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Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 4 - September 2: Córdoba - Puertollano, 170.3km

Complete live report

Complete live report

Live commentary by Shane Stokes

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

15:00 CEST   
Hola, and welcome to coverage from stage four of the Vuelta a España! Today's stage is a 170.3 kilometre race from Córdoba to Puertollano, and precedes tomorrow's individual time trial.

There are two category three climbs on the course, the Alto de los Villares and the Puerto de la Chimorra. The summits of those are 6.8 and 46.8 kilometres after the start, and quite a distance from the end of the stage. As a result, it's most likely that a bunch sprint will determine the result.

Alessandro Petacchi triumphed last time the race used these roads; he isn't here this year, and so it'll be another rider who will scoop the honours.

New race leader, Italian Daniele Bennati (Liquigas)
Photo ©: Sirotti
(Click for larger image)

15:10 CEST   
Tinkoff Credit Systems rider Ricardo Serrano was the only non-starter this morning. He was injured in a crash yesterday and decided not to continue.

15:18 CEST   
As the parcours shows, the riders had a breakfast-disturbing start to the stage, with that first climb coming so soon after the drop of the flag. Mountains leader Jesus Rosendo (Andalucía – Cajasur) took the prime and thus boosted his lead in that competition. His team-mate Francisco Jose Martinez was second, with the latter's namesake Serafín Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) and Walter Fernando Pedraza (Tinkoff Credit Systems) next across the line.

15:21 CEST   
Andalucía Cajasur rider Jose Antonio Lopez surged clear after the summit, the Southern team trying to liven things up once again today. Lopez was a minute clear after 14 kilometres and, 40 kilometres in, he was 6.30 ahead.

Publicity is vitally important for these smaller teams. Firstly, it gives them important TV exposure. In addition to that, it also shows the race organisers that they deserve to be in the race.

15:23 CEST   
The gap dropped slightly on the climb of the Puerto de la Chimorra. Jose Antonio Lopez was 6 minutes 22 seconds ahead one kilometre from the top. He took more points there, adding to his total.

15:32 CEST    63km/107.3km to go
The leader, José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur), is continuing to pull away. He's now 8'06 clear, and has got over both climbs. He's got flatter roads ahead of him now...

15:45 CEST   
Lopez took the second prime, of course, and was followed by Walter Fernando Pedraza (Tinkov Credit Systems) and his own team-mates Jesus Rosendo Prado and yesterday's breakaway rider, Manuel Ortega Ocaña.

The Andalucía Cajasur team are cleverly mopping up as many KOM points as possible, thus increasing the buffer Prado has. Pedraza clearly has his eye on going for that competition too, though.

15:49 CEST   
Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Anthony Geslin (Bouygues Telecom) both crashed. The Frenchmen are okay, however, and have been able to continue.

15:54 CEST    75km/95.3km to go
After 75 kilometres of racing, Lopez is 7'35" clear. The peloton is keeping a closer rein on things than yesterday...probably because there is a flatter run-in to the finish.

If there is another gallop, who will prevail? Boonen and Bennati are clearly very quick here, while Zabel is impressing greatly to continue riding so well so late in his career.

Oscar Freire and Alejandro Valverde didn't go for the gallop yesterday; if they try today, we'll get a better idea of who is the quickest here.

15:57 CEST   
71.4 kilometres after the start was the day's first intermediate sprint. Lopez was first to the line in Pozoblanco, while Bennati and Valverde went for the remaining bonus seconds and finished in that order.

Valverde's speed means that he can continue to rack up a few seconds here and there, and thus build time over his GC rivals.

16:00 CEST    83km/87.3km to go
Lopez is in the feed zone, refuelling for the long, lonely kilometres ahead. He's 7'11" clear now.

The average speed after two hours of racing was just 33.8 km/h. The start of the stage was really lumpy, and that takes its toll on the pace.

16:01 CEST   
As mentioned on this site yesterday, Carlos Sastre is rumoured to be in discussions with the new Katusha team. You can read more about it elsewhere on this site – see the features section of our homepage.

16:07 CEST    90.3km/80km to go
Lopez is pedalling a smaller gear than his team-mate Ortega did yesterday. He's riding alongside a high stone wall, then moves into a more exposed section dotted with olive trees and spectators. There's some clouds there today but the sun is shining strongly.

16:12 CEST   
Lopez' jersey is a little big and is a-fluttering away behind his helmet. The sleeves are also dancing in the wind. That's gotta cost some time. Not much, you'd think, but over a long stage riding solo, it's gotta add up.

16:15 CEST   
The peloton is being led by the Liquigas team of Daniele Bennati.

Lopez was 154th overall this morning, 18'48" back. So that'll work in his favour – no threat of him taking the jersey.

16:21 CEST   
The bunch is spread out, but the speed isn't really on as yet. A lot of riders seem content to wait until closer to the end before trying. Contrast this with the Tour de France, where there's a furious scrap by groups to try to get clear each day.

It's late in the season, I guess, and at least some of those here are riding the race to prepare for the worlds.

16:23 CEST   
The latest time check is one of 7'15". Those at the head of the peloton are mainly from Liquigas, but a Lampre and a Quick Step rider are leading things right now.

16:25 CEST    98.3km/72km to go
Lopez heads along a long, straight road, bordered by olive trees and scrubland. It's very dry here, and that plus the sun's head deters many plants from growing.

16:35 CEST   
World champion Paolo Bettini makes his way back up through the bunch. He's got something stuffed down the back of his jersey – bottles, we guess. So he's a star domestique today.

Egoi Martinez pedals along in the white jersey. No, not best young rider – here, it's the combination classification.

Stefan Schumacher is back at the team car, stocking up on bottles and soft drinks. No popcorn, fortunately...that'd be messy.

16:37 CEST    108.3km/62km to go
Latest time check back to the Liquigas-led peloton: 5'58". It's dropping all the time...no panic in the bunch.

Lopez is on a fastish descent now. It's not really technical, so he can put his shoulders down on the bars and save some energy, rolling along at 60 km/h.

16:43 CEST   
Another factor affecting the aggression of riders is that most of them have their contracts sorted out for next season. The Tour is the time when many deals are done, so there's plenty of motivation then to show yourself.

Would the Vuelta benefit from being shortened, or having its position in the calendar changed? It's hard to know. What's certain is that the Olympics has made things tougher for the riders who competed there; they didn't get much of a break after the Tour.

16:50 CEST   
Jurgen Van Goolen has some sort of problem – probably a tumble for the CSC rider. He's back up on the bike and appears to be fine. He's soon joined by his team car, and talks to the mechanic for a minute or so.

The speed is definitely rising now. The bunch rounds a right hand bend and the riders accelerate hard out of it.

It's windy here – the peloton is in a right-to-left echelon formation. Will it split? We'll see...

16:53 CEST   
The latest gap is 5'21". Still Lampre, Quick Step and Liquigas setting the pace.

Emanuele Bindi is the Lampre rider.

24 year old Irish rider Nicolas Roche was fifth in the gallop yesterday, and was motivated by the result. He told Cyclingnews afterwards that he was going to keep trying. He's an aggressive rider who often slips into breakaway groups. He recently won the opening stage of the Tour du Limousin, so he's in good condition.

16:58 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde is clad in the blue points jersey today, having given up the Maillot Oro yesterday. Tom Boonen and Erik Zabel also ended the day on 25 points, but Valverde got it on stage placings.

17:00 CEST   
The sidewinds didn't force a split. Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta has a big smile for the camera, then goes up and pats Bettini on the back. The mood is certainly relaxed.

17:08 CEST    129.6km/40.7km to go
Lopez is looking tired now, but that's no surprise. He's got 3'36" of a lead, so he knows that it's unlikely to work today. However he'll keep plugging away, and rises out of the saddle to force the pedals around.

Thomas Vaitkus is close to the front of the bunch. The Astana rider is wearing the very distinctive (and unusual) jersey of the Lithuanian road champion.

17:15 CEST   
Levi Leipheimer pedals along in the bunch, riding close to Bettini. The Astana rider first made a name for himself when he placed third in the 2001 race; he's back here again, one year after finishing third in the Tour de France, and is looking for a strong showing here.

Watch out for a full feature interview with Levi Leipheimer – it will appear soon on Cyclingnews.

17:19 CEST   
Over in the Deutschland Tour, Columbia has taken another win. André Greipel got the better of Robbie McEwen (Silence-Lotto), Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner), Mark Renshaw (Crédit Agricole) and Graeme Brown (Rabobank).

The GC is unchanged, so Linus Gerdemann continues at the top.

17:21 CEST    138.9km/31.4km to go
The riders are into the final hour of racing here in Spain. Lopez takes a left hand turn and gets back up to speed. He's just 2'52 ahead now and knows that it's not a matter of if, but when..

He shifts suddenly on the saddle; the old undercarriage is doubtlessly a bit uncomfortable after so long out front.

17:26 CEST   
The bunch is spread right across the road. The hammer is yet to go down – it's been a day of steady containment.

Aussie champ Matthew Lloyd moves up closer to the front. Daniele Bennati is a little further back but he'll make sure to be in a good position for the gallop.

The Lampre team lead now, looking to set up their sprinter Danilo Napolitano. Emanuele Bindi and Marco Marzano are ahead of Kevin Van Impe (Quick Step).

17:29 CEST    140.3km/30km to go
Tom Boonen starts moving towards the front of the group, as does Erik Zabel. Lopez is just 2'13" ahead at this point. He goes into another aero tuck on a descent.

17:37 CEST    150.3km/20km to go
Liquigas leads, but hasn't lined the bunch out. As a result, plenty of other team are moving their riders up into position.

Lopez goes under the 20km to go banner, pushing out of the saddle as he does so. He's going to have stiff legs this evening...

17:42 CEST    152.7km/17.6km to go
11.1 kilometres from the end of the stage is the second bonus sprint; that's unusual to be so close to the line. Will Bennati give it full gas there to take some bonus seconds, or will he be content to wait until the finish? We suspect it'll be the latter option, perhaps encouraging his team-mates to mop up the points.

17:44 CEST    155.3km/15km to go
Fifteen kilometres to go for the leader...let's see a time check now..

17:46 CEST   
One minute...he's toast, we suggest..

17:47 CEST   
Euskaltel move up near the front, looking to put Koldo Fernandez into a good position. He was fourth yesterday.

17:50 CEST    159.2km/11.1km to go
Lopez is getting close to the sprint line. He's passing through the town of Almodovar del Campo, and gets plenty of cheers. There's good crowds here, and some interesting, twisting roads.

He's under the sprint sign now.

17:51 CEST   
The gap was 39 seconds there. The Lampre team were leading things going up to the prime line, then Alberto Contador (Astana) surprisingly nipped by to nab second place. He wants to keep tabs on Valverde, clearly.

17:52 CEST    161.3km/9km to go
Lopez is in sight...

17:53 CEST    161.3km/9km to go
Will Sylvain Chavanel or Philippe Gilbert try a trademark move and nip away?

Lopez has just 17" – this gap is coming down very quickly.

Crash! Several riders go down at the back of the bunch. Maurico Ardila is one of them, the Rabobank rider having to wait a while while he sorts his bike out.

17:54 CEST    163.3km/7km to go
The peloton splits around a roundabout. They are a matter of seconds away from catching Lopez.

17:55 CEST   
He surrenders, easing back.

Damiano Cunego's bad luck continues – he is one of those who crashed, and is going to lose time...

17:56 CEST    164.3km/6km to go
Hard luck for the Italian, who had a tough Tour de France.

Correction – Marco Marzano (Lampre) just about took second place at the intermediate sprint, with Contador third.

17:57 CEST   
Cunego's group seems quite far back. He's only got one team-mate there, and is 20" back.

Up front, it's all about Liquigas and Quick Step.

17:57 CEST    166.3km/4km to go
Four km to go...

17:58 CEST   
The Quick Step train is on the front, but Liquigas are ready to swoop...

17:59 CEST    167.3km/3km to go
Credit Agricole are there for Roche...

18:00 CEST   
Ouch! Another crash... A few riders are down. We think they are inside the 3km banner so they shouldn't lose time..

18:00 CEST   
Quick Step on the front...2km to go...

18:01 CEST   
Bettini sits close to the front, with Bennati about eighth wheel.

Schumacher was one of those to fall...he's waiting for a bike...

18:01 CEST    169.3km/1km to go
Last kilometre! Here we go...

18:01 CEST   
Liquigas, now Bettini hits the front...he's leading it out for Boonen...

18:01 CEST   
Zabel is on Bennati's wheel, Boonen is further back...

18:02 CEST   
Bennati...he gets it!

18:02 CEST   
Boonen was second, with Fernandez and Zabel also up there....

18:03 CEST   
The bunch comes in in dribs and drabs, so we guess the crash was towards the front.

18:04 CEST   
Super win for Bennati, who got the stage win he was hoping for.

18:04 CEST   
Looks like Fernandez was third, with Napolitano and Zabel next across the line...

18:05 CEST   
The lead will remain unchanged, needless to say. Although he'll have a bit more padding as regards his GC gap...

18:21 CEST   
Bennati's win plus his second place in an earlier intermediate sprint sees him finish the day 22 seconds ahead of Boonen. Valverde is now third overall, 48 seconds back.

That completes our coverage from today's stage. Tomorrow sees the first individual time trial, and so the GC is certain to be reshuffled there. It should be an exciting stage – we'll bring you all the action. See you then!

Provisional results

1 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step
3 Koldo Fernández (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre
5 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram
General classification after stage 4
1 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas                     

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