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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 9 – September 3: A Consagrada-Alto de La Cobertoria, 207.4 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

21:59 CEST   
Today’s stage will be full of big ups and downs with six mountains: Alto de Miñide (Cat. 3 – 510 m. above sea level – km 4), Puerto de Connio (Cat. 1 – 1,315 m. – km 50), Puerto de Rañadoiro (Cat. 1 – 1,140 m. – km 75.3), Puerto de Cerredo (Cat. 3 – 1,360 m. – km 102), Alto de San Lorenzo (Cat. special – 1,350 m. – km 166.6) and Alto de La Cobertoria (Cat. 1 – 1,170 m. – km 207.4 finish). There are two intermediate sprints: San Antolin (km 29) and San Martin de Teverga (km 177.8).

It will be an exhausting and tough stage for all the riders. Alto de San Lorenzo is very high but 40 km to the end, so La Cobertoria at the end should be the decisive climb. This is a key stage for all the favourites.

14:40 CEST   
Today's stage start at 11:25 with Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole) and Alberto Benítez (Saunier Duval-Prodir) making the first offensive move. It wasn't too offensive, as they were caught very quickly.

In any case, Caucchioli was the first to the top of the Alto de Miñide (km 5), ahead of Landaluze (Euskaltel), Egoi Martinez (Discovery), and Igor Anton (Euskaltel). A dangerous group of 18 got away after that with Menchov, Rasmussen, Pereiro, Arroyo, Caucchioli, Bettini, Millar, Piepoli and Paulinho, among others. But they weren't allowed to stay away for long, and it was more or less back together after 23 km.

The attacking continued and at the sprint in San Antolín (km 29), it was Dario Cioni (Liquigas) leading Xabier Zandio and Igor Anton over. They were part of a larger group containing: Igor Anton and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), David Arroyo, Joan Horrach and Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargd ne-Illes Balears), Carlos Barredo (Astana Team), Mauricio Ardila and Pieter Weening (Rabobank), José Miguel Elias and and Ángel Vallejo (Relax-Gam), Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC), Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel), Dario David Cioni (Liquigas), and Ángel Gómez Gómez (Saunier Duval).

14:50 CEST   
On the Puerto del Connio (km 50), the order across the top was: 1 Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), 2 José Miguel Elias (Relax-Gam), 3 Ángel Vallejo (Relax-Gam), 4 David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), 5 Pieter Weening (Rabobank), 6 Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), 7 Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), 8 Dario David Cioni (Liquigas), 9 Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC). The peloton was over two minutes behind at this stage.

Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier Duval), Andre Greipel and Thomas Ziegler (T-Mobile), Mathieu Claude (Bouygues) and Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak) all abandoned before halfway.

On the Cat. 1 Puerto de Rañadoiro (km 75), the points again went to Pietro Caucchioli (Credit Agricole), followed by 2 José Miguel Elias (Relax-Gam), 3 Ángel Vallejo (Relax-Gam), 4 Pieter Weening (Rabobank), 5 Dario David Cioni (Liquigas), 6 David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), 7 Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), 8 Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi), 9 Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC).

The average after two hours was 35.8 km/h.

14:54 CEST    120km/87.4km to go
After 84 km, Cioni attacked the group, which was 3'40 ahead of the peloton. He gained 45 seconds but came back 15 km later then suffered on the Puerto del Cerredo, where Caucchioli again took the points ahead of Arroyo, Elias, and Anton. After three hours, the average was still 35 km/h.

Iñigo Landaluze was the next to attack, but he didn't get far and the breakaway group of 15 is still together, with 3'30 on the bunch.

15:08 CEST   

15:09 CEST    130km/77.4km to go
The leaders are on the Puerto de Somledo (not categorised) and the bunch has closed the gap to just over 2 minutes, as Paolo Bettini seeks assistance from the race doctor.

15:10 CEST   
Igor Anton (Euskaltel) is the best placed on GC of this break. He's only 4'38 down, which is why they haven't been given too much of a lead by Discovery.

15:14 CEST    138km/69.4km to go
The leaders are now on the descent before the special category Alto de San Lorenzo, which should sort things out somewhat.

15:28 CEST    140km/67.4km to go
CSC is starting to work a bit and the gap comes down to 1'53. Still 15 in front, with Igor Anton (Euskaltel) as the best placed rider on GC.

15:40 CEST    148km/59.4km to go
The leaders are just at the foot of the Alto de San Lorenzo, the biggest climb of the day. It's 10 km long and averages around 9%. That is steep!

15:45 CEST    156km/51.4km to go
The group's lead is just 50 seconds as they hit the bottom of the climb.

Euskaltel has lost Iñaki Isasi, who is the next rider to abandon today. There have been a few.

15:53 CEST    159km/48.4km to go
The break disintegrates on the steep slopes of this climb, and only Arroyo and Martinez remain out in front. In the peloton, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) attacks, putting plenty of riders in difficulty. Oscar Pereiro is one of them.

16:02 CEST    162km/45.4km to go
Iñigo Cuesta (CSC) is now setting tempo for Carlos Sastre in the peloton, which is some 20 riders strong. Martinez and Arroyo are 40 seconds ahead, with Igor Anton (not Sanchez) (Euskaltel) in between them.

16:04 CEST    163km/44.4km to go
Sastre drops back for a bike change, as Jose Miguel Elias struggles to keep hold of the bunch. Sastre easily regains the group. Danielson drops back for water, and picks up several bidons.

Martinez and Arroyo reach a flatter part of the climb.

16:04 CEST   
Now Di Luca, clad in the mountains jersey (although Caucchioli will probably have this at the end of the day) drops back to the team car.

16:06 CEST   
On his way back to the bunch, Sastre (in the white combination jersey) picks up bidons for his teammates. Cuesta is still on the front, but not riding hard. Devolder and Vinokourov are next to him.

16:07 CEST    164km/43.4km to go
Martinez and Arroyo continue to work together, and Arroyo grabs a bidon from a soigneur standing on the roadside.

Wim de Vocht (Davitamon) has abandoned.

16:09 CEST    166km/41.4km to go
The two leaders can see the summit as the bunch sets a moderately hard tempo behind them at 40-50 seconds. It's Arroyo over first, with Martinez on his wheel.

16:10 CEST    167km/40.4km to go
Anton is third, then Elias takes fourth at a minute, followed up Luis Perez and Carlos Sastre.

16:11 CEST   
Igor Anton joins the front pair on the descent.

16:17 CEST    171km/36.4km to go
The three leaders fly down the descent, trying to grab bidons from the neutral car when they can. Tricky when you're doing 75 km/h. Six riders are chasing them at a minute, with the rest of the bunch about 5 seconds behind. Bettini has chased back on on the descent.

16:21 CEST    178.4km/29km to go
The leaders reach the second sprint in San Martín De Teverga with Arroyo, Martinez and Anton crossing in that order. Carlos Barredo is setting tempo behind. The bunch is under a minute back: only 46 seconds.

16:24 CEST    180.4km/27km to go
Barredo's work is good, and he reduces the gap to 35 seconds to the three leaders, who are descending through a deep rocky valley towards the last climb.

16:27 CEST    182.4km/25km to go
The leaders start to climb a little with just 19 seconds advantage, and Martinez sits up. The peloton is a good 25 riders strong, as Barredo continues to set tempo. Then two Caisse d'Epargne riders with Valverde and race leader Brajkovic on their wheels.

16:29 CEST    184.4km/23km to go
They all sit up, and rejoin the bunch. 23 km to go, with the final climb beginning at around 17 km to go. But the hard part of it starts at 10 km to go.

Bettini attacks. Well, he ain't got nothing to lose.

16:31 CEST    187.4km/20km to go
The bunch can let Bettini go if it wants. He's 24 minutes down on GC, and he will have a very tough time winning this stage.

Valverde has one of his men on the front of the bunch now, with himself in second wheel. Brajkovic up there too, with his four Discovery teammates (Beltrán, Devolder, Martinez and Danielson).

16:34 CEST    189.4km/18km to go
Bettini has 24 seconds lead. A group with Iban Mayo follows the bunch at 1'36.

16:36 CEST    190.4km/17km to go
Bettini stretches his lead out to 46 seconds as three Caisse d'Epargne riders set a steady pace. Valverde is fourth in line, and then there's another Caisse rider.

Bettini starts to climb through another tunnel, and you can see he's hurting. But he's still in the big ring.

16:39 CEST    191.4km/16km to go
Discovery and Caisse d'Epargne have 10 riders in this main group. Brajkovic looks comfy in sixth wheel, with his next test to come. Chris Horner sits towards the back with Sastre, who only has a couple of teammates.

16:40 CEST   
Bettini reaches a flat bit and pounds away, concentrating on keeping his 44 second lead. It's not going to be enough, but he isn't going to win the stage by sitting on Valverde's wheel.

16:45 CEST    194.4km/13km to go
The slope is still gentle here, and the bunch is maintaining a 35-40 km/h tempo.

16:48 CEST    197.4km/10km to go
Bettini keeps 37 seconds with Caisse d'Epargne stringing things out behind. He has 10 km to go, and the last climb is just about to start as he rides through Bárzana.

16:50 CEST    198.4km/9km to go
Now the road starts to climb properly. Bettini loses a little more time, as expected. But he still has 34 seconds.

16:52 CEST    199.4km/8km to go
8 km to go and the Alto de la Cobertoria starts to bite as Bettini rides a good tempo. The boys in black are riding harder though.

16:52 CEST   
Zandio drops off, having done a good job today.

16:54 CEST    200.4km/7km to go
Bettini goes under 7 km to go, and his speed is quite low now as the road steepens to 8.5%. Sylvester Szmyd (Lampre) attacks, and Lars Bak goes out the back. As does Carlos Barredo.

Szmyd flies past Bettini.

16:54 CEST   
Anton, Elias and Martinez are all dropped. They were part of the early break.

16:55 CEST    201.4km/6km to go
Bettini is also dropped, thanks to the pace of Arroyo, who brings Karpets and Valverde up to Szmyd.

Vinokourov counters with teammate Kashechkin. They look back. Karpets sets tempo.

16:57 CEST   
Devolder and Beltrán pace Brajkovic at the back of the bunch, which is being shredded. Danielson is hanging on behind.

The two Kazakhstanis have 10 seconds. Interesting move. Karpets is riding hard for Valverde, with MArchante, Di Luca and the rest in tow.

16:59 CEST    202.4km/5km to go
The chase group looks like this: Brajkovic, Beltrán, Devolder, Danielson, Karpets, Valverde, Di Luca, Gomez Marchante, Goubert, Paulinho, Sastre, Piepoli, Sanchez, Marzoli, Szmyd.

They are 15 seconds behind the Vinokourov-Kashechkin train, which is being driven by Vino all the way. Kashechkin is getting a free ride from his experience captain.

17:00 CEST    202.9km/4.5km to go
Kash will be the virtual leader soon, as he was only 23 seconds down on Brajkovic at the start of the day.

Karpets continues to set tempo, but Valverde is getting ready to move. Piepoli helps out.

Marzoli is dropped.

17:01 CEST    203.4km/4km to go
Sastre decides to test his legs and takes Di Luca, Valverde, Piepoli, Gomez Marchante and Luis Perez.

Brajkovic is dropped. He still has two teammates up the road though.

17:03 CEST   
Valverde's group goes past 4 km to go just 16 seconds behind the two leaders. Another 16 seconds back is Brajkovic, who is alone. Well, Sammy Sanchez is just in front of him.

17:04 CEST    204.4km/3km to go
Brajkovic is losing time quickly now. The two Kazakhstanis are holding their own out in front. Vino looks back to see how Kash is doing.

Devolder and Danielson sit up and wait for the gold jersey. They are riding a bit too hard for him though.

17:05 CEST   
The Valverde group has lost Perez, and it's just Valverde, Di Luca, Sastre and Gomez Marchante. They go under 3 km to go 17 seconds behind the two up front.

17:05 CEST   
Sanchez, Beltrán and Piepoli are at 42 seconds. Then Brajkovic's group at a minute or so.

17:07 CEST   
Valverde attacks, but he can't shake the rest. He is doing most of the work too. But now it's 23 seconds! Kashechkin could well be in gold tonight. Great two man attack by the Astana boys.

17:08 CEST    205.4km/2km to go
Di Luca takes a turn in the chase group. He's riding more for a stage win rather than GC. Valverde looks the best of this group. Sastre is there, as always, drinking a bidon and throwing it away. Gomez Marchante is sweatin' on the back.

17:09 CEST    205.4km/2km to go
Sastre accelerates, gapping the others for a bit, but they come back.

Vino and Kash go under 2 km to go. They have 17 seconds. Amazing stuff!

17:09 CEST   
Brajkovic is now pacing behind Danielson and Devolder. Their teammate Beltrán is further ahead.

17:10 CEST   
Kashechkin looks comfortable as he sits on Vino's wheel. He hasn't had to do anything other than hold it - which is still hard!

Brajkovic is 1'15 behind at 2 km to go.

17:10 CEST   
Valverde attacks again, and gets a small gap on the rest. Can he do it? The two in front might be just too far.

17:11 CEST    206.4km/1km to go
Valverde has left the other three behind as he homes in on the two Kazakhstanis. 11 seconds.

Vinokourov attacks! Kashechkin probably told him to go.

17:12 CEST    206.4km/1km to go
Vino puts in a powerful acceleration as Valverde gets close to Kashechkin. This will be a very tight finish again. Can Vino do it? 1 km to go.

17:12 CEST   
Kash and Valverde go under 1 km to go at 12 seconds, then Di Luca, Sastre and Gomez Marchante at 30 seconds. A fan waving a ham bone runs wildly beside them.

17:13 CEST   
Valverde has a lot in the tank, but it might not be enough to get Vino.

17:13 CEST   
Valverde's tongue hangs out and he is cooked. Kashechkin is not with him, but he might be able to come back.

17:14 CEST   
You have to hand it to Vino, who will take his second stage win in a row. He has 250m to go.

17:15 CEST    207.4km/0km to go
Vinokourov looks back and can't see anyone. He goes even harder, teeth clenched, and wins the stage atop the Alto de la Cobertoria. Fantastic riding!! He's put himself back in contention for GC.

17:15 CEST   
Valverde is second at 16 seconds, then Kashechkin at 21, then Sastre, Marchante and Di Luca at 42 seconds.

17:19 CEST   
Beltrán and Piepoli come up at 1'47. Devolder leads the gold jersey up at 2'14, which means that Alejandro Valverde is the new leader of the Vuelta! Good timing, just before the rest day.

17:22 CEST   
Valverde is definitely good in this Vuelta, but can he hold it until the end? We'll see next week, and certainly in the final week. Don't count out Vino, who is riding himself into decent form.

We'll be back on Tuesday with more live coverage of the Vuelta. See you then!


1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                            5.50.43
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears              0.16
3 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                                  0.21
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                         0.43
5 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir 
6 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                                      
7 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              1.47
8 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir                      
9 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                               1.59
10 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team             2.13

General classification after stage 9

1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears          36.41.31
2 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                                  0.27
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                         0.44
4 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir                0.56
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                               1.38

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