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60th Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, August 27-September 18, 2005
Wednesday, September 7: Rest Day
Menchov looking good as gold
By Les Clarke
After a hot and arduous first ten days of the Vuelta, riders get to enjoy a much-anticipated rest day. Overall contenders have raised their hands to be counted, including Francisco Mancebo, Denis Menchov, Roberto Heras and Carlos Sastre. Alessandro Petacchi has shown that skipping the Tour doesn't harm your ability to win stages, and Brad McGee spent four days in gold, becoming the only Australian to wear the leader's jersey in the three grand tours.
Rabobank's Denis Menchov and three-time Vuelta champion Roberto Heras, however, are looking like the men to beat, and after a victories in both time trials for Menchov and a win on stage 6 for Heras, it appears the battle will be between the little Spanish climbing ace and the Russian surprise packet. But maybe we're jumping the gun a little! Heras will certainly have his hands full if he wants to take a fourth Vuelta, with the likes of Menchov and Mancebo keeping him company on these early climbing stages, as seen on stage 10, where Mancebo rode a strong stage to take the win.
But with Beloki and Scarponi working well for Heras during the stage to the ski station at Ordino Arcalis, last year's winner is definitely the man to beat - again. And with riders such as Floyd Landis, Iban Mayo, Isidro Nozal, Aitor Osa and Angel Luis Casero abandoning the race, it could be a case of surprise or confirmation of greatness for the winner of this year's Vuelta.
Stage 1 - August 27: Granada-Granada TT, 7 km
Denis Menchov fired the first shots in this year's Vuelta, taking a solid win ahead of prologue specialist Brad McGee, and more importantly, 15 seconds ahead of Roberto Heras, who finished a respectable seventh place in the opening race against the clock. Menchov was philosophical at the finish, saying, "I'll go day by day. To lose the leader's jersey doesn't mean much for us, but I trust in my team."
Stage 2 - August 28: Granada-Córdoba, 189.3 km
This was Brad McGee's day - second place on the stage meant the Francaise des Jeux rider took his first gold jersey, becoming the first Australian to wear the leader's jersey in each of the three grand tours. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) won the stage in Cordoba, and the expected hot conditions eventuated, adding another obstacle to the cross winds and high pace set by Spanish riders looking to perform on home soil.
Stage 3 - August 29: Cordoba-Puertollano, 153.3 km
Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) showed everyone he's in good form leading up to the world championships and that his 'holiday' during the Tour de France did him no harm, with victory in stage 3 to Puertollano. Fassa forced a bunch sprint finish after Thomas Ziegler attacked close to home, reeling in the Gerolsteiner rider to set it up for Ale Jet to fire home for first win of the Vuelta. Brad McGee stayed in gold for another day as the GC leaders hung back, away from the hustle of the big stage finishes.
Stage 4 - August 30: Ciudad Real-Argamasilla de Alba, 232.3 km
Another hot day passing through the south of Spain, and another win for Fassa Bortolo's man on the money, Petacchi. A long stage at 232 kilometres, an early escape stayed away for most of the day before being caught five kilometres from the finish. Fassa's leadout men reeled the French trio of Sebastien Joly (Credit Agricole), Frederic Finot (La Française des Jeux) and Christophe Edaleine (Cofidis), who had fled the pack earlier with Leon Van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto). The Dutch rider couldn't hang on to the group, but Brad McGee held onto the gold leader's jersey as Petacchi shut out Hushovd, Steels and Zabel for the stage win.
Stage 5 - August 31: Alcazar de San Juan-Cuenca, 176 km
This was big Thor Hushovd's day - after 61 kilometres the expected break eventuated, with Jakob Piil (CSC), Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis), Eric Leblacher (Credit Agricole), Michael Barry (Discovery Channel), Patrick Calcagni (Liquigas-Bianchi), Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Jorge Garcia (Relax Fuenlabrada) and David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval) going clear and gaining a maximum advantage of 4'08. The peloton snuffed out any hopes of a breakaway stage win, and although Tom Boonen survived the tricky final climb, it was Hushovd who timed his sprint best after Boonen ended up leading out at 1 km to go and McGee and Bettini both went too early in the sprint. McGee stayed in gold - but for how much longer? With the mountains looming, a hot first week looked set to take its toll even further.
Stage 6 - September 1: Cuenca-Valdelinares, 217 km
A day for the GC contenders to show themselves as race leader Brad McGee fell by the wayside and Heras stepped onto the top of the podium. The three-time Vuelta winner showed he was up to the challenge, saying post stage, "Indeed the Vuelta is not over; It has just begun. This was the first mountain stage and the show is guaranteed, that's for sure. It was a very tough stage, ridden at a fast tempo. My team was sensational and I was able to finish the work they did during the stage."
While many of the pre-race contenders suffered and fell off the pace, Rabobank's Denis Menchov emerged as a rival to Heras, in the tradition of Vuelta duels. He finished second to Heras on the stage and overall. Eight riders abandoned during the stage, including Floyd Landis and Bernhard Eisel.
Stage 7 - September 2: Teruel-Vinaros, 212.5 km
Another bunch sprint for stage 7, with Discovery Channel's Max Van Heeswijk taking the win from Erik Zabel and Fassa Bortolo's Alberto Ongarato. After a tough stage the day before, emerging GC rivals Heras and Menchov spent the day in the pack, both protected from the heat and strong winds. The usual early breakaway was eaten by the peloton for a bunch kick, where Van Heeswijk timed his run to perfection and won a long sprint. Heras picked up a six second bonus sprint to maintain his position at the head of the general classification, now with a 12 second lead over Denis Menchov.
Stage 8 - September 3: Tarragona-Lloret de Mar, 189 km
Petacchi made it three stage wins after the previous day's puncture near the finish, winning the stage into Lloret de Mar. The usual breakaway only waited six kilometres to get away, and gained a maximum advantage of 9'40 with 88 kilometres to race. The three riders out front were easily caught near the finish, and all that was left to do for Fassa was get Petacchi to the line. They did this, and Petacchi took win numero tre ahead of Thor Hushovd and Paolo Bettini. Heras remained in gold for another day, still 12 seconds ahead of Menchov.
Stage 9 - September 4: Lloret de Mar-Lloret de Mar TT, 48 km
Denis Menchov showed he likes racing against the clock, with another win in the format to secure the gold jersey on stage 9. He was helped by Roberto Heras' 10-second penalty to cutting corners on the course, as he finished fifth on the stage and ended 47 seconds behind the Russian on GC. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) and Carlos Sastre (CSC) moved themselves into a strong position overall with solid performances in the time trial, but the main event still appears to be between Menchov and Heras.
Stage 10 - September 5: La Vall d'En Bas (Girona)-Ordino Arcalis (Andorra), 206.3 km
Riders hit the pyrenees on stage 10, providing confirmation that the race for overall honours has really begun. And this was reflected in the day's results, which saw Mancebo finish the stage in front of Heras and Menchov. Another break went clear until the final five kilometres, when the top three powered up the final climb to share the spoils of a tough day's racing. Liberty Seguros' team leader Heras probably wasn't expecting his Russian rival to be quite so strong; he's now very aware the gold jersey's going to take a lot of battling for in the coming 11 days. Menchov retained the jersey and his 47-second lead at day's end.
Eleven riders abnadoned the stage, including Isidro Nozal (Liberty-Würth), Aitor Osa (Illes Balears), Angel Casero (Comunidad Valenciana), Leif Hoste, Max Van Heeswijk (Discovery Channel) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo).
Stage 11 - September 6: Andorra-Cerler, 192.6 km
Another great day of climbing saw no changes to GC as Euskaltel-Euskadi's Roberto Laiseka attacked several times on the final climb, eventually getting away at three kilometres to go to take the stage win. Another eight riders abandoned today, including Satiago Botero (Phonak), Brad McGee (Francaise des Jeux) and Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). The difficult terrain and conditions were taking a heavy toll, but Sastre, Mancebo, Heras and Menchov didn't lose ground and continue to be the riders to beat for the top positions.