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63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 3 - September 1: Jaén - Córdoba, 168.6km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

Live coverage starts: 15:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 18:30 CEST

The 168.6 kilometres between Jaén and Córdoba are very flat again. Like in stage two, there is only one categorised climb, but it is a category two and also closer to the finish. The Alto de San Jerónimo is less than 20 kilometres from the line. This will give chances to a breakaway. If they succeed depends on the mood of the sprinters, but being early and everyone feeling fresh the fast men may just get it together again. But don't be surprised if a puncheur takes it. In 2006 it was Paolo Bettini who prevailed. Córdoba is one of the hottest spots in Europe, with summer temperatures often exceeding 42.5 degrees centigrade. The weather may be just as decisive in the outcome of the races as all the other factors.

14:54 CEST    Good afternoon and welcome to the live coverage from stage three of the Vuelta a España. Following Saturday's team time trial and yesterday's road race to Jaén, today's stage takes the riders 168.3 kilometres from Jaén to Córdoba. It's mainly flat, but features the Alto de San Jerónimo climb less than 20 kilometres from the line. This could enable an explosive rider/break of riders to foil the sprinters. It should certainly spice up the finale of the race.

Sprawling landscape that marks the Vuelta a España
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

14:57 CEST    Alejandro Valverde leads the race, courtesy of the time bonus he received in winning yesterday's stage. As he showed in this year's Tour de France - and numerous times in the past - he's well able to sprint, particularly on harder finishes.

15:00 CEST    He scorched home two seconds ahead of Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence – Lotto), previous race leader Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) plus the rest of the bunch.

15:02 CEST    That left him 13 seconds ahead of Pozzato and team-mate Daniele Bennati, fifteen ahead of Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Euskaltel – Euskadi) and nineteen up on Iñigo Landaluze Intxaurraga (Euskaltel – Euskadi) and Rebellin.

15:11 CEST    Cordoba can be scorching hot but the temperature in the south of Spain today is 31 degrees...that's more humane for the riders. When Bradley McGee took the gold jersey in the region in 2006, the temperature was 45 degrees!

15:14 CEST    There is one rider clear right now - Manuel Ortega Ocaña of the Andalucía Cajasur team. He attacked right from the start, where his hometown is located, and has built a big lead.

15:27 CEST    The pace wasn't scorching - 40.66 kilometres were covered in the first hour. Ortega Ocaña built a maximum lead of over 15 minutes 50 kilometres into the stage, but from that point the peloton accelerated and started to nibble into his advantage.

15:28 CEST    He had started the day 92nd overall, just 48 seconds back. Valverde's Caisse d'Epargne team want to hold onto the lead, and so they started to up the pace and keep things under control.

15:30 CEST    59km/109.6km to go As the race passes into the region of Cordoba, the lead is down to 14'32". It's still big, but Caisse d'Epargne has shown that it wants to monitor the leader's gains.

15:32 CEST    He can do two things...ride hard to try to build as big a lead as possible or, alternatively, keep tapping along at a healthy pace but keep something in reserve so he can speed up later. That's one advantage a break has; the bunch doesn't know exactly how much effort is being put in.

15:42 CEST    Carlos Sastre started the stage 21st overall, 24 seconds back. His Tour de France victory plus his second overall here twelve months ago means he is one of the biggest favourites for the race - together with Alberto Contador, of course. Sastre is rumoured to be signing with the new Katusha team. That has yet to be confirmed, but one rider who is definitely going to the expanded Tinkoff setup next year is Robbie McEwen.

15:43 CEST    You can read more on that story in our latest news edition. We'll also have a feature soon on the team, which looks set to be one of the biggest next year.

15:44 CEST    The leader continues to plug away - the next time gap will be interesting.

16:01 CEST    88km/80.6km to go The riders have averaged 39 kilometres for the first two hours of racing. That's slower than expected, but things should reach warp speed towards the end. Manuel Ortega is over halfway through the stage. The last time check gave him a gap of 12'48"...how things progress now will determine what kind of chance he has. This stage is not particularly long, and he's got a useful gap...

16:09 CEST    The riders have been through the feed zone, so there's a whole lotta chomping going on right now. Caisse d'Epargne continue to lead the way, their black and red jerseys looking good under the blue skies. Team Columbia is not taking part in this race. However the team is certainly not resting on its laurels - Linus Gerdemann won the first stage of the Deutschland Tour on Saturday and continues to lead overall, while further west, Marco Pinotti took the overall title in the Tour of Ireland. The team won four stages there - three via Mark Cavendish' sprinting skills, and then yesterday's concluding leg with Frantisek Rabon.

16:14 CEST    Ortega continues to roll along with only his shadow for company. The riders are still grabbing food and eating; the pace is relaxed in the bunch. Can he do it? We are not sure, but his 11'25" lead is relatively solid. It all depends on whether or not he can step it up a gear when the real reaction starts.

16:15 CEST    The main bunch is passing a load of olive trees, the only green in an otherwise arid landscape. The heat and poor soil means that there's a lot of bare patches in the vegetation.

16:17 CEST    Four riders have clipped away from the main field; it's unclear whether this is a full scale attack, or if they got a gap in the feed zone. Ortega is pedalling a big gear as he trundles along. Ah, the riders who went ahead were disputing the day's first intermediate sprint, that of Espejo. That was 88.2 kilometres after the start.

16:19 CEST    World champion Paolo Bettini has a rear wheel puncture and stops. He's not showing any panic...the pace remains relaxed in the bunch. Nobody is really riding on the front right now - it's lunchtime, after all. Ortega doesn't relax, though...he pushes on into the wind.

16:20 CEST    We are awaiting confirmation of the sprint results. Ortega got first, clearly!

16:21 CEST    100km/68.6km to go He's going through the town of Santa Cruz and has covered 100 kilometres. 68.6 to go - let's see what his lead is.

16:22 CEST    Nicolas Roche had a good ride yesterday, going clear in the break near the end and being reeled in approximately 5 kilometres to go. He then placed 11th in the bunch gallop - not bad for a rider who had been going for it in an escape.

16:23 CEST    He recently won the first stage of the Tour du Limousin and placed second on the next, so he's in good condition. Roche will ride for Ag2r La Mondiale next year.

16:24 CEST    He was disappointed to miss the Tour of Ireland, but the Vuelta is a bigger race. If he does something here, it'd be a nice step forward for his career.

16:27 CEST    Ortega took the sprint in Espejo, as mentioned. Liquigas riders Daniele Bennati and Manuel Quinziato were second and third. Ortega is now 10'08 clear. It's possible...

16:29 CEST    Ten minutes is a decent lead at this point of the race; if the peloton doesn't ramp things up soon, he's going to hit the line a few minutes ahead...

16:31 CEST    The peloton still has 61.4 kilometres to go until the finish...let's get a fix on Ortega...

16:33 CEST    108.6km/60km to go Correction - that was his position.

Current race leader, Spain's Alejandro Valverde
Photo ©: Unipublic
(Click for larger image)

16:34 CEST    The peloton needs to take back a minute every six kilometres...hmmmm... Liquigas now goes to the front, that suggests that Caisse d'Epargne is content to give away the race lead. It's very early for Valverde to be in the maillot oro, after all...

16:44 CEST    54.5 kilometres to go for Ortega, while the peloton has 60... It's still not lined out, by any means. The temperature is now up to 36 degrees.

16:49 CEST    Ortega is in TT mode, resting his forearms on the bars. He's still pedalling a big, big gear. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the peloton rolls along whistling. The third hour of racing was covered at a speed of just over 38 km/h. At the back of the bunch, Oscar Freire has a chat with Xavier Florencio. Up front, Caisse d'Epargne move back up towards the head of affairs, conscious that nobody else is going to do much. Ortega is 9'15 clear. He's going to win the stage, we suggest, and by quite a gap.

16:51 CEST    The riders really aren't bothered today...there's a real feeling of lethargy. Perhaps it's the heat, perhaps it's the post-Olympic Games feeling... Caisse d'Epargne are massed behind one Liquigas and one Lampre rider. The bunch is lined out now - that's better.

16:58 CEST    Nine minutes lead..He must be feeling pretty encouraged now. Spain really is arid in places - the riders have passed by sections of what looks like a desert. Of course, perhaps the peloton is banking on Ortega cracking on the climb. It starts at km 129 and tops out 13.2 clicks later.

17:01 CEST    Ortega has passed through Cordoba, where the day's second intermediate sprint is located. He's now heading towards the climb.

17:06 CEST    The lethargy of the peloton is reflected by the fact that when the Liquigas riders ramp things up for the intermediate sprint, the bunch simply lets them go. Bennati took second there quite comfortably, 7'47" behind Ortega.

17:07 CEST    Wow - that was daft... Some riders cut a corner, going the short way around a big traffic island. They found themselves riding against oncoming traffic, and had to hop up on the kerb.

17:11 CEST    Ortega is on the climb, and knows that how things go here will determine his odds of taking the stage. He certainly started with a nice lead! He's now 6'49" ahead - good going.

17:17 CEST    Ortega is 27 years of age and is, as we mentioned earlier, from today's start town of Jaén. He turned pro with the Andalucía Paul Versan team in 2006 and has stayed with the outfit since then. His results include wins on stages of the Vuelta a Palencia, Vuelta a Tenerife and the Vuelta Ciclista a Caragena, which he won overall. In the bigger races, he was 102nd overall in the 2007 Vuelta, with a best stage placing of 59th. This year, he finished third on stage two of the Vuelta Ciclista a la Comunidad de Madrid.

17:18 CEST    Paolo Bettini hits the front and winds things up! His rainbow jersey is completely open and fluttering like a wee white cape. He's ripped the peloton apart. He's now clear on his own.

17:20 CEST    He started the day 23rd overall, 17 seconds back. He doesn't seem to be riding flat out, but has moved clear of the bunch. What a strange stage.. Ortega is 5'05 ahead of the Italian. Once he gets to the top of the climb, he will have 26.4 kilometres, with the first 14 or so being quite lumpy. Bettini won in Cordoba in 2006.

17:25 CEST    On that occasion Bettini won a big bunch gallop. Alexandr Kolobnev (CSC) closes up to Bettini, remembering perhaps last year's worlds where the Italian beat him in the sprint. He was second there. Kolobnev is a very good rider - hasn't won a huge amount, but when he does the races are big ones. He took a stage of Paris Nice last year and also won the Monte Paschi Eroica. Bettini jumps away again... Kolobnev chases alone.

17:27 CEST    Things are livening up now, with many attacks going.

17:31 CEST    Bettini is still out alone. His season hasn't been super thus far. He's aiming to ride into form for the worlds in Varese, where he has the chance to win on home soil. Ortega has 29 kilometres to go. Can he hold on? We are waiting for a time check... Sebastian Joly and Jesús Rosendo Prado (Andalucía Cajasur) are ahead of the peloton.

17:33 CEST    141km/27.6km to go Ortega is out of the saddle, hoofing the pedals around. He is one kilometre from the summit, but the descent is quite a way after that.

17:34 CEST    The time gap at the prime line will be important. Bettini appears visibly faster - he should be, as he's a) a better rider, and b) has been sitting in the bunch all day.

17:35 CEST    Behind, things are looking much more lively. The bunch has finally woken up after its extended siesta. Ortega goes over the top of the climb...

17:38 CEST    Wow...Ortega lost chunks of time on the climb. He was just 1'45" ahead of Bettini there, who was in turn 33" ahead of the peloton. He's really cracked..

17:41 CEST    So, the peloton did judge things right. Puncture for a very stressed looking Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Caisse d'Epargne). He knows the hammer has dropped so it's a bad time to get a flat. Bettini continues to ride hard. Now Flecha goes!

17:42 CEST    He is chasing another rider who scurried clear - David Moncoutié (Cofidis).

17:45 CEST    Ortega is labouring now. He's 1'05" ahead of Bettini. Spectators are running alongside him, giving him encouragement. He really needs to dig deep now. It looks like the Man with the Hammer has got him.. Caisse d'Epargne wants to restore some order, and is dragging the bunch along. The team reels in Flecha.

17:46 CEST    Now some attacks! An Euskaltel rider jumps, followed by Davide Rebellin and Valverde.

17:48 CEST    148.6km/20km to go Bettini has caught Ortega! Wow, the Spaniard really cracked. They are on a descent. Moncoutié has been caught by Rebellin, Valverde and the Euskaltel rider. We didn't get a good ID on him - maybe Anton.

17:49 CEST    150.6km/18km to go The peloton comes up to them, then Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) goes. Bettini is out front, alone. Chavanel is in and out of the saddle, and is about to catch Ortega.

17:50 CEST    He goes by the cracked rider. Can he catch Bettini?

17:52 CEST    Chavanel nearly loses it on a fast right hand bend, taking his right foot out of the pedal. He stays upright. Ortega is still with him, and moves past on the descent. Bettini looks more fluid on the bends. His centre of gravity is lower, so he's got an advantage on these downhills. The gap between him and the two chasers is 28 seconds.

17:52 CEST    152.6km/16km to go The bunch is lined out behind, chasing hard. The riders there can see Bettini in the distance.

17:54 CEST    153.6km/15km to go He's realised the game is up, and eases back. All together with fifteen clicks to go.

17:55 CEST    Liquigas leads...Bennati wants this stage.

17:55 CEST    The peloton is on a fast descent, covering 76 km/h.

18:00 CEST    There's a lull on this descent...Alessandro Vanotti leads from Liquigas team-mate Valerio Agnoli. Schumacher then moves up. He and Valverde are near the front.

18:01 CEST    160.6km/8km to go Valverde sits comfortably on the Caisse d'Epargne train. Two riders from the Liquigas team still lead, with the Spanish team just behind.

18:03 CEST    162.6km/6km to go Still all together, no attacks as yet. Who will be the first to try?

18:04 CEST    More Liquigas riders move up. Bennati has gathered some bonus seconds and will take more if he can win the gallop. He started the day third overall, just 13 seconds back, and so the race lead is very possible.

18:05 CEST    164.6km/4km to go The peloton continues downhill. The speed is high...

18:06 CEST    165.6km/3km to go Attack! Chavanel goes again....

18:07 CEST    166.6km/2km to go He has fifty metres, but is being brought back...

18:08 CEST    He's on the left side of the road, the peloton on the right...they get him back. Freire is down near the back of the bunch...guess he ain't going for it, so!

18:09 CEST    167.6km/1km to go Last kilometre! Liquigas still on the front...

18:09 CEST    Zabel is up there...

18:09 CEST    Here comes Bennati...Boonen....

18:10 CEST    Boonen gets it! He crosses the line ahead of Bennati and Zabel...good win for the Quick Step rider.

18:11 CEST    An Euskaltel rider was fourth with Van Avermaet fifth, we think. Roche was also up there, it seems.

18:15 CEST    The Euskaltel rider was Koldo Fernandez, with Roche fifth and Van Avermaet sixth. Bennati may well be the new leader...

18:15 CEST    Let's wait for an updated GC...

18:19 CEST    Bennati is the new race leader. He was second in two intermediate sprints and again at the finish, picking up valuable bonus seconds.

18:23 CEST    So Boonen is back, getting things back on track after his positive test for cocaine earlier this summer. Let's hope he continues to knuckle down and make the most of his talent.

18:28 CEST    Bennati ends the day seven seconds ahead of Valverde and ten up on Boonen. Pozzato and Egoi Martinez are 20 and 22 seconds back respectively...

18:31 CEST    We'll leave things there for now...full results, report and photos will be on this site a little later on. And make sure to come back tomorrow for coverage of stage four of this Vuelta. Thanks for reading!

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