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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 19 - September 15: Jaén - Ciudad Real, 205.3 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

19:55 CEST   
Today's stage is littered with small climbs along its undulating parcours. Three categorised climbs - Alto del Parque Natural de Andujar (Cat. 2 - 750 m. above sea level - km 75), Alto de Sierra Madrona (Cat. 3 - 960 m. - km 102.6) and Alto del Tamaral (Cat. 3 - 800 m. - km 117) - and two intermediate sprints - in Las Viñas de Peñallana (km 50) and Puertollano (km 161.2) - are the feature attractions along the 205.3 km route.

A very long stage for all the riders, although the favourites will be focused on having a quiet day in the office before the final time trial on Saturday. This leaves the chance for a breakaway to be in the spotlight.

14:34 CEST   
Welcome to stage 19 of the Vuelta a España, which started in Jaén and will hopefully finish in Ciudad Real at some stage this afternoon. If it doesn't, we can always go back to Jaén.

Besides the aforementioned climbs in today's up and down route, there are also sprints at Las Viñas De Peñallana (km 50) and Puertollano (km 161.2). The run into the finish is flat, and will suit the sprinters if a break doesn't go all the way.

After the last couple of days worth of fireworks, Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) is looking fairly good in the gold jersey, with 53 seconds advantage over Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), who just didn't quite have the legs yesterday to take it back. Tomorrow's time trial will be decisive, of course.

14:41 CEST    85km/120.3km to go
All 135 riders signed on in Jaén, and it was quite a relaxed start for a change. The riders averaged only 37.8 km/h in the first hour, which was more downhill than up, before the attacks started. Thor Hushovd tried to get away in a group of eight to anticipate the first sprint, but it was pulled back after 40 km. Eight kilometres later, the escape of the day started to form with Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R Prevoyance), Aketza Peña (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) in it. They were joined by Lars Ytting Bak (Team CSC), Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), David Loosli (Lampre-Fondital) and Pieter Mertens (Davitamon-Lotto) with Bak taking the first sprint at Las Viñas de Peñallana ahead of Garcia Acosta and Arrieta.

After two hours, the average speed was still 37 km/h, and the group had 3'03 on the peloton. On the Cat. 2 Alto del Parque Natural de Andujar, it was Loosli, Arrieta, Bak, Peña, Gusev and Garcia Acosta crossing in that order.

Lars Bak is the best placed on GC at 40'08, so this is a perfect break for Astana. And Caisse d'Epargne has a man in it too, so they probably won't chase, and neither will Credit Agricole for the same reason. Thus, the gap is now 7'22 at km 78.

14:57 CEST   
The next climb today is the cat. 3 Alto de Sierra Madrona. It looks like the breakaways will sweep up all the mountain and sprint points today, which will help Egoi Martinez' chances to win the orange mountains jersey, and Thor Hushovd to win the points jersey with fish on it. Martinez can therefore pass himself off as Vinokourov in Madrid and win the Vuelta, after he dyes his hair blond, shaves off his mini-goatee, and shrinks. Hushovd can go swimming in shark infested waters and get the ultimate adrenaline rush as he is chased by a Great White. But then he can earn massive kudos by wrestling it to the sea floor with his bare hands.

It's been a long three weeks.

15:08 CEST    98km/107.3km to go
The leaders are now 9'25 ahead of the peloton as they approach the second climb, having passed through the feed zone. The province of Jaén is behind them, and they are now in the province of Ciudad Real.

15:17 CEST    102km/103.3km to go
At the top of the Sierra Madrona, the gap is 9'38 back to the field. They're just about halfway into the stage, and it's certainly not too late for the bunch to pull back the break. But who will do it? Maybe Saunier Duval for Ventoso, or Milram for Zabel.

15:31 CEST    112km/93.3km to go
First over the top of the Sierra Madrona is the young Belgian Peter Mertens, followed by Pena, Loosli and Arrieta. The mountains jersey is starting to look very good on Egoi Martinez.

15:40 CEST   
Martinez has in fact clinched the mountains jersey, as there is only one more categorised climb in this year's Vuelta, and that's coming up very soon. All Egoi has to do is finish in Madrid. It's been a great battle for the orange jersey this year, with Caucchioli and Martinez really fighting for it.

15:42 CEST    117km/88.3km to go
The third hour is run at 36.5 km/h, and the leaders are already on the last climb of the day (and the Vuelta), the cat. 3 Alto del Tamaral. They have 9'15, so the peloton obviously hasn't given up just yet.

15:50 CEST    123km/82.3km to go
Mertens is again first to the summit of the Tamaral, ahead of Fofonov, Pena and Bak. That's the climbing done for this year's Vuelta. All mountains candidates can go home now, as there's nothing to see here. Please move along.

On the descent, the gap opens up to a dangerous 11 minutes. This break is going to take some pulling back, and it's doubtful whether any teams have the firepower to do it.

15:55 CEST    126.3km/79km to go
The eight ride up a steep little climb, all looking very slow as they pedal in big gears. They have 10'27 on the bunch, where Astana is riding tempo.

Bak looks good, as does Gusev.

15:59 CEST    127.3km/78km to go
Six Astanas are enjoying their work at the front, as they have the gold jersey in their camp. One rider is descending better than the rest, opening up a little gap. It looks like Yakovlev or Bazayev.

16:01 CEST    129.3km/76km to go
Redondo, one of the heroes of the 17th stage, is on the front of the bunch as it climbs up through the tree studded landscape.

It's another fine day, with temps in the high 20s to low 30s, and some light clouds and blue skies overhead.

16:04 CEST    132.3km/73km to go
None of the front riders are really renowned sprinters, so this finish will probably come down to a small group or (likely) a solo finish. Watch for Garcia Acosta, who is an absolute ox, even if he has been riding in the service of Valverde a lot.

16:07 CEST   
Kashechkin sits behind Vino behind the Astana train. Vino is in gold, Kash is in the white combination jersey, while Valverde (who is ahead of Kash in the combination GC) is in his ProTour leader's jersey. All remaining eight Astana riders are at the front of the bunch, spread across the road on the steep little climb that the break completed 9'49 ago.

16:12 CEST    135.3km/70km to go
The breakaway works like clockwork now, as flatter roads are reached. Arrieta's knees pump up and down like pistons.

16:14 CEST   
Astana looks content to keep this gap at around 10 minutes. That way, no-one gets hurt.

In the break, Garcia Acosta drops off the back to tighten his shoe straps. He cruises back to the break again. He doesn't even miss a turn and goes straight through.

16:19 CEST    138.3km/67km to go
The leaders know they just have to keep working for another 50-60 km at a steady pace in order to stay away. No-one's interested in chasing them, that is clear. Tomorrow's TT stage will be on the minds of the GC riders.

16:22 CEST    140.3km/65km to go
It's feedin' time in the bunch and Vinokourov goes up to make sure his teammates are all ok. The Astana team has four Kazakhstanis in it, and they form a strong unit. The Euskaltels all sit back and chat to their former teammate Martinez, who is in orange and could also pass himself off as an Euskaltel rider.

10'31 to the break.

16:28 CEST    144.3km/61km to go
Egoi Martinez now chats to Mikel Astarloza. Note: the pair have similar mini-goatees.

11'00 to the leaders.

16:33 CEST    145.3km/60km to go
Assan Bazayev leads the peloton in the afternoon sun, past a flock of sheep that bear a striking resemblance to the brown landscape. Here's a question - how much brown is there in today's stage? Ballpark figures will do.

Bak is at the back of the break. Ho ho.

16:36 CEST    146.3km/59km to go
The break passes through Mestanza, which is not a very interesting looking town at all.

In the peloton, Luis Perez decides to relieve the boredom and himself on the right side of the road.

16:39 CEST   
I have been reliably informed that the mini-goatee is in fact a soul patch. Thanks. According to Wikipedia: "The soul patch is a small patch of facial hair just below the lower lip and above the chin. It came to prominence in the 1950s and 1960s and was a style popular with beatniks and jazz artists. Prior to this period it was referred to as a small beard. "

16:43 CEST    151.3km/54km to go
Regarding the amount of brown in this stage, Brian writes that there would be more if Graeme was riding. I can only concur.

The peloton, led by the Astana eight, is approaching the thriving town of Mestanza, 11'03 behind the break, which by coincidence also numbers eight.

16:45 CEST   
The peloton now passes a family of six with a small dog, which has stopped work for the day, bringing the economy of Mestanza to its knees.

16:48 CEST   
Garcia Acosta gets out of the saddle and looks happy with himself. Watch for him later on, as he could well end up as the stage winner. But there are seven other riders with similar ambitions. The road is still climbing here, but it won't be long before they reach a plateau and have a flattish ride to the finish.

The bunch is sitting in the right hand gutter thanks to the crosswind. David Millar is towards the back, spinning his legs. Maybe he'll go for it tomorrow, but maybe not, as the World's is more important.

16:48 CEST   
The fourth hour is ridden at 35.8 km/h. Mr Vinokourov looks very happy in his gold jersey.

16:52 CEST    155km/50.3km to go
Redondo is on the front of the peloton now. The bunch looks like arriving 10-15 minutes behind the break today, but it will be well within the theoretical time limit.

16:59 CEST    160km/45.3km to go
The break is now in Puertollano, and this is really a thriving town. There are huge crowds out to watch the eight leaders come through. The second intermediate sprint of the day is here.

17:03 CEST    162km/43.3km to go
Leonardo Piepoli descends about 20m in front of the peloton, sucking the wheel of a TV moto. They're only doing 55 km/h though as they descend gently into Puertollano, and past its Elcogas IGCC power station.

17:06 CEST    164.3km/41km to go
Aketza Peña signals an obstacle on the road while Lars Bak stretches his legs. The peloton has picked up speed on the gentle descent into town, but it isn't riding hard. The gap sits at 10'49.

17:09 CEST    167.3km/38km to go
The peloton enters Puertollano but the break is already on the open roads on the other side of town, with 38 km to go in the 19th stage. The fireworks should start in about 25 km, so go and make your morning/afternoon/late night drinks now.

17:10 CEST   
Barredo signals back to the Others as he sees an obstacle on the road. It's always a bit tricky through town, especially on a long, hot day like today.

17:12 CEST    169km/36.3km to go
The peloton passes the sprint point 10'51 behind the break.

The points were taken by Fofonov from Gusev and Bak.

17:17 CEST    173.3km/32km to go
Will Walker shows the Australian champion's jersey near the front of the bunch, but doesn't disturb the Astana rhythm. Barredo is on the front all the time, taking extra care to point out anything that may cause a crash.

The break is busy with its work, rolling along at 43-45 km/h now.

17:24 CEST    180.3km/25km to go
Now who looks good in the break? It's difficult to tell yet. Certainly Garcia Acosta still looks as though he can put in an attack, and both Bak and Fofonov are having good final weeks. But maybe Gusev can pull off a late move.

The break rolls along a flat plain, and the sun has gone behind a cloud for the time being.

17:25 CEST   
The Astana riders have allowed the break some more time (11'56), but it's academic at this point. They are fanned across the road from left to right, protecting their main man Alexandre Vinokourov.

17:28 CEST    183.3km/22km to go
Aha - a change! CSC has suddenly got to the front of the bunch and is trying to split it in the crosswinds. Vino is in fourth wheel, behind three CSCs. Now the rest of the team is coming to the front. And Caisse d'Epargne. This is going to hurt a bit.

17:29 CEST   
CSC is really working to split it, with Ljungqvist, Arvesen and O'Grady. Kash and Vino are well placed behind, and Valverde and Sastre are not far back either. Caisse d'Epargne is also working with CSC. And Discovery brings Egoi to the front.

17:33 CEST    185.3km/20km to go
The peloton spreads right across the road as one rider attacks on the left - Duque. It's been reduced quite a bit. Duque gets the whole bunch on his wheel, then Karpets swings to the right and puts everyone in the gutter again, before his teammate tells him to ride to the left a bit. Kash and Vino, Hushovd, all the GC riders are well placed. The pace eases off an Barredo and Bazayev get to the front.

17:35 CEST    187.3km/18km to go
The break works a little harder, but everyone is looking at each other. And in particular at Garcia Acosta. Loosli and Pena get a little gap and push it, as Fofonov has to chase. Here we go...

17:36 CEST    188.3km/17km to go
The gap has come down to 10'12 as a result of the peloton's little crosswind action.

The lead break reforms, but everyone is even more watchful now.

17:38 CEST    189.3km/16km to go
The break cooperates well for the time being. Normally the final 20 km is the time to have a go, but it depends on how tired everyone is.

17:40 CEST    192.3km/13km to go
The kilometres are flying by a little quicker now as the break nears Ciudad Real. Another 13 clicks. No more action in the peloton for the time being.

17:42 CEST    193.3km/12km to go
The wind continues to blow from left to right and the break rides in a tight formation. Who will be first to launch a real attack?

17:44 CEST    194.3km/11km to go
And Garcia Acosta attacks on a false flat! Pretty hard, and Mertens gets his wheel. The Belgian does a turn, but Fofonov counters with Loosli and Mertens and Garcia Acosta latch on.

17:44 CEST    195.3km/10km to go
They stop working and Fofonov goes again. Bak, Arrieta and Gusev get his wheel, then Loosli has to close the gap. They're doing 67 km/h but Bak can't get away. The slow and everyone watches.

17:46 CEST    196.3km/9km to go
It's very watchful as Arrieta feints with Gusev on his wheel, then they put in a real attack. Bak reacts and Garcia Acosta is slow to get on the Dane's wheel. He looks tired. They all catch on, and Bak, G-A , Mertens, Loosli and Fofonov chase.

17:46 CEST   
This is high speed chess. One wrong move can cost you the win, but you have to try.

17:47 CEST    197.3km/8km to go
Gusev and Arrieta have to chase a bit to rejoin the break, as does Pena, who looks to be dropped now. Bak tries again but is marked by Gusev. Pena works hard to get on. No, they attack again.

17:47 CEST   
Bak attacks again and Arrieta doesn't want to chase. Garcia Acosta chases with Mertens and Gusev. But the Dane has a gap. Garcia Acosta goes himself.

17:48 CEST    198.3km/7km to go
Bak has a nice gap now as Garcia Acosta gets Gusev for company. Then Fofonov. Now Loosli and Fofonov counter with Arrieta.

17:49 CEST    199.3km/6km to go
It's Bak with an increasing gap and the CSC rider looks very good today. He looks Bak and sees his gap growing. Mertens, Garcia Acosta and Gusev are trying to chase. But not cooperating well. Gusev attacks, Garcia Acosta reacts, then Mertens. Gusev rides hard but has Garcia Acosta on his wheel.

17:51 CEST    201.3km/4km to go
Bak is now chased by José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), Pieter Mertens (Davitamon-Lotto) and Aketza Peña (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who has returned from the dead.

17:51 CEST   
Bak puts his head down and motors along at 55 km/h. Incredibly fast riding by the young Dane. The chasers don't look like getting him at all.

17:52 CEST    201.8km/3.5km to go
The race is going up the road and the four chasers are looking at each other. Not sure why - you have to cooperate in this situation or you are sunk. Bak has 17 seconds.

Gusev decides he can close it on his own, but takes the rest with him.

17:53 CEST    202.3km/3km to go
Bak takes a few roundabouts in his stride and looks back again as he keeps it cranking up to 3 km to go. It's getting harder now, but his gap is good.

17:54 CEST    202.8km/2.5km to go
Lars Bak, the winner of last year's Tour de l'Avenir, is being caught!

Arrieta, Fofonov and Loosli are trying to come back to Bak. Hmm - they are ahead of the Garcia Acosta group. Sorry about the confusion.

17:55 CEST    203.3km/2km to go
Bak sits last wheel as they go past 2 km to go. He has one more chance... Arrieta attacks though. No dice.

17:55 CEST   
Fofonov rolls through, then Loosli and Bak in third wheel. Arrieta gets to the back. Four riders still in the race.

17:56 CEST    204.3km/1km to go
Loosli sits up and looks back, as Arrieta rides through for a turn to keep the pace up. Bak back into second wheel at 1 km to go. He almost attacks, and now goes!

17:57 CEST   
Bak gets a little gap but Loosli Fofonov and Arrieta are in hot pursuit. This will hurt Bak too much. He's caught by Loosli.

17:57 CEST   
They all come back together and Bak swings wide. He's gone. He sits up.

17:57 CEST    205.3km/0km to go
Arrieta launches the sprint and wins!!!! Fofonov second ahead of Loosli and Bak.

17:58 CEST   
Half a minute later, Gusev, Mertens, Garcia Acosta and Pena cross the line.

Well, the old warhorse Arrieta got it in the end. Very nice, smart riding. Bak was the strongest, but he just didn't quite have it.

18:17 CEST   
Aurélien Clerc (Phonak) wins the sprint for 9th ahead of Hushovd, 11'16 later. There are no changes.

That's all from Ciudad Real. We'll be back live on the weekend for the final two stages of the Vuelta, starting two hours earlier than usual each day at 12:30 pm, CEST. Hasta manaña!


1 José Luis Arrieta (Spa) AG2R Prevoyance                             5.30.14 (37.3 km/h)
2 Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Credit Agricole                                      
3 David Loosli (Swi) Lampre-Fondital                                     0.02
4 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team CSC                                         0.09
5 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                0.30
6 Pieter Mertens (Bel) Davitamon-Lotto                                       
7 José Vicent Garcia Acosta (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears             
8 Aketza Peña (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                                        
9 Aurélien Clerc (Swi) Phonak Hearing Systems                           11.16
10 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                                                        

General classification after stage 19

1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                             77.08.38
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears                0.53
3 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                                    2.06
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                           2.51
5 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir                  5.06
6 Thomas Danielson (USA) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team              7.05
7 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                                 8.23
8 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team                8.28
9 Luis Pérez (Spa) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone                     10.04
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears                10.06

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