sastre goes back. Brajkovic looks back for Danielson, who is still there. And Kashechkin is also up there.

17:17 CEST    174km/4km to go
Paulinho is caught and passed by the Valverde group, which almost has eight riders: Valverde, Sastre, Brajkovic, Danielson, Piepoli, Kashechkin, Di Luca. S. Sanchez is yo-yoing off the back.

Gomez Marchante is alone with 4 km to go, having dropped Arroyo.

17:19 CEST   
The chase group loses Paulinho and Sanchez again, as it catches Arroyo. Gomez Marchante has just 21 seconds, but he's holding it. Now Arroyo does a turn for Valverde.

17:21 CEST    175km/3km to go
Valverde grits his teeth - 3 km to go and Gomez Marchante is still 21 seconds up the road. Di Luca attacks, Sastre gets his wheel but blows. Now Brajkovic gets up to Di Luca. Great ride by the Slovenian.

Kashechkin, Sastre and Valverde recover from their efforts, 10 seconds behind.

17:23 CEST    175.5km/2.5km to go
Brajkovic doesn't want to work with Di Luca, as he has Danielson behind. So Di Luca tries to drop the Discovery rider, but fails. Brajkovic looks really good. Behind them, Sastre, Valverde and Kashechkin are working together.

Gomez Marchante is caught by the two chasers.

17:23 CEST    176km/2km to go
But Gomez Marchante attacks again! Di Luca doesn't react, and the Saunier rider has a nice gap again.

17:25 CEST   
Valverde does another turn in the chase, as Sastre clings to his wheel. Kashechkin looks tired, but he's holding on.

Gomez Marchante knows he's near the top. Just a bit more, then it's downhill. But Di Luca drags Brajkovic come back. Three again. Di Luca piles on the pressure.

17:26 CEST    177km/1km to go
Kashechkin tries to get up to the three leaders, who are at 1 km to go. Gomez Marchante is just off the back of Di Luca and Brajkovic. The Disco rider hasn't worked yet.

Kashechkin isn't far back, but neither are Valverde and Sastre.

17:27 CEST   
Di Luca can sprint, and has to use it as Brajkovic attacks and almost hits a moto. He can't drop Di Luca.

Kash passes and drops Gomez Marchante.

17:28 CEST   
Brajkovic still doesn't want to work. And that means Kashechkin has caught them. Oops.

17:29 CEST    178km/0km to go
But Di Luca accelerates and powers away form the other to to win the stage on La Covatilla! Brajkovic second, then Kashechkin at 5 seconds, then Gomez Marchante at 14, then Sastre and Valverde at 21.

17:32 CEST   
Di Luca will also take the gold jersey after that great win.

Menchov has lost over 3 minutes. His chances of defending his Vuelta title are very slim.

17:50 CEST   
This is turning out to be a Vuelta of surprises too! Di Luca has finally found his legs, while Brajkovic has put himself up into contention too. He can ride against the clock - he was U23 world champ a couple of years ago - and will be a useful alternate captain if Danielson has a hard time of it.

Don't discount Sastre, Kashechkin and Valverde either. They are definitely still in the race. On the other hand, Menchov, Pereiro and Vinokourov have lost a bit too much time to be considered for the final GC. But, as the Tour de France showed us, ya never know...

Until tomorrow!


1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                               5.02.25
2 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team           
3 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                            0.07
4 José Ange Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir           0.15
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                   0.22
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears            
7 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                          0.36
8 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                         0.39
9 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team            
10 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) T-Mobile Team                             0.42
General classification after stage 5
1 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                              18.37.56
2 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team       0.04
3 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                            0.18
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                   0.29
5 José Ange Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir           0.35
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears        0.36
7 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        0.55
8 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team      0.58
9 Bernhard Kohl (Aut) T-Mobile Team                              1.00
10 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                        1.04


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