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63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 9 - September 8: Viella - Sabiñánigo, 200.8km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

Live coverage starts: 15:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:30 CEST

15:01 CEST    Good afternoon and welcome back to our live coverage of the Vuelta a España. We are still in the mountains today, although this stage is considered a "medium" mountain stage rather than a really difficult one. Will the riders agree with that assessment when they have finished? It is one of those "saw-blade" stages, with lots of up-and-down and very little flat. The last climb is the biggest, but it is 62km away from the finish.

15:02 CEST    Here's a quick update as to what is happening: We have a large escape group with a 3.14 minute lead. The group is: Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Andrea Tonti (Quick Step), Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Patrice Halgland (Credit Agricole), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Christophe Kern (Credit Agricole), Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel).

15:05 CEST    101km/99.8km to go We are slightly more than halfway through the stage now.

15:07 CEST    The stage got off to an interesting start., with the first climb starting almost immediately. Cyclingnews' man on the scene, Bjorn Haake, reports: „The road went straight up from Vielha e Mijaran. The riders had to go up through a tunnel for 5km. Fortunately it was lit, so no bike lights were required. But the tunnel was long and steep enough that when they emerged back out, a category two mountain point was waiting for them."

15:09 CEST    There was a first escape group on the first climb, of Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff), Maarten Tjallingii (Silence-Lotto), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Valerio Agnoli (Liquigas), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank). That's how they took the mountain points, too.

15:11 CEST    That group was caught on the descent. Another group formed and was soon caught underway to the second climb. At 47km, Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel), Alberto Losado (Caisse d'Epargne), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R), Matteo Tosatto (Quick Step), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Patrice Halgland (Credit Agricole), Vasili Kiryienka (Tinkoff) and Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux) got together and got away.

15:12 CEST    The second climb of the day was the Col de l'Espina at km. 46.2. This category two climb was won by Moncoutie. The group was caught by the field on the descent. Astana was leading things so fast that the field had split into three groups, with all the favourites in the first group. Over the next 12 km the current group formed and got away.

15:14 CEST    The day's first intermediate sprint was at km 64.4, with the points going to Van Avermaet ahead of Martinez and Moncoutie. Haake tells us, "After the first sprint, it is going downhill, along the river. The road is very curvy with rock sections sticking out into the road."

15:17 CEST    106km/94.8km to go Moncouite won the points at the next climb. That was the category three Pto de la Foradada, which Haake tells us, "is very straight and a very wide road, not really that exciting."

15:19 CEST    The gap is 3.24 minutes as the leaders hit the feed zone. Behind them, Astana is still at the head of the pack.

15:24 CEST    There were only 161 riders at the start this morning, as Silence-Lotto's Matthew Lloyd did not start.

15:26 CEST    118km/82.8km to go This group is flying! Their lead is now up to 6.02!

15:31 CEST    The race is having another pretty day. Haake tells us, "It is really nice, warm and sunny. There are a few clouds that does not make the day so unbearable. Around 22°C."

15:36 CEST    122km/78.8km to go The leading group is heading up the next climb now with a 6.12 lead.

15:39 CEST    The last climb of the day is the only category one climb, the Pto de Serrabla. It features a 13km cliimb up 690 metres. According to Haake, "it is very twisty with loose gravel. There are some downhill parts in the climb."

15:45 CEST    126km/74.8km to go And now the group is heading down the final climb, with a lead of 6.02.

15:52 CEST    Before the race, Alberto Contador denied that he had a problem with Alejandro Valverde. "These are situations that arise in every race and in which everyone defends their own interests. There is no problem between us, in fact, we are very good friends," he said.

15:58 CEST    Sylvain Chavanel of Cofidis enjoyed the two days in yellow (the rest day was spent in yellow, too). "It was really great. I came here to win a stage. Getting second in a stage and then taking the yellow jersey was terrific." He had hoped to maybe hang on to the lead for one more day, but was not too disappointed with his Vuelta so far. "I am not a climber, I am a rouleur. But I am improving in the mountains...." Cyclingnews thanked Chavanel for his insightful diary at both the Tour and the Vuelta. Chavanel responded with a "you are welcome."

16:00 CEST    130km/70.8km to go The lead is now down to 5.46. We were wrong before when we said they were descending, they aren't even at the top yet!

16:04 CEST    132km/68.8km to go Astana's Dmitriy Muravyev just called for the race doctor.

16:06 CEST    There are a whole flock of turquoise and yellow Astana jerseys at the front of the peloton. And one in gold, too, of course!

16:09 CEST    This region is best known for its winter sports, but this time of year you can also enjoy hiking, rafting, canoing, ravining, canyoning, horseback riding -– and even cycling!

16:11 CEST    There's lots of wildlife to observe here, such as golden eagles and the Pyrenan chamois (mountain goat). Not that the cyclists will have much chance to look for them, though.

16:13 CEST    135km/65.8km to go Now we really have hit the top of the final climb of the day, with a time gap that has gone back up to 6.18.

16:18 CEST    Davide Rebellin, 38, turned pro in 1992. He has ridden for MG Bianchi, Maglificio MG-Technogym, Polti, Francaise des Jeux, Polti again, and Liquigas before joining Gerolsteiner in 2002. His biggest year was 2004 when he won Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and LBL, all within one week. He has not yet announced where he will ride next year. Or if he will continue to ride next year...

16:21 CEST    Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) said yesterday that he does better in the rain but despite the sun back in Spain, Mosquera held on to the group of favourites. He moved up to fifth spot in the overall. Nonetheless, Mosquera was hoping for the Asturian climbs. "If it goes like last year, things should be going even better." Asked if he wanted the rain to return, Mosquera answered with a conditional yes. "Yes, the rain would be good, as long as the motor responds well," he said while clutching his thighs. The most dangerous part for him was the first climb, "when many try to get into the break." He didn't think the other climbs would be as dangerous.

16:23 CEST    143km/57.8km to go Egoi Martinez of Euskaltel is our new virtual leader of the race. The gap is now 6.44, and Martinez was only 6.41 behind Levi Leipheimer going into the stage.

16:25 CEST    The landscape here is unusual – sandy coloured cliffs with scrubby bushes and trees.

16:26 CEST    Alan Perez drops back to the team car to pick up some liquid refreshment.

16:31 CEST    Damiano Cunego is 26 years-old and his nickname is "Il Piccolo Principe "(The Little Prince). He turned pro with Saeco in 2002 and joined Lampre in 2005. He won the Giro d'Italia in 2004, the Giro di Lombardia in 2004 and 2007, the Amstel Gold race this year.

16:33 CEST    Moncoutie will take over the mountains jersey this evening. His hard work today has paid off. He now has 78 points, ahead of 51 points for Ballan.

16:35 CEST    149km/51.8km to go Astana isn't going to let go of the gold jersey that easily. It has brought the gap back down to 6.18, so Leipheimer can continue to wear the leader's jersey.

16:36 CEST    Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) sat down with Haake before the start to chat. He wasn't looking forward to the tunnel climb that opened things today. "I have done that tunnel before, it is sort of claustrophobic in there," he said. "We went to be in the break to day, to have an Euskaltel rider in the move." Looks like they succeeded, there are two Euskaltel riders in the group.

16:39 CEST    David Moncoutié (Cofidis) was all smiles at the start this morning, visibly content with having won a stage. "Now we will see how I can recover," he told Cyclingnews Bjorn Haake before the start. Obviously, he did recover well, as he is once again in the break. Will he get back to back wins?

16:42 CEST    There's another race going on right now, up north of here. Specifically, the Tour of Britain. Aussie Matthew Goss of CSC Saxo Bank took the win ahead of Julian Dean of Garmin Chipotle. Alessandro Petacchi finished sixth but that was enough for him to hold on to the overall lead.

16:44 CEST    161km/39.8km to go The lead continues to drop. It is now down to 5.46. With 40 some km still to go, we are about ready to say that the escape group just might make it through to the end.

16:47 CEST    Francisco José Martínez (Andalucía-Cajasur) told Cyclingnews before the start that "I would love to be in the break, but if it doesn't work out I will just try to save my strength for the next day." Martínez agreed that the start of the stage was hard. "I have done it before in a race. It's a large tunnel and it is about five kilometres long." At least the weather is better again. "Yes, much better than two days ago. In that stage I actually fell."

16:48 CEST    Some discussion at the front of the peloton among the Astana riders. Looks like they are easing up. Most likely they just think it is about time they had a little help with the lead work.

16:52 CEST    And the time gap promptly jumps. It is now 6.46 and that whooshing noise you just heard was the gold jersey slipping from Leipheimer's shoulders to Martinez'.

16:55 CEST    Egoi Martinez is 30 years-old. He turned pro with Euskaltel in 2001 and rode for Discovery Channel in 2006 and 2007, before returning to Euskaltel this year. In 2006 he won Stage 11 of the Tour de France, and took home the mountain title.

16:57 CEST    Apparently Astana decided it wasn't such a good idea to go out of the lead work. They are back at the head of the field again, with the gap at 6.49.

17:00 CEST    Astana is pulling the field along at over 60km/h now.

17:04 CEST    Also in the lead group is Rinaldo Nocentini, a 30 year-old who turned pro in 1999. He joined his current team of AG2R in 2007. This season he won the GP de Lugano, was second overall in Paris-Nice and Tour du Haut Var, and fourth in the Tour Mediterraneen.

17:08 CEST    184.8km/16km to go The lead group has gone through the second intermediate sprint of the day, with Martinez going over the line first, picking up some important bonus seconds.

17:10 CEST    What do we eat in this region of Huesca? Lots of yummy things, like fresh fish including trout and cod. And lots of beans and lettuce and chili peppers and asparagus. There is also something called Shepherd's fried breadcrumbs with bacon and sausage. We think we should stop now, because we are getting hungry.

17:11 CEST    Astana has let up again and just like that, the time gap shoots up over seven minutes!

17:14 CEST    189.8km/11km to go The gap is growing by the second, it is now 7.20. And we see that Martinez has picked up 10 bonus seconds underway today.

17:22 CEST    Tonti and Flecha attack out of the lead group. The Rabo rider stays away and the two Euskaltels give chase.

17:23 CEST    196.8km/4km to go Flecha has a lead over the rest of the group. Martinez is wiling to let him go for the stage win, as long as he takes the overall lead. The pack is now 6 km behind them.

17:23 CEST    Flecha is caught and Moncoutie gives it a try.

17:25 CEST    198.8km/2km to go All together again and riding furiously.

17:25 CEST    Martinez leads the charge. He needs to come in 6.30 ahed of Leipheimer.

17:26 CEST    199.8km/1km to go A wild sprint for the stage win, with Moncoutie starting it off.

17:28 CEST    Lots of pokering until they get serious with 200 or so metres to go. Rebellin gives it a try, but it is Van Avermaet who takes it, with Rebellin second and either Flecha or Nocentini third.

17:30 CEST    The field still has 4km to go and now they have really turned the speed on.

17:31 CEST    198.8km/2km to go A Liquigas rider has jumped out of the pack and has a slight lead. The gap is just over four minutes.

17:33 CEST    There is no organization at all in the field. It looks more like a mass sprint that anything else!

17:34 CEST    It was close, but the field came in at 6.41. So we have a new leader, by a whopping ten seconds!

17:35 CEST    So once again Levi Leipheimer must give up the leader's gold jersey after only one day. He is now 11 seconds down, in second place.

17:36 CEST    That was it for today, and what an unexpected finale it was. Thanks for joining us and come by again tomorrow.

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