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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 7 - September 6: Barbastro - Andorra, 223.2km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer with additional reporting from Bjorn Haake in Andorra

14:55 CEST    Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana. Things get serious today, as the Pyrenees are on the day's agenda. This will be the first real test for the climbers, and for those who want to do something in the GC. But for much of the peloton, it will be the first day of torture.

15:00 CEST    Here's a quick update on what has happened so far in the stage. An escape group got away at 18km, and is still away. Allesandro Ballan (Lampre), Marc De Maar (Rabobank), Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Inigo Landaluze ( Euskaltel) and Giani Meersman (Francaise des Jeux) have built up a lead of 11.02 minutes so far.

15:06 CEST    The weather is not very cooperative today. It started out at 17° (Celsius) and should only be about 9° at the finish. The field has already ridden through some rain and fog. It's down to about 11° now and raining again. It could be a long and uncomfortable day for the peloton.

15:09 CEST    Carlos Barredo of Quick Step wasn't at the start today. He crashed in the fourth stage and broke his right scaphoid. That's a small bone in the wrist, which the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons tells us is the one most likely to break. Barredo toughed it out a long as he could, but just couldn't face the mountains with it. Also calling it quits before the start today was Nikolay Trusov of Tinkov. Stef Clement of Bouygues Telecom dropped out underway already today, as did Milram's Volodymyr Diudia.

15:12 CEST    There was an intermediate sprint at km30 and the points went to Zandio, Ballan and De Maar, in that order.

15:16 CEST    124km/99.2km to go Eleven minutes seems to be enough for Cofidis, which would like for Sylvain Chavanel to keep the leader's golden jersey. The team is leading the chase now. Incidentally, only seven Cofidis riders even started the Vuelta. Neither Stef Scheirlincks nor Maryan Henry were at the start of the opening team time trial.

15:19 CEST    The first climb of the day was the Port de Montilobat, category two. The riders went over in this order: Landaluze, Ballan, De Maar, Meersman, Zandio and Duque.

15:22 CEST    The second climb of the day is the Collado de Faidella, a category three mountain almost exactly halfway through the stage. The riders will climb 700 meters to get to the 1230 metre top. The results there were: De Maar, Landaluze, Ballan and Zandio.

15:24 CEST    Cyclingnews' man on the spot is Bjorn Haake, who is reporting in today from the press center, which is located a not-so-terribly convenient 8km from the finish line. Bjorn tells us it is fogged in there with off-and-on rain.

15:27 CEST    144km/79.2km to go The lead is continung to hold at 11 minutes as the break group works well together.

15:30 CEST    The riders took the train up to this area Thursday night, so they had the mountains around them for their rest day. They might have preferred not having to think about the climbing so early, but it's not one of those things that if you ignore it, it will go away.

15:35 CEST    Bjorn tells us: The press room is located at an archery. If the archers don't pay attention, their arrows will land down in the valley. The valley is really narrow with very steep and rugged walls on both sides.

15:39 CEST    And not only is this a killer mountain stage, it is also the longest in the Vuelta, a whopping 233 km. The riders are gonna love that....

15:43 CEST    158km/65.2km to go Team Astana has decided to help with the chase work. After all, they want their Alberto Contador to end up with the gold jersey. So far the lead has dropped to 10.49 minutes, which isn't that much of a change.

15:47 CEST    This was the third Vuelta stage start for Barbastrao. Andorra has had 16 finishes. The first was won by Esteban Martin in 1965 and the most recent was won by Denis Menchov in 2007. Neither rider is with us today.

15:50 CEST    Bjorn tells us what the riders have to look forward to in the finale: The final climb starts out incredibly steep. The first 5km are very steep, then it flattens out a bit for 1 or 2 km.

15:56 CEST    165km/58.2km to go Astana's actions seem to have helped. The lead has dropped again, and it is now down to 9.50 minutes.

16:01 CEST    Our man in Spain, Bjorn Haake, tells us: The UCI used the rest day to gather up its strength and sent out a string load of vampires. 45 blood controls were taken. The tested teams were CSC-Saxo Bank, AG2R La Mondiale, Caisse d'Epargne, Silence-Lotto and Gerolsteiner. The tests were carried out between 7:15 and 8:30 this morning when most riders wished they could still sleep a bit longer. Then again, with the sign-in beyween 10:05 and 10:50 riders had to get up fairly early anyway. It takes quite some time until a cyclist has gobbled up all the morning calories for a good base...

16:08 CEST    171km/52.2km to go The lead is back up over 10 minutes. Back in the field, Milram's Matej Jurco has crashed but is up and going again.

16:10 CEST    One of the big names in the race had a big announcement on the rest day. Carlos Sastre of CSC-Saxo Bank announced that he is leaving the Danish team when his contract expires the end of this year and that he will ride with the new Team Cervelo. Not only that, he is taking Directeur Sportif Scott Sunderland with him. The Aussie, who also happens to be a Cyclingnews diarist, will be the team's Sport Manager.

16:13 CEST    179km/44.2km to go The leaders have taken the second (and last) sprint of the day at Sant Julia de Loria, in this order: Ballan, Zandio and Landaluze. The break is now getting ready to go up la Rabassa for the first time.

16:14 CEST    The peloton is about to leave Spain and enter Andorra. Andorra is a tiny country surrounded by Spain and France. At 468 square km, or 181 square miles, it is the fifth smallest country in the world. It is quite prosperous, due to tourism and the fact that it is a tax haven. And if you want to live long, move here. It has the highest life expectancy in the world, 83.5 years.

16:19 CEST    180km/43.2km to go Astana has taken over the lead work and brought the gap down to 8.50. We see now that it is rainy with heavy fog at the finish line.

16:20 CEST    Astana's Alberto Contador isn't too worried about today's stage, calling the final climb “not too hard”. He expects to see riders like Igor Anton, Damiano Cunego or Robert Gesink do well, and is curious as to what Alejandro Valverde, Carlos Sastre and even his own team-mate Levi Leipheimer will do.

16:24 CEST    Italy's Luca Paolini of Team Acqua Sapone-Caffè Mokambo today won the Coppa Placci in a small group sprint over fellow Italians Enrico Gasparotto of Team Barloworld and Mauro Facci of Team Quick Step.

16:26 CEST    The stage ends on La Rabassa. In fact, the lucky peloton gets to go up this nasty climb twice. After a mere 200 km, the riders will head up it for the first time. Then they go down, turn around and not only go back up, but go four km further up. Now doesn't that sound like fun... And if that's not enough, it is a category one climb the first time, and Special Category the second time around!

16:28 CEST    We asked Scott Sunderland, CSC-Saxo Bank Directeur Sportif, what we could expect on La Rabassa. He accurately predicted an escape group, and said, “the first big selection will come on the first time up. It has a maximum gradient of 10%, with an average of 6.9% the first time up and 6.2% the second time.”

16:30 CEST    Zandio had dropped off the back of the leading group, but caught them again. The higher they go, the more fog they run into.

Flanders hard-man Alessandro Ballan battles the tough conditions today in Andorra
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

16:31 CEST    Ballan pulls on a rain vest. It can't be very comfortable out there, and it is probably a shock to the system after those 30°-plus temperatures earlier in the Vuelta.

16:36 CEST    185km/38.2km to go Zandio is having trouble again and has fallen back, as has Landaluze. That leaves us De Maar, Meersman and Ballan in the lead. Further back, the field is 7.50 behind the three leaders.

16:40 CEST    188km/35.2km to go Now things are starting to happen. The three in front have a 7.20 lead over a trio which has escaped out of the peloton: Patrice Halgland (Credit Agricole), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) and Carlos Castano (Xacobeo Galicia). They are 27 seconds ahead of the field. And somewhere in between are Landaluze and Zandio.

16:43 CEST    There is continued rain at the finish, but, we are told, no wind. That is some consolation but it definitely looks very unpleasant.

16:49 CEST    28 year-old Alessandro Ballan of Lampre has taken over the "virtual" leader's jersey. Hard to believe, but he doesn't have any wins this season!

16:51 CEST    Isn't this lovely? 11°, heavy rain, heavy fog and a nasty mountain! What a lovely combination.... We are beginning to think that the break will have a good chance of staying away to the end, especially with this cruddy weather. What do you think? Let us know.

16:52 CEST    It is raining in Bremen, Gemany, too, where the Deutschland Tour is ending today with an individual time trial.

16:55 CEST    190km/33.2km to go Despite the weather the three leaders have crested the top of La Rabassa for the first time. Only 18 seconds later, Landaluze came over the top, too. Zandio has dropped to 2.38 back, and the field is back at 6.26.

16:57 CEST    What awaits the riders at the finish? Rain and 7°. How about a chorus of "The rain in Andorra stays mainly in the mountains" – wait a minute, that doesn't sound quite right...

17:00 CEST    Ballan may not have had his best season ever in 2008, but he has taken some pretty nice wins. Last year he won the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Three Days of De Panne, and the Vattenfall Cyclassics. He has spent his entire four year career with Lampre.

17:03 CEST    Marc De Maar is a 24 year-old Dutchman riding for Rabobank, with which he turned pro in 2006. He is another one who is still looking for his first season win.

17:06 CEST    197km/26.2km to go Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and David Garcia (Xacobeo-Galicia) have jumped out of the peloton on the descent. Cofidis is leading the field again, lighting up the fog with their bright-red jerseys.

17:10 CEST    200km/23.2km to go Landaluze has caught up again with the three in front, who are 5.30 ahead of the field. But the big news is in the field, where it looks like Cofidis' Sylvain Chavanel – wearing the gold jersey – is dropping off the back, following Bettini's attack.

17:13 CEST    204km/19.2km to go Chavanel has caught up with the field again. Up front, Landaluze has used his descending skills to move into the lead, 20 seconds ahead of Ballan, Meersman and De Maar. Bettini and Garcia have now been joined by Amets Txurruka of Euskaltel in their slight lead over the field.

17:22 CEST    Everybody went over la Rabassa a little while ago, for the first time, and in this order: De Maar, Ballan, Meersman, Landaluze, Zandio, Paulinho, Rubiera, Klöden and Leipheimer.

World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) on the hunt in Andorra
Photo ©: Roberto Bettini
(Click for larger image)

17:25 CEST    209km/14.2km to go Now Ballan has taken over the lead, as he and De Maar have caught and passed Landaluze. Bettini, Zandio and Garcia are now 4.49 behind them, with the main field 5.39 back.

17:32 CEST    213km/10.2km to go Ballan is now alone in the lead, with De Maar behind him. Behind them, David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) and Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank) have caught and past Bettini and Garcia.

17:35 CEST    Here are some of the time differences: Ballan is 1.28 ahead of De Maar. Meersman is 3.40 back. The field is at 5.35, with Ardila and Arroyo somewhere in between.

17:36 CEST    We apologise for the quality of information today. It is extremely difficult to get any information, presumably because of the weather.

17:38 CEST    La Rabassa is a high-altitude nature reserve. In the winter it offers not only cross-country skiing but also sledding, dog sledding and snowshoeing. It is also known for its shooting range. And right now, of course, it is known for the difficulties it presents to cyclists...

17:45 CEST    218km/5.2km to go Ballan continues to lead with 3.58 ahead of De Maar. Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobea-Galicia has jumped out of the peloton and is at 4.11, with the field 17 seconds behind him.

17:48 CEST    220km/3.2km to go Ballan continues to hold a three minute lead over De Maar. The peloton, now led by Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, is now only 3.40 back.

17:49 CEST    And it is a solo win for Ballan!

17:53 CEST    With that, Ballan takes over the lead in the Vuelta. Back in the pack, Contador attacked out of the field shortly before the finish and was able to win a few seconds over his rivals.

17:56 CEST    If we understand things right – which we aren't at all sure of at this point – Ballan won, with Contador second, a few seconds ahead of Sastre, Joaquin Rodriguez, Levi Leipheimer and Igor Anton Hernandez.

17:58 CEST    We think it is time to call an end to a very confusing stage. Let's hope that things go better for us tomorrow. Things won't go much better for the riders, they have another nice little mountain stage to look forward to!

Note: We initially made the mistake of reporting the stage length as 233.2 instead of 223.2km in our live coverage. We have attempted to correct distances complete / distances to go above, but please consider them approximate. We apologize for the mistake.

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