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Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 18 - September 18: Valladolid - Las Rozas, 167.4km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

15:00 CEST    Buenos dias! Welcome back to the Vuelta and the 18th stage – it really isn't long now until it's all over. It's not a very long stage today – only 167.4 km – and we expect yet another mass sprint in Las Rozas, a suburb of Madrid.

15:03 CEST    Things got started at 13:44 this afternoon, with a temperature of 26°. Riders tried to get away right from the start but nobody could get away. It's windy again today, and right now the field has a strong headwind. The pack is moving right along today, covering 49 km in the first hour.

15:09 CEST    We have a 19 rider break with a lead of 1.37 over the field. It is: Karsten Kroon and Iñigo Cuesta (CSC), Renaud Dion (AG2R), Jose Ruiz Sanchez (Andalucia), Joaquin Rodriguez, Imanol Erviti and José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Cyril Lemoine and Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole), Alan Perez and Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), Jelle Vanendert (FDJ), David Herrero (Xacobeo), Enrico Franzoi (Liquigas), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Greg van Avermaet (Silence), Andriy Grivko (Milram) and Vasili Kiryienka (Tinkoff).

15:11 CEST    Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert decided to sit out the rest of the race and were DNS today. But Paolo Bettini is in the race again today, contrary to reports that he would abandon. The question remains open as to whether he will ride on through Sunday.

15:14 CEST    Turns out there are only 18 riders in the break. We thought Joaquin Rodriguez was in it, but he's not. And all the teams are representeed except for Astana, Cofidis, Gerolsteiner, Lampre and Bouygues. And just like that, the lead is up to 2.36. We have our break of the day, folks!

15:18 CEST    This is actually a rather interesting stage, as as it goes slowly but steadily up, from the beginning. It won't be terribly noticeable until about km 89, but then come some serious bumps in the road, capped off at km. 128.5 with the Alto de los Leones, a category three ranked climb. And from there on, for about 40km, it's virtually all downhill, so that ought to be a help to whatever sprinters are still around.

15:20 CEST    70km/97.4km to go The leaders have now entered the province of Avila, with a lead of 3.20.

15:24 CEST    The province of Avila is in central-western Spain. It is part of the autonomous community of Castilla y Leon, and has a population of 165,138. Its capital is also named Avila. The first intermediate sprint of the day is in Sanchidrian, which has a grand total of 758 inhabitants.

15:29 CEST    Pedro Horrillo of Rabobank thought that he was going to win the stage yesterday, especially when he went to Valladolid with such a big lead. He was sorry to see the sprinters' teams catch the break.

15:34 CEST    77km/90.4km to go Nicolas Roche is the highest ranked of the breakaway, but he is 19.31 behind leader Alberto Contador.

15:39 CEST    There's a birthday in the cycling world today, some American rider who retired several years ago, now what's his name again......... and didn't he say he wanted to start riding again next season? Oh yes, that's right, Lance Armstrong! Happy Birthday and all the best for his 37th birthday.

15:43 CEST    80km/87.4km to go Greg Van Avermaet built up his lead in the points classification, winning the day's first intermediate sprint. He was followed by Roche and Cuesta.

15:49 CEST    88km/79.4km to go Things have slowed down a bit in the second hour, only 43.8 km/h. The break is now at the feeding zone, enjoying not only the goodies in their bags but also a 4.49 lead over the Astana-led peloton.

15:54 CEST    Euskaltel's Inigo Landaluze is sporting a heavily bandaged left hand. He is suffering from tendonitis, which is hindering him in these last Vuelta stages.

16:00 CEST    What do we eat here in Avila? Meat, and especially veal. And let us not forget the bean dishes, the cheese, and especially the "glorias", or pastries and cakes made by the Santa Teresa convent. (If the nuns make them, they can't have any calories, right?)

16:06 CEST    97km/70.4km to go The field has now moved into the province of Segovia, with a lead of 6.00. Carlos Castano of Xacobeo has availed himself of the race doctor's services. And, if that's not enough news at once, here's more: three riders decided to abandon: Manueal Quinziato (Liquigas), Andrea Tonti (Quick Step) and Matteo Tosatto (also Quick Step).

16:08 CEST    We have now entered the province of Segovia, and you will no doubt not be surprised to learn that its capital is the city of the same name. 149,286 call it home, with about 35% of them in the capital. And here's an interesting note, if you like small-town living: of the 209 municipalities in Segovia, more than half of them have fewer than 200 residents.

16:11 CEST    Cyclingnews asked Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank) before the start if he had another plan to snatch a flag from an unsuspecting fan. He laughed and replied "No, no – maybe a white flag for peace, to say I will not do anything!" Asked about his trade and trademarks, namely his escape tactics, Flecha said "I hope that I can be in the break today. There are only two chances left, today and tomorrow." Well done then, mister!

About his physical state he boasted "I am fresh." He had to laugh at his statement and rephrased. "Well, I am not fresh, but I feel OK. It's the last two day and I hope I can try something."

16:14 CEST    101km/66.4km to go These guys are flying! The lead is now up to 7.03. We also just passed the second sprint of the day, and not suprisingly, Van Avermaet was the first over the line again, followed by Roche and Flecha.

16:18 CEST    John Gadret of the AG2R team was quite upbeat. "We had good results, although a stage victory is missing. We are hoping for a sprint today, as tomorrow may be difficult. So why not try to win today?" Gadret had not heard of the re-examination of the blood samples of the Tour de France, hence could not say anything to the subject matter.

16:24 CEST    Shall we eat our way through Segovia? Then we don't want to forget their famous roast suckling pig. We'll finish it off with Segovian Punch, which despite its name is a sponge cake covered with marzipan – so it is something to eat and not to drink.

16:26 CEST    Many of the last 20km are ridden next to the A6 interstate towards Madrid. Having it close to the freeway does not mean it's flat. There are quite some rollers and a bunch sprint could be more difficult than AG2R and others are expecting. The riders will have a feeling of getting teased, as they are virtually in Madrid tonight (less than 40 kilometres away), but yet they will have to head out towards Segovia, including some tough climbing in the Sierra de Madrid.

16:29 CEST    110km/57.4km to go Hubert Dupont (AG2R) is the next to pay a visit to the race doctor.

16:34 CEST    114km/53.4km to go The lead is now up to 8.14, which catapults Roche up into the top 12 overall.

16:36 CEST    The Bouygues Telecom had not much space to park its cars this morning, just like all the other teams had a tight fit on the Plaza de Zorrilla. The French team used the French solution to fit its three cars in a row. Push the first car against the second. The second will push the third one back. And the third one will be stopped by the fence.... The second car had its license plate crunched and the nice blue paint suffered a bit, but otherwise everything was OK. The license plate was put inside the car....

16:39 CEST    In the frenzy of the start area you wonder that not more accidents happen, although there are some close calls sometimes. Rabobank almost took out Robert Gesink yesterday, when they backed in while Gesink was ready to get on his bike next to the team bus. Oooopppppps......

16:41 CEST    120km/47.4km to go Gerolsteiner has moved to the front of the peloton, to protect the 10th place overall of Oliver Zaugg. If Roche gets much more time, he could bump Zaugg out of the Top Ten.

The French parking technique
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

16:44 CEST    Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) also had not heard yet of the re-examination of the blood samples. He, too, was hoping that there wouldn't be a sprint. "I hope we can be in the break. We'll see how it goes."

16:47 CEST    122km/45.4km to go Gerolsteiner's work seems to be paying off. The lead had sneaked up to 8.33, and is now down to 8.15.

16:53 CEST    The break is climbing up a climb at 26km/h right now. Bettinin is leading the charge. The fan with the huge US flag is back. He runs on the left hand side today, and anxiously keeps checking where Flecha is. He has a tight grip on the stars and stripes. Flecha has no desire today, as he is strung out following the pace uphill, still set by Bettini.

16:55 CEST    The leaders are now on their way up the day's only climb, with a lead of just over 6.40.

16:56 CEST    Today's climb is the Puerto de los Leones (the lions' wall) and is actually a rather easy one. Of course it is a lot easier for us to say that than it is for the riders to ride it.

16:57 CEST    Rigt now they are whipping along a descent at speeds up to 84 km/h. We would prefer not to look......

16:58 CEST    On the descent a motorbike mixes in with the riders, at speeds of 80 to 90km/h. Bettini is not happy.

17:01 CEST    128km/39.4km to go The break group is breaking up. Roche has taken off in the lead, with Bettini, Dion, and Franzoi behind him, and the rest a little further back. Further back, Stefan Schumacher of Gerolsteiner is now leading the chase.

17:02 CEST    The peloton now hits the mountain ranking, 7.18 behind the lead group.

17:04 CEST    Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was not too hopeful there would be a sprint today. "It's possible, but I think there will be an escape. Everybody is tired and I don't think there is a team that really wants it to keep together."

Fernández was full of praise for his team. "They are going good. We are gaining more experience for the sprint finishes, where we don't have much experience. Slowly, we are getting used to it and this is important."

Fernández drew a positive balance of the Vuelta so far. "Yes, it was good," he told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake. "We had the leader's jersey. It was a pity with Igor Antón, who broke his collarbone. But overall I think we did a great Vuelta."

17:05 CEST    Over in the Tour of Poland, Jürgen Roelandts of Silence-Lotto took the win today, with Jose Rojas Gil (Caisse d'Epargne) second and Steven De Jongh (Quick Step) third.

17:06 CEST    140.4km/27km to go The break group seems to be back together. Of course, just as we write that, Grivko and Perez (or is it Landaluze?) take off!

17:08 CEST    It is Landaluze, but he and Grivko have sat up and gotten back in the group. Who will be the next to give it a try?

17:08 CEST    David Moncoutié (Cofidis) was cautiously optimistic about the climber's jersey. He told Cyclingnews before the start that "mathematically it is still possible to lose the jersey." More than losing it on the climbs, he was afraid of that something like a crash could happen. "Let's wait until Madrid to celebrate."

17:09 CEST    Perez of Euskaltel is the next one to go for it. He is alone, hunched over the bike, and giving it his all.

17:11 CEST    Back in the peloton, it is snack time for Astana. Contador roots around his jersey pocket to find a yummy power gel.

17:13 CEST    146.4km/21km to go Perez keeps looking back to see where his former break companions are, but he has a decent lead by this time.

17:16 CEST    Cuesta has now caught Perez, and the others are almost up there with them.

17:17 CEST    Now they are all together again, with Cuesta taking a very small lead.

17:18 CEST    The group is very nervous, with one or the other giving it a try. Roche goes next, and the others set out after him.

17:19 CEST    Roche has been joined by a Caisse d'Epargne rider, who then takes off. It is Garcia Acosta.

17:20 CEST    Behind him the group is strung out single file, with everyone hoping desperately not to be dropped and to be part of the successful further break, when and if the group falls apart.

17:20 CEST    Roche again, with a 50 metre or so lead.

17:20 CEST    152.4km/15km to go Not Roche, but Lemoine.

17:22 CEST    He is followed by two riders – Flecha and Garcia Acosta. They have now caught Lemoine.

17:23 CEST    They are about 50 metres ahead of the others, and Bettini thinks that is too much. He pulls the rest up with him and they are all together again.

17:24 CEST    Grivko is the next to go.

17:24 CEST    But he is also soon joined by three others.

17:25 CEST    11km/156.4km to go Two riders have gotten away, Lemoine and Flecha. But they don't have a big lead.

17:27 CEST    Flecha is tired of doing the lead work and just forced Lemoine to help, grabbing him by the arm and more or less pulling him up. He also said something which we think we are just as happy not to have understood.

17:28 CEST    158.4km/9km to go The group is together again. Oops, there goes a Caisse d'Epargne rider, Garcia Acosta again, and Flecha gives chase.

17:29 CEST    160.4km/7km to go The two have a nice little lead, so of course Bettini sets off in pursuit.

17:30 CEST    Kiryenka reaches the two leaders, with a CA rider, and the rest aren't far behind.

17:30 CEST    All together – but for how long? A CSC rider leads the group now.

17:31 CEST    Who else goes but Garcia Acosta? Betinni goes with him, and so does everyone else.

17:32 CEST    163.4km/4km to go Herrero is the next and he quickly builds up a significant lead. Three riders are chasing – Kroon, Kiryenka and one we can't identify.

17:33 CEST    There is some furious chasing going on now.

17:34 CEST    Flecha and Bettini give chase – hard to beat those two veterans.

17:34 CEST    Herrero has a large lead over the three chasers, who in turn have a big lead over the rest.

17:35 CEST    It is seven seconds for Herrero.

17:36 CEST    165.4km/2km to go The three have caught Herrero. He went right on a traffic circle and the other three went left and caught him.

17:36 CEST    165.9km/1.5km to go Looks like those 4 will make the win out amongst themselves. The rest are too far back now.

17:37 CEST    Kroon shoots out of the group and tries to catch the leaders. Kiryenka leads the way down the last 500 metres.

17:38 CEST    The other three zip past him though, and it is a photo finish between Roche and Erviti!

17:39 CEST    No, Erviti takes it by a hair.

17:41 CEST    Let's wait and see how long it is before the field comes in – we lost track of them quite a while ago.

17:42 CEST    Looks like Herrero was third.

17:42 CEST    Oh, there they are. They still have a few kms to go.

17:43 CEST    The peloton may have been slow today, but they are moving fast now. Guess they are looking forward to a shower, massage and dinner. Hey, sounds good to us!

17:44 CEST    166.4km/1km to go They are heading towards the finish line now.

17:45 CEST    Two Gerolsteiner riders lead the peloton over the finish line, 7.28 behind the winner.

17:46 CEST    Gracias and adios! Thanks for joining us today. Only three more stages to go in this Vuelta, be sure to join us again for those.

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