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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 15 - September 10: Motilla del Palancar - Ford factory (Almussafes), 182 km

Complete live report

Welcome back, folks, to our daily live coverage of La Vuelta a España. Today, the peloton has 182 kilometres on its plate, moving from Motilla del Palancar in central Spain eastwards and down to Almussafes on the Mediterranean coast. The bunch will roll down from 910 metres above sea level to zero. Of course, there will be minor climbing to do, as well, but it will be a fairly relaxing stage for many riders.

11:24 CEST   
Stage 15 will be a very likely bunch sprint finish - Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde will probably have an easy day, except for staying out of trouble towards the end. The sprinter's teams - mainly Crédit Agricole and Milram - will have to control possible breakaways and catch them in time before the finish line at the Ford factory.

11:35 CEST   
This morning at the start in Motilla del Palancar, two riders were missing as the pros signed in: Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) and Ruggero Marzoli (Lampre-Fondital). Both have opted to drop out of the race; we'll keep you posted on the reasons when we find out. With these two abandons, 33 riders of the 189 starters have already left the Vuelta before the start of its third week - the toughest of all three.

11:41 CEST   
The first few kilometres after the official start were quite fast, with Team Relax-Gam taking control over the initial attacks which came right off km 0. After three kilometres, three riders emerged out of the pack: Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam), William Walker (Rabobank) and Thierry Marichal (Cofidis).

But the teams Caisse d'Epargne and Milram were not happy with that breakaway, and reeled them in again two clicks later. Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam) insisted to get away, joined by Kevin Van Impe (Quick Step-Innergetic), but this duo was not lucky, either.

The Spanish Continental Pro team did not give in. Jorge García (Relax-Gam) tried again at km 7, accompanied by Kjell Carlström (Liquigas), and this time it worked. The gap grew to one minute after only two kilometres of breaking away, as Milram did not chase.

11:45 CEST    56km/126km to go
The break of the day thus continued to dig in, increasing its advantage to a maximum of 6.30 minutes at km 41 after one hour of racing was accomplished. From then on, the gap was reduced: the bunch is currently 5.55 minutes behind.

11:53 CEST   
There will be two intermediate sprints today, at km 73.5 and 163. Points jersey leader Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) has a comfortable cushion in the classification, though, so doesn't need to go for them at the moment.

12:04 CEST    67km/115km to go
The gap between the breakaway (Jorge García, Kjell Carlström) and the bunch has stabilized just under six minutes. Both parties can be happy with it - the two leaders because it still represents a chance to make it to the finish in front, and the peloton because a sprint finish is also within reach.

12:14 CEST   
Maillot oro Alejandro Valverde is sitting comfortably inside the pack, rolling down to the coastline. The general opinion at the race has it that he has confirmed his leadership yesterday at the time trial, even if the top 5 on GC are all still within two minutes. Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana), thought to be the better time triallist, could only make up 8 seconds on the Spaniard.

"The descent was a bit risky so I was cautious not to crash," the Kazakhstani said this morning at the sign-in. "You can tell at the results that the others didn't. The time trial didn't turn out the way I wanted, but there is still a lot of road ahead, so I will keep on trying."

Valverde, of course, was "delighted" with yesterday's outcome, in which he proved that he really has improved his capabilities against the clock. "I'm very happy with the result, because it was a difficult day and we came out of it very well," the rider from Murcia said before the start of today's stage.

12:23 CEST    83km/99km to go
Crédit Agricole, Milram and Quick Step are the teams leading out the pack at this stage. They've reduced the break's advantage to 5.20 minutes now, as the second hour of racing has ended with an average speed of 41.1 km/h.

The first sprint of the day at km 73 saw García take the points before Carlström. Third place for José Antonio Garrido (Quick Step) when the peloton reached the line.

12:31 CEST   
Today's weather report: The stage was started in great conditions with temps of about 21° celsius and a few clouds in the sky. Throughout the race, the temperatures will increase to about 26° at the finish, with a few more clouds expected. There is a chance of a few raindrops but nothing too spectacular (not like a few days ago when it hailed...) - the riders should be fine today.

12:36 CEST    88km/94km to go
As the sprinter's teams continue their pressure on the break, the gap is further reduced: 5.03 minutes at the moment. All the riders have been given some food and drink at the feed zone a few k's back, too - we're all set for the finale!

12:46 CEST    95km/87km to go
Jorge García (Relax-Gam) is now alone in front. Carlström lost contact and is riding 1.28 minutes behind him. The bunch is at 4.40.

12:53 CEST   
With still 85 km to go to the finish in Almussafes, the gap of 4.40 minutes is not actually very big. Maybe we'll see a few counter-attacks once the bunch gets closer, as there are small climbs to master in between the descents. Then again, it will be very difficult to prevent a bunch sprint finish today...

13:03 CEST    101km/81km to go
Carlström is now caught by the bunch - he probably decided it wasn't worth wasting any energy on this stage... García has nothing to lose; he continues down the road on his own, and actually increases his advantage now.

13:12 CEST    112km/70km to go
García continues to give it all, and is rewarded: his advantage has grown back to 6.22 minutes, a comfortable lead. Still, he knows that the game is far from over...

13:25 CEST    128km/54km to go
But the bunch isn't ready to give up: the gap has now been reduced again to 5.14 minutes, as the third hour of racing has ended. Average speed is still a comfortable 41,3 km/h.

13:39 CEST   
Now the race really gets moving: With 48 kilometres to go, the gap is reduced to less that 4 minutes. Jorge García (Relax-Gam) will have a very hard time holding the bunch off!

13:51 CEST   
Which one of the sprinters will be the strongest today? Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) surely would like to add another victory to his palmarès here... The finish at the Ford factory in Almussafes is tailor-made for him: the last kilometre is straight, flat and wide open.

Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) needs a little more complicated finishes to make the best of his abilities - but you never know. Team Milram seems to finally have two options again: Erik Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi, who is building up form for the World's. If Milram gets a good train going in the end we might just see the big come-back of Ale-Jet today!

Not to forget Stuart O'Grady (CSC), always good for a surprise, and the other candidates such as Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval), Luca Paolini (Liquigas), Bernhard Eisel (Francaise des Jeux), Danilo Napolitano (Lampre) and AG2R's Jean-Patrick Nazon.

13:54 CEST    145km/37km to go
Meanwhile, García's lead crumbles down to 3.23 minutes. Nevertheless, the Relax-Gam rider is not a no-name in Spain: he took his first victory as a pro in this same region, at the Vuelta a la Comunidad Valenciana, in 2004.

14:02 CEST    152km/30km to go
No chance for García today - he must have picked the wrong stage to play his cards. The bunch is closing in on him, now racing only 2.10 behind the Spaniard.

14:14 CEST    163km/19km to go
García is at the second intermediate sprint, as Quick Step and Milram are on the front of the bunch. The tempo is not too high as the leader is on a loose leash.

14:15 CEST   
García's already looking back, more or less sitting up. His time is up.

14:17 CEST   
A couple of Lampre guys also do some work, for Napolitano. The roads are winding through the rugged landscape, as the bunch almost has García in sight now. Thor Hushovd sits comfortably in 15th position or so.

14:21 CEST   
Here we go - García is caught at this moment, with a little more than 15 kilometres to go.

14:23 CEST    168km/14km to go
Lampre, Milram, Crédit Agricole and Quick Step now hold the tempo up to prevent any counter-attacks. All four teams are up front collaborating, with CSC right behind.

14:25 CEST   
Mountain points leader Pietro Caucchioli is also doing his share of the workload for his teammate Hushovd. They're driving it now across the plains, with vineyards bordering the road.

14:27 CEST   
Large roundabouts rip the bunch apart, but they all come back together on the other side - arriving into an industrial area now.

14:28 CEST    173km/9km to go
The bunch is nicely strung out as it should be for a sprint. The fight for positions has begun, as the riders are on a three-lane highway now.

14:30 CEST   
The combined train is still working well - no single team tries to take over; they all collaborate.

14:32 CEST    175km/7km to go
It's Quick Step and Crédit Agricole at the front now, as they gain even higher speed on a light descent.

14:34 CEST   
Milram is in 15th-20th position currently - they're waiting. Now the peloton takes the exit off the highway.

14:35 CEST    178km/4km to go
Quick Step is still up front: Bettini must be feeling good today.

14:35 CEST   
Now Milram mingles into the first positions, as the bunch is at 55 km/h. Some riders drop off the back.

14:37 CEST   
Speed goes up to 65 km/h now. Some riders are held up on the side of the road, on the other side of the barriers - how did they get there?

14:38 CEST   
Milram drives it in the last k. Bettini in 4th position.

14:39 CEST   
Lampre does a final turn, but Petacchi is fenced in! Bettini is up there... but Robert Förster (Gerolsteiner) wins! What a surprise!

14:41 CEST   
O'Grady second, Napolitano third, Hushovd fourth, then Bettini. There was a final light left hand curve which messed it up; that's where Petacchi got fenced in. Förster came round on the outside.

14:53 CEST   
Tomorrow is the second rest day at the Vuelta, but you can join us again on Tuesday for more live action! Nos vemos!


1 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner            4.24.55
2 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC
3 Danilo Napolitano (Ita) Lampre-Fondital 
4 Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
5 Paolo Bettini (Quick Step)

General classification after stage 15

1 Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) 


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