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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 16 – September 12: Almería - Astronomical Observatory of Calar Alto, 145 km

Live report

Live Commentary by Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Shane Stokes

Live coverage starts: 14:30 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:30 CEST

The mountains kick off again after the second rest day. The stage features two first-category climbs and one hors-category climb to the astronomical observatory atop Calar Alto. The final kilometre averages eight percent. GC riders will battle this one out!

14:37 CEST   
Welcome to the final week of La Vuelta. We've had the second rest day and now it's all out until the finish in Madrid, with some very tough stages to come.

Starting today.

It's 145 km of pain between Almería and the Astronomical Observatory of Calar Alto, starting with the cat. 1 Alto de Velefique after 56 km, then the Alto de Calar Alto (for the first time) at km 88, before the final special category ascent to Calar Alto at the finish. Today there are also two sprints at Tabernas (km 25.8) and km 124.

14:44 CEST    50km/95km to go
The situation thus far is that we have a medium sized breakaway that started to agglomerate after 30 km, with the following riders involved: Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel - best placed on GC at 9'30), Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Iñigo Chaurreau (AG2R Prevoyance), Pietro Caucchioli and Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Jérémy Roy and Sébastien Joly (Française des Jeux), Alessandro Spezialetti (Liquigas), Daniel Becke (Team Milram), José Antonio Redondo (Astana Team). They have 3'52 on the bunch, but have just dropped Jeremy Roy.

The first sprint after 25 km was won by Fred Bessy (Cofidis) from Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) and Evgeni Petrov (Lampre).

14:50 CEST    52km/93km to go
The group is staying together on the 1800m Velefique, with Roy falling back to 1'12, and the main bunch still at just under 4 minutes. Valverde's team has Pereiro in the break, but Egoi Martinez is much better placed, so Caisse d'Epargne still has to ride. Pereiro shouldn't have to though.

14:56 CEST    55km/90km to go
Today's stage started without Alessandro Petacchi, who broke a bone in his hand after punching the Lampre team car out of frustration on Sunday, and Fabian Cancellara (CSC), who wants to concentrate on the World's TT. Also Michael Boogerd (Rabobank), Cyril Dessel (AG2r), Bernhard Eisel (FDJ), Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner) and Luca Paolini (Liquigas) didn't start. That leaves 149 riders in the race.

15:07 CEST   
Petacchi's bête noir, Danilo Napolitano, has quit the race on the climb of the Velefique.

15:28 CEST    78km/67km to go
The points at the summit of the Velefique are taken by Martinez ahead of mountains leader Caucchioli, then Arvesen, Fofonov and Redondo.

15:30 CEST    80km/65km to go
The second sprint of the day is won by Becke ahead of Spezialetti and Fofonov. The leaders covered 70 km in the first two hours of racing, but still only have 3'47 on the tightly controlled peloton. It looks like Pereiro's presence up front will be used to try to springboard Valverde on the final climb.

15:32 CEST   
A correction: Xavier Florencio (Bouygues) didn't start today's stage either, leaving 148 riders in the race. 147 after Napolitano's abandon.

15:35 CEST   
The leaders are tackling the first ascent of the Calar Alto, which rises almost 1000m in 18 km.

15:39 CEST    82km/63km to go
Nacor Burgos (Relax-Gam) is the next rider to say goodbye to the Vuelta after suffering a crash. Meanwhile, Chaurreau, Arvesen, Caucchioli and Fofonov have attacked the break.

15:55 CEST    85km/60km to go
Redondo, Martinez, Landaluze, Minard, Pereiro and Becke have managed to bridge up to the front four on the climb, and so we now have: Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel - best placed on GC at 9'30), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Team CSC), Iñigo Chaurreau (AG2R Prevoyance), Pietro Caucchioli and Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), José Antonio Redondo (Astana Team), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Daniel Becke (Team Milram) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears) being chased by Mauricio Ardila (Rabobank), Sébastien Joly (Française des Jeux) and Alessandro Spezialetti (Liquigas). The bunch is 5'09 back, but probably going to do something soon.

15:56 CEST   
Minard, Chaurreau and Martinez - looking good - swap off on a steep section of this climb. There's a bit of rain around, and it's a tad chilly.

15:57 CEST   
Caisse d'Epargne is setting tempo a bit further down the Alto, still five and a half minutes behind the leaders. The three chasers with Ardila are at 2'30 and losing ground.

16:01 CEST    88km/57km to go
Caucchioli sits third behind teammate Fofonov and Martinez as they reach the summit of this climb. The latter is reasonably well placed in the mountains classification, so could threaten the Italian.

16:03 CEST    90km/55km to go
Martinez does indeed take the points in the sprint, with Caucchioli second. The gap between the two is only seven points.

The chasing three with Ardila, Spezialetti and Joly comes across the top at 2'43.

16:05 CEST   
Raindrops are falling on their heads as the leaders commence the descent of the Calar Alto. Most have rain jackets on, but not Arvesen, Martinez or Becke at the moment.

16:06 CEST    92km/53km to go
Garcia Acosta leads the bunch across at 5'21 behind the leaders. Chris Horner and Will Walker are still there, but right at the back.

16:12 CEST   
Benoît Joachim (Discovery) is on his own on the descent, navigating the wet roads with care. But there is blue sky in the distance and the roads should be dry further down.

16:15 CEST    100km/45km to go
The Ardila group is falling back to the clutches of the peloton, now 3'40 behind the leaders. The bunch is just 45 seconds behind them and the roads are now quite dry.

16:21 CEST    103km/42km to go
The descent goes up and down a bit, and that has reduced the break's size. Minard and Arvesen have been dropped.

Mark Renshaw (Credit Agricole) has abandoned too.

16:23 CEST    107km/38km to go
The peloton takes the descent at a steady pace, with three Caisse d'Epargne riders on the front. Valverde is a bit further back, and the bunch is still 5'30 ish behind the break.

16:26 CEST   
Bettini and Hulsmans get to the front too, with Bettini divesting himself of his rain jacket. The bunch rides slowly on an uphill portion of this descent.

16:28 CEST    109km/36km to go
The sun is shining and the skies are blue again above the break, which is nearing the foot of the descent of the Calar Alto. Kurt Asle Arvesen has rejoined the break, followed by Minard.

16:31 CEST   
Becke goes back to his car for some drinks, with cheese and bikkies optional. The German returns to the breakaway, which might fancy its chances today, as Martinez isn't really a threat on GC.

16:34 CEST    111km/34km to go
Ardila is absorbed by the Garcia Acosta led peloton, which is almost at the foot of the descent, six minutes behind the break.

Jesus Hernández (Relax) has had a painful fall on the descent. He will be out of the race for sure, it looks like. Possibly a mechanical defect like a puncture caused it.

16:35 CEST   
Joly is caught by the bunch next, and presumably Spezialetti will follow.

16:37 CEST   
Valverde inserts himself back into fourth wheel with Carlos Sastre right behind him. Garcia Acosta, having done incredible work today, keeps the tempo up on the flat. It's quite a lot warmer and sunnier on the plain, despite what they say about the rain in Spain and I should stop using that joke.

16:38 CEST    120km/25km to go
The break is working, but not too hard at the moment. They have a chance of staying away but it will be touch and go. Arvesen looks a bit cooked as he does his turn. Martinez looks very good.

16:42 CEST    123km/22km to go
The Caisse d'Epargne men are now working well in the peloton, swapping off turns into the headwind.

Up front, Redondo stretches, Fofonov gulps down an energy drink, and Pereiro inhales an energy gel. Now is the time to do it.

16:43 CEST   
The bunch is very lined out with some riders fighting for position at the back in the crosswinds. This will destroy most riders as soon as the last climb starts. Sastre sits behind the large Karpets, getting some protection from the wind.

Yep, echelons are now forming.

16:45 CEST    124km/21km to go
The leaders start the last climb, 21 km long at 6.4%, and some big black ugly clouds ahead of them. That's ok - no more descending today.

16:45 CEST   
The peloton has already cut the gap back to 4'43 and it's falling.

16:47 CEST    125km/20km to go
Saunier Duval sprinter Ventoso strips off his rain jacket and rejoins the peloton.

The lead break passes a fan with a yellow "Oscar Pereiro" sign taped to a road sign.

16:48 CEST    126km/19km to go
Arvesen keeps the tempo up in the break, trying to find a rhythm as the climb is not too steep at the moment.

16:49 CEST   
Martinez and Caucchioli chat to each other. They look to be the best in the break at the moment.

The bunch hits the climb with Caisse d'Epargne keeping the pressure right on, 4'30 behind the break.

16:51 CEST   
Becke and Redondo attack the break. That's early. Becke tries to get Redondo to work, and succeeds.

The peloton is 3'40 behind, so the break had better get a wriggle on.

Ardila is dropped from the bunch together with Will Walker.

16:52 CEST    127km/18km to go
The two in front take advantage of the fact that the bottom of the climb is not so steep. If they don't go hard now, the peloton is going to get them.

The bunch is splitting up as Caisse d'Epargne puts everyone to the sword. Beneteau punctures. He was the first rider to attack today.

16:54 CEST    128km/17km to go
The two up front have 25 seconds on the rest of the break.

David Millar, TT winner, is dropped with Leukemans, Dockx and a few more.

16:56 CEST    129km/16km to go
The lead pair continue in the big ring, taking full advantage of the flat sections of his climb. Redondo pedals easily in his 53x21 and 19. Becke has to dig deeper.

The rest of the break is down to Landaluze, Caucchioli, Fofonov, Martinez and Arvesen. Chaurreau, Pereiro and Minard are tailed off, but Pereiro manages to return.

16:58 CEST    130km/15km to go
The peloton is still at 3'35, so the gap isn't closing that quickly. But once the climb steepens, there will be more slimming.

Redondo and Becke have half a minute, with the Spanish rider looking quite comfy.

17:00 CEST   
Landaluze rides off the front of the chasing group, and no-one really reacts, but the tempo lifts a little.

Scott Davis (T-Mobile) tries to attack the bunch as Sorensen chases him down. It's a different situation here.

The two leaders go under 15 km to go and the roads are getting wet as there is precipitation in the air. Becke does a turn at Redondo's insistence.

17:01 CEST    131km/14km to go
Sorensen puts the power down in the bunch with Sastre in tow, then Cuesta and a couple of Caisse d'Epargne riders. KAshechkin, Gomez, Devolder, Luis Perez are well paced.

Bettini is dropped with Davis.

The two leaders are in the middle of a storm now. They have 30 seconds on Landaluze, and 50 seconds on the rest of the break. Redondo looks back to see where Landaluze is.

17:05 CEST    132km/13km to go
Redondo ups the tempo and Becke is off the back. The German fights once to get back, then hits the red zone and runs the engine dry. He puts it into park. Redondo is away.

The peloton is now only 2'06 behind the now lone leader and it is getting rather wet. Still 30 or so riders left.

17:07 CEST   
Redondo gets encouragement from his team car as he enjoys his work in front. Meanwhile, his teammate Vinokourov is having problems following the peloton. Gustov is setting a fierce tempo in front.

17:10 CEST    134km/11km to go
Redondo still has 11 km of climbing, and he's suffering a little now as he focuses on keeping his rhythm. No sign of the chasing riders, but it looks like they'll be caught soon by the bunch.

It rains harder, and Redondo checks back but can't see a thing any more.

Cuesta leads the bunch at 2'30 with Sastre on his wheel. Valverde is in fourth, while the rest of the Astana team (Paulinho, Kash, Vino) are towards the back of the bunch. Beltrán and Devolder are also there.

17:12 CEST    135km/10km to go
Minard and Chaurreau are caught by the bunch.

In the intermediate group, Egoi Martinez has left the others, including Caucchioli, behind. If he could stay clear, he could pick up some mountain points.

Paulinho and Petrov are dropped.

17:13 CEST    135km/10km to go
Landaluze has caught and passed Becke, and is second on the road behind Redondo, 37 seconds to the worse.

Now Martinez has caught Becke and is closing in on Landaluze.

17:14 CEST   
Danielson moves up the bunch, looking for his GC riders. Valverde is now up with Sastre, following Cuesta.

Redondo has 40 seconds on Landaluze, Martinez and Becke, with the bunch at 2'20.

17:15 CEST    136km/9km to go
Di Luca also looks good today as he follows the pace of the bunch in fifth wheel.

Horner hangs on the back with Arroyo. Beltrán and Devolder move up, but Brajkovic looks to be missing from the picture. Admittedly, it's quite a wet picture at the moment.

17:17 CEST   
Landaluze has got a second wind and puts time into Martinez, who has dropped Becke. He still can't get closer than 35 seconds behind Redondo.

17:19 CEST    137km/8km to go
The pace goes up in the bunch and a few riders are shelled, including Horner. Kash and Vino are moving up.

Redondo goes under 8 km to go and the rain is slightly lighter. Landaluze has got a former teammate for company: Egoi Martinez.

17:20 CEST   
Arvesen, Pereiro, Caucchioli and Fofonov are all caught by the bunch, which is 1'39 behind the break. Arvesen does one big turn for Sastre, then pulls off.

17:22 CEST    138km/7km to go
Redondo now has 7 km left and is keeping his rhythm well. The peloton is now nine riders strong. Looks like Marchante and Piepoli(?) are chasing.

Sastre lifts the pace with Valverde and Vino chasing. That almost cracks Devolder and Beltrán . Samuel Sanchez can hold on and there is another Euskaltel rider there. 1'06.

17:24 CEST    138.5km/6.5km to go
Four riders left: Valverde, Sastre, Sanchez, Vinokourov, with Anton clinging on too.

Vinokourov attacks! Valverde reacts, but it causes pain. Only Sastre can follow.

17:25 CEST   
the road steepens and Valverde goes to the front. Sanchez counters as they catch Landaluze and Martinez.

17:27 CEST    139km/6km to go
Sanchez gets a bit of a gap but it's not enough. Sastre counters and Anton, Valverde and Vino follow easily. Anton counters and rides with Landaluze for a bit. It's getting confusing and foggy.

Redondo is losing time to these top riders.

17:29 CEST    140.5km/4.5km to go
Redondo, Anton and Landaluze are now together under 5 km to go. Behind them, maybe at 15 seconds, we have Valverde, Sastre, Sanchez, Martinez, Danielson, and Vinokourov. Kashechkin is nowhere to be seen.

Anton attacks, but Redondo can react. Landaluze has to fight for it.

17:31 CEST    141km/4km to go
Anton tries to lose Redondo, but he can't. The Astana rider is persistent. That takes the pressure off Vinokourov behind, and it means Valverde, Sastre and Martinez have to work.

Vino attacks again but the motos are asleep. He gets Valverde for company. That's one rider he doesn't want. Redondo waits for him.

17:32 CEST   
At 4 km to go, Anton still has a tiny lead over Redondo, Vinokourov and Valverde. The rest of the group is smashed. Sastre and Danielson are chasing together.

17:33 CEST    141.5km/3.5km to go
Redondo catches Anton and Vino counters are, looking determined. Valverde can still follow, but no-one else can follow the fiery Kazakhstani. Anton catches them and counters.

Sastre and Sanchez catch Redondo.

17:34 CEST    142km/3km to go
Valverde doesn't want to chase and Sanchez and Martinez return. Danielson is still off the back. Sanchez goes to the front and slows it down, 10 seconds to Anton at 3 km to go. Vino doesn't look interested.

17:35 CEST    142.5km/2.5km to go
Aha - Redondo comes back and sets tempo. Danielson is also back and attacks! There is a reaction from all and sundry.

Igor Anton has 24 seconds!

17:36 CEST    143km/2km to go
This could be a huge win for Igor Anton, as no-one wants to chase behind. Vino couldn't be bothered, as Valverde would beat him in a sprint and take more bonus seconds.

So Anton now has 33 seconds. A winning margin? Danielson attacks...

17:37 CEST   
Redondo leads the group just behind Danielson. Astana needs to play its cards right. Let Danielson go and take the bonus seconds. But Redondo doesn't want that.

17:38 CEST    143.5km/1.5km to go
Less than 2km to go for Anton, who reaches a 10% section. Vino attacks once more and Valverde and Sastre are in pain. But able to follow.

17:39 CEST   
Vino slows and Valverde looks at him. No counter move yet. Danielson is now behind them as they chase Anton at 29 seconds.

Vino attacks yet again, but the gas is running out. Nope.

17:40 CEST   
Valverde does a steady turn and Sanchez returns to their little group. Sastre is surviving well.

Kashechkin is already 1'16 behind Valverde, losing his second place on GC.

17:40 CEST    144km/1km to go
Anton fights hard and sees 1km to go. He has 39 seconds, an unbeatable lead, surely.

17:41 CEST   
The Euskaltel rider in front will really earn this one. He's capitalised on the fact that Valverde, Sastre and Vino are playing poker. Sanchez is on the front, slowing the pace with Danielson able to get back on.

17:42 CEST    144.5km/0.5km to go
Anton reaches the flatter section at the top and will be very happy with that situation. He'll have plenty of time to celebrate this one.

17:42 CEST    145km/0km to go
Igor Anton enjoys this win, starting to celebrate at 100m to go. Great win!!!

17:43 CEST   
Valverde easily takes second ahead of Vino, Sanchez, Sastre (gapped), Danielson and Beltrán.

17:46 CEST   
Kashechkin will lose his second place on GC to Vino, with Sastre keeping third but on the same time as Vino. But Valverde is looking very, very good at this stage of the bike race.

That's all folks. Until tomorrow!


1 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                          4.29.42
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears        0.23
3 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                           
4 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                           
5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                   0.28
6 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team      0.30
7 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        0.42
8 Luis Pérez (Spa) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone              1.10
9 José Antonio Redondo (Spa) Astana Team                         1.13
10 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team       1.15
General classification after stage 16
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears    63.18.16
2 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                         1.42
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                       
4 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                            2.05
5 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir          4.23
6 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        5.34
7 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Liquigas                                  5.56
8 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears          6.29
9 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                         7.53
10 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team     8.05

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