61st Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006
Results & report
Stage 15 - September 10: Motilla del Palancar - Ford factory (Almussafes),
Complete live report
Welcome back, folks, to our daily live coverage of La Vuelta a España. Today,
the peloton has 182 kilometres on its plate, moving from Motilla del Palancar
in central Spain eastwards and down to Almussafes on the Mediterranean coast.
The bunch will roll down from 910 metres above sea level to zero. Of course,
there will be minor climbing to do, as well, but it will be a fairly relaxing
stage for many riders.
Stage 15 will be a very likely bunch
sprint finish - Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde will probably have an
easy day, except for staying out of trouble towards the end. The sprinter's
teams - mainly Crédit Agricole and Milram - will have to control possible breakaways
and catch them in time before the finish line at the Ford factory.
This morning at the start in Motilla
del Palancar, two riders were missing as the pros signed in: Davide Rebellin
(Gerolsteiner) and Ruggero Marzoli (Lampre-Fondital). Both have opted to drop
out of the race; we'll keep you posted on the reasons when we find out. With
these two abandons, 33 riders of the 189 starters have already left the Vuelta
before the start of its third week - the toughest of all three.
The first few kilometres after the
official start were quite fast, with Team Relax-Gam taking control over the
initial attacks which came right off km 0. After three kilometres, three riders
emerged out of the pack: Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam), William Walker (Rabobank)
and Thierry Marichal (Cofidis).
But the teams Caisse d'Epargne and
Milram were not happy with that breakaway, and reeled them in again two clicks
later. Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam) insisted to get away, joined by Kevin
Van Impe (Quick Step-Innergetic), but this duo was not lucky, either.
The Spanish Continental Pro team did not give in. Jorge García (Relax-Gam) tried
again at km 7, accompanied by Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), and this time it worked.
The gap grew to one minute after only two kilometres of breaking away, as Milram
did not chase.
11:45 CEST 56km/126km to go
The break of the
day thus continued to dig in, increasing its advantage to a maximum of 6.30
minutes at km 41 after one hour of racing was accomplished. From then on, the
gap was reduced: the bunch is currently 5.55 minutes behind.
There will be two intermediate sprints
today, at km 73.5 and 163. Points jersey leader Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
has a comfortable cushion in the classification, though, so doesn't need to
go for them at the moment.
12:04 CEST 67km/115km to go
The gap between the
breakaway (Jorge García, Kjell Carlström) and the bunch has stabilized just
under six minutes. Both parties can be happy with it - the two leaders because
it still represents a chance to make it to the finish in front, and the peloton
because a sprint finish is also within reach.
Maillot oro Alejandro Valverde
is sitting comfortably inside the pack, rolling down to the coastline. The general
opinion at the race has it that he has confirmed his leadership yesterday at
the time trial, even if the top 5 on GC are all still within two minutes. Alexandre
Vinokourov (Astana), thought to be the better time triallist, could only make
up 8 seconds on the Spaniard.
"The descent was a bit risky so I was
cautious not to crash," the Kazakhstani said this morning at the sign-in. "You
can tell at the results that the others didn't. The time trial didn't turn out
the way I wanted, but there is still a lot of road ahead, so I will keep on
Valverde, of course, was "delighted" with yesterday's outcome,
in which he proved that he really has improved his capabilities against the
clock. "I'm very happy with the result, because it was a difficult day and we
came out of it very well," the rider from Murcia said before the start of today's
12:23 CEST 83km/99km to go
Crédit Agricole, Milram
and Quick Step are the teams leading out the pack at this stage. They've reduced
the break's advantage to 5.20 minutes now, as the second hour of racing has
ended with an average speed of 41.1 km/h.
The first sprint of the
day at km 73 saw García take the points before Carlström. Third place for José
Antonio Garrido (Quick Step) when the peloton reached the line.
Today's weather report: The stage
was started in great conditions with temps of about 21° celsius and a few clouds
in the sky. Throughout the race, the temperatures will increase to about 26°
at the finish, with a few more clouds expected. There is a chance of a few raindrops
but nothing too spectacular (not like a few days ago when it hailed...) - the
riders should be fine today.
12:36 CEST 88km/94km to go
As the sprinter's
teams continue their pressure on the break, the gap is further reduced: 5.03
minutes at the moment. All the riders have been given some food and drink at
the feed zone a few k's back, too - we're all set for the finale!
12:46 CEST 95km/87km to go
Jorge García (Relax-Gam)
is now alone in front. Carlström lost contact and is riding 1.28 minutes behind
him. The bunch is at 4.40.
With still 85 km to go to the finish
in Almussafes, the gap of 4.40 minutes is not actually very big. Maybe we'll
see a few counter-attacks once the bunch gets closer, as there are small climbs
to master in between the descents. Then again, it will be very difficult to
prevent a bunch sprint finish today...
13:03 CEST 101km/81km to go
Carlström is now
caught by the bunch - he probably decided it wasn't worth wasting any energy
on this stage... García has nothing to lose; he continues down the road on his
own, and actually increases his advantage now.
13:12 CEST 112km/70km to go
to give it all, and is rewarded: his advantage has grown back to 6.22 minutes,
a comfortable lead. Still, he knows that the game is far from over...
13:25 CEST 128km/54km to go
But the bunch isn't
ready to give up: the gap has now been reduced again to 5.14 minutes, as the
third hour of racing has ended. Average speed is still a comfortable 41,3 km/h.
Now the race really gets moving:
With 48 kilometres to go, the gap is reduced to less that 4 minutes. Jorge García
(Relax-Gam) will have a very hard time holding the bunch off!
Which one of the sprinters will be
the strongest today? Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) surely would like to add
another victory to his palmarès here... The finish at the Ford factory in Almussafes
is tailor-made for him: the last kilometre is straight, flat and wide open.
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) needs a little more complicated finishes to make
the best of his abilities - but you never know. Team Milram seems to finally
have two options again: Erik Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi, who is building
up form for the World's. If Milram gets a good train going in the end we might
just see the big come-back of Ale-Jet today!
Not to forget Stuart
O'Grady (CSC), always good for a surprise, and the other candidates such as
Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval), Luca Paolini (Liquigas), Bernhard Eisel (Francaise
des Jeux), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and AG2R's Jean-Patrick Nazon.
13:54 CEST 145km/37km to go
lead crumbles down to 3.23 minutes. Nevertheless, the Relax-Gam rider is not
a no-name in Spain: he took his first victory as a pro in this same region,
at the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, in 2004.
14:02 CEST 152km/30km to go
No chance for García
today - he must have picked the wrong stage to play his cards. The bunch is
closing in on him, now racing only 2.10 behind the Spaniard.
14:14 CEST 163km/19km to go
García is at the
second intermediate sprint, as Quick Step and Milram are on the front of the
bunch. The tempo is not too high as the leader is on a loose leash.
García's already looking back, more
or less sitting up. His time is up.
A couple of Lampre guys also do some
work, for Napolitano. The roads are winding through the rugged landscape, as
the bunch almost has García in sight now. Thor Hushovd sits comfortably in 15th
position or so.
Here we go - García is caught at
this moment, with a little more than 15 kilometres to go.
14:23 CEST 168km/14km to go
Lampre, Milram, Crédit
Agricole and Quick Step now hold the tempo up to prevent any counter-attacks.
All four teams are up front collaborating, with CSC right behind.
Mountain points leader Pietro Caucchioli
is also doing his share of the workload for his teammate Hushovd. They're driving
it now across the plains, with vineyards bordering the road.
Large roundabouts rip the bunch apart,
but they all come back together on the other side - arriving into an industrial
14:28 CEST 173km/9km to go
The bunch is nicely
strung out as it should be for a sprint. The fight for positions has begun,
as the riders are on a three-lane highway now.
The combined train is still working
well - no single team tries to take over; they all collaborate.
14:32 CEST 175km/7km to go
It's Quick Step and
Crédit Agricole at the front now, as they gain even higher speed on a light
Milram is in 15th-20th position currently
- they're waiting. Now the peloton takes the exit off the highway.
14:35 CEST 178km/4km to go
Quick Step is still
up front: Bettini must be feeling good today.
Now Milram mingles into the first
positions, as the bunch is at 55 km/h. Some riders drop off the back.
Speed goes up to 65 km/h now. Some
riders are held up on the side of the road, on the other side of the barriers
- how did they get there?
Milram drives it in the last k. Bettini
in 4th position.
Lampre does a final turn, but Petacchi
is fenced in! Bettini is up there... but Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) wins!
What a surprise!
O'Grady second, Napolitano third,
Hushovd fourth, then Bettini. There was a final light left hand curve which
messed it up; that's where Petacchi got fenced in. Förster came round on the
Tomorrow is the second rest day at
the Vuelta, but you can join us again on Tuesday for more live action! Nos vemos!
1 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner 4.24.55
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC
3 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
4 Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
5 Paolo Bettini (Quick Step)
General classification after stage 15
1 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
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