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Vuelta a España Cycling News for August 31, 2006

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Edited by Jeff Jones

Vuelta Stage 5 wrap-up

Di Luca finds his legs

Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas)
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Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) has shone in the first mountain stage of the Vuelta that finished on top of the 18.4 km climb to La Covatilla. Di Luca beat the young Slovenian talent Janez Brajkovic (Discovery), with Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) taking third at seven seconds. The general classification changed as a result, with the first three in the stage also occupying the first three positions on GC.

"I wanted to win a stage at the Vuelta: my mission is fulfilled," said Di Luca. "Now, I’m going to focus on the world championships in Salzburg. The day after my forced withdrawal from the Tour de France, I told technical director Ballerini that I wanted to do my best for racing the World's. Ballerini asked me for a clear sign: here it is. I’m not aiming at the general ranking of the Vuelta because there are riders, like Valverde and Sastre, who had trained especially for this race and, starting from stage nine on, they will be in peak form."

The 178 km stage was run in cooler conditions than in recent days. The first climb up to the Puerto de Piornal saw a large group of 16 riders go clear, including Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank), David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Vladimir Gusev (Discovery), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team) and Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Innergetic). The group gained a maximum of four and a half minutes as first CSC, then Caisse d'Epargne, led the chase.

The break split on the Alto de Lagunilla with 40 km to go, and over the top, Iñigo Landaluze made a solo bid for victory. But his move came too early, and he was caught a few kilometres into the last climb. Paulinho and Arroyo survived until 5 km to go as the peloton broke into small groups. Danilo Di Luca attacked with 3 km left, with Brajkovic on his wheel, and the pair bridged across and eventually dropped Jose Angel Gomez Marchante, who had been leading for a few km. Di Luca's superior speed won him the stage from Brajkovic, and a resurgent Kashechkin was third.

Click here for the full results, report & photos, live report of stage 5.

Valverde satisfied

Alejandro Valverde
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As he told Cyclingnews yesterday, Alejandro Valverde was ready to put up a fight on La Covatilla. The Spanish Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears leader arrived in the same time as Carlos Sastre, who will be his main rival in the general classification. Valverde couldn't win today, but he was also very satisfied with his stage.

"It was a very difficult day, most of all because of the heat that was terrible," he said. "The stage was very important, most of all to see who is in condition and who is not. My feelings were very good but it is obvious that there is a long way left to Madrid. And many riders left to go for the final victory!

"Of course that to win the stage could have been very nice but today it was most important to gain time over the riders who were dropped and to lose as few seconds as possible with the ones who were in front. Today it was most of all a personal test and also for the whole team, and the balance is a very positive one."

David Arroyo, who finished the 19th in the stage and was part of the main breakaway, said, "We sorted out the job before the start. We had to go with all the breakaways to be ahead later in case our leaders could need our help. I was in front almost to the finale, and then only Paulinho remained with me, I started dreaming that I could win the stage but the riders who were chasing suddenly increased the rhythm and that meant the end of my dreams!"

Team director Eusebio Unzue was happy with his boys. "I believe that in spite of the fact that we did not win the stage, we have to be very happy for how the day went. We showed that our squad is a very solid and united one at the side of our leader. Alejandro was feeling very well in all the climbs while many of the favourites lost time today, even if those seconds or minutes lost are not yet really significant. All we can hope now is to go on the same way and confirm what we realized today in the next mountain stages."

Brajkovic impresses

By Shane Stokes in La Covatilla

Just under two years ago Janez Brajkovic secured a contract with the Discovery Channel team when he won the under 23 world time trial title at Lake Garda, near Verona. He's continued to build form and experience since, finishing an excellent second on the first mountain stage of the Vuelta.

Brajkovic went clear with Danilo Di Luca near the summit of the Estación de Esquí La Covatilla, the day's finish, and because of his role in protecting team leader Tom Danielson, declined to work with the Italian. He attacked closer to the line but was unable to shake off the 2005 ProTour winner, instead finishing as a satisfied – and surprised – runner up.

"I was actually very surprised as for the first couple of days I didn't feel good," he told Cyclingnews at the top of the climb. "But yesterday my legs were starting to come around. In the first few climbs today I didn't want to push too much, but rather save as much energy as possible. The plan was to help Tom [Danielson] on the final climb. When Di Luca attacked I tried to follow…in the beginning there was a little gap which I managed to close and then I just followed the wheel.

"Obviously Tom is our leader here," the talented Slovenian continued. "That is my first priority - I don't think I am going to be capable of maintaining this kind of shape for the whole race."

Gomez Marchante tries for stage win

By Shane Stokes in La Covatilla

Jose Angel Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval)
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Saunier Duval rider Jose Angel Gomez Marchante looked like a likely winner in the closing kilometres of stage five, but eventually had to settle for fourth at the summit, 15 seconds back. He had successfully bridged across to breakaway riders Sergio Paulinho (Astana) and David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) with six kilometres to go but was later reeled in by Danilo Di Luca and Janez Brajkovic.

"I paid for the effort at the last moment," he told Spain's Onda Cero radio at the finish. "We had to try for it [the stage win]. I tried at the bottom of the last climb as the favourites were too careful. I almost did it and I hope I can keep up this form.

"I came here to this race after recovering from the Tour de France and the bronchitis I had there. I hope to fight on in such a way as to make the TV fans get up from the sofa [with excitement]."

Kashechkin moves up

The Astana team had a good day to La Covatilla with Andrey Kashechkin finishing third and also moving up to third overall. The team was aggressive throughout the stage, and had Sergio Paulinho placed in the day's breakaway, finally finishing 13th in the stage. Alexandre Vinokourov was not at his best and lost 2'13, dropping to 19th on GC.

Kashechkin commented after the stage that it had been a nice race, "although very different from the stages of the Tour de France. It was very hot and we have made a great selection."

Kashechkin commented on his tactics while he was riding with Carlos Sastre and Alejandro Valverde in pursuit of the leaders on the last climb. "I stopped working because Valverde and Sastre had more responsibility. I have attacked just at the end, to catch Di Luca."

Despite being in third overall, Kashechkin is still not ready to take responsibility for the GC. "There are many teams that have come to fight for the general classification. It was only the first mountain and I believe that Valverde and Sastre are going to improve a lot in the third week, they continue being the favourites."

As well as Sastre and Valverde, Kashechkin pointed to "Marchante, because I've seen him attack very hard." As for Brajkovic, he commented, " I do not know him, he is still very young."

McEwen out of Tour of Spain

By Shane Stokes in La Covatilla

Robbie McEwen came to the race with the goal of taking a victory and thus landing stages in all three grand tours this year, but he will instead be heading home early after being eliminated on the race's first mountain stage to the Estación de Esquí La Covatilla. He crossed the line alone in last place, 39 minutes and 26 seconds down on stage winner Danilo Di Luca (Liquigas) and was one of three to finish outside the time limit. Also leaving the race are Française des Jeux riders Freddy Bichot and Christophe Detilloux.

McEwen took three stage wins in the Giro, the same again in the Tour and also carried off the maillot vert as best sprinter. However that sort of speed seemed to have been a little lacking in this race, a long season perhaps starting to take its toll. He also probably lost out on his chances due to starting his gallop a little early on stages two and three, where he finished fourth and fifth. He was ninth on Tuesday.

McEwen's Davitamon Lotto team-mate Chris Horner told Cyclingnews several days ago that the Australian was likely to leave the race during the second week. McEwen also confirmed that he would go early, although today's withdrawal was not foreseen.

He said on Sunday that he was going to make a decision soon about his possible participation in the world championships, but stressed at the time that it would depend on being fresh enough to have decent form for the race. Whether or not he will now take the decision to call an end to his season remains to be seen. Either way he can look back on a very successful year.

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