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61st Vuelta a Espańa - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 2 - August 27: Málaga - Córdoba, 167 km

Live report

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

Live coverage starts: 12:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 15:00 CEST

07:25 CEST   
The race heads north from Malaga to the Moorish city of Cordoba. There are two third category climbs to negotiate, but the stage should still come down to a bunch sprint as the main climbing is over by kilometre 30. Robbie McEwen and Alessandro Petacchi will be looking to their teams to bring any escapees back before the finish.

12:07 CEST   
Welcome back to the Vuelta a España - it's as if we never left! After last night's late finish at around 9pm, today's second stage got under way at 10:21am from Málaga, with 167 km of flattish terrain before the finish in Córdoba. Hence the earlier than usual start to our live coverage.

189 riders signed on, as there were no overnight abandons. David Rebellin (Gerolsteiner), who crashed during yesterday's team time trial and finished last, was not hurt too badly and was able to start today. "Davide has a lot of scrapes and bruises, but will start," team spokesman Jörg Grünefeld told Cyclingnews Sunday morning.

The attacking was started by Relax-Gam, the only invited team in this year's race. The rider in question was Raul Garcia De Mateo Rubio, but he was caught after 3 km. His teammate Mario De Sárraga went almost immediately, and was joined by Saunier Duval's David De La Fuente, who was the most aggressive rider in the Tour de France. Unfortunately for De La Fuente, he had a mechanical problem and couldn't stay with De Sárraga, who continued on alone.

12:12 CEST    48km/119km to go
After 48 clicks, Mario De Sárraga has a nice lead of 10'40 over the peloton, his biggest lead so far. He covered 35.9 km in the first hour, which wasn't bad considering it was mostly uphill.

On the Cat. 3 Alto de Casabermeja (km 20.5), he was first to the top, with Ruben Perez (Euskaltel) second, then José Antonio Garrido (Quick.Step) and Benoît Joachim (Discovery) next. On the Alto de las Pedrizas (km 29.5), he led Joachim, Garrido and Perez over in that order. There are only two climbs in this stage, so De Sárraga is the mountains leader.

12:19 CEST    59km/108km to go
The wind makes it tough for the riders, but there are no big splits in the peloton yet. Walter Beneteau (Bouygues) crashes, but is back on the bike and back in the bunch again.

Meanwhile, De Sárraga has stretched his lead to 12'40, which has prompted Davitamon-Lotto, Milram and Credit Agricole to assume the position on the front and start chasing for their sprinters.

12:27 CEST    65km/102km to go
It's still going up, not down! The lead, that is. Mario De Sárraga (Relax-Gam) now has 13'05 on the peloton, which seems to have picked up a little speed.

12:36 CEST    70km/97km to go
And finally, the lead does begin to fall as the sprinters teams do their job. After 70 km, De Sárraga has 12'03, down from a maximum of 13'05.

12:45 CEST    78km/89km to go
42.9 km have been covered in the second hour of racing, which brings the average speed up to just under 39 km/h. Our lone leader, Mario De Sárraga, is struggling a bit as the sprinters teams turn the screws. His advantage is now 10'19.

12:54 CEST   
So who is this Mario de Sárraga out in front of the bike race? Well, he's just turned 26 and is in his second year as a pro (last year he was with Naturino Sapore di Mare). His biggest result to date is second in stage 4 of this year's Vuelta Asturias.

12:59 CEST    86km/81km to go
The lone leader hits the feed zone, situated (as many of them are) in the middle of nowhere. He has 9'30 on the chasing peloton, with 80 km left to race.

13:10 CEST    95km/72km to go
Fortunately for De Sárraga, the last part of the stage is a more downhill than up, so he still stands a chance. De Sárraga was the best placed rider of his team on GC after yesterday, but still is only in 169th place at 37 seconds. He could still do it, but it will be a big ask.

13:19 CEST    100km/67km to go
De Sárraga's lead continues to fall, and it's now 8'24 over the hunting peloton. The Relax rider is anything but as he struggles to make it to the finish.

13:29 CEST    109km/58km to go
De Sárraga is almost at the first sprint of the day at Monturque.

13:34 CEST    118km/49km to go
7'07 behind De Sárraga, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) takes second in the intermediate sprint ahead of Dario Andriotto (Liquigas). 6 km later, De Sárraga's lead has dropped to just 5'50.

13:36 CEST    108.5km/58.5km to go
De Sárraga is really fighting to hold his lead now, while the peloton is fairly relaxed. Hoho.

De Sárraga adjusts his shoe straps, puts it in a big gear and tries to keep it going. He has 4'35.

13:38 CEST   
Carlos Sastre, race leader, has a golden helmet to go with his gold jersey. He's well protected by his teammate Kurt-Asle Arvesen.

13:39 CEST    112km/55km to go
De Sárraga is freewheeling a bit now. He'll never survive until the finish, and he knows it. He rides around another roundabout, as the Milram/Davitamon/Credit Agricole led peloton continues to work. Credit Agricole has most of its team up front.

13:41 CEST   
German Nieto, the Relax team director, drives up beside De Sárraga and offers him some advice and a couple of bidons. He has been in the same position himself.

13:46 CEST    117km/50km to go
The bunch is committed to the chase now, although if necessary it could go a bit quicker. Sastre looks fairly comfy as he sits next to Arvesen.

De Sárraga, meanwhile, has 4'00 of his lead left.

13:47 CEST   
One of the sprinters with a good chance today is Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto). We spoke to him at the start, and he told us, "I'd like to get a stage win here. I won't do the whole race, so will try to do something early on. Then, if my form is good enough, I will think about doing the worlds. I'll only go there if I am going well. It's been a long season so if I don't have the form, I will end the season early, not riding Paris Tours. I'll head back home and get in a good rest."

13:50 CEST   
Valverde and Pereiro chat to each other in the bunch, and look to be enjoying things.

13:52 CEST   
De Sárraga is now just 3'10 ahead of the bunch, as he navigates this long, straight, undulating roads.

Bäckstedt, not Andriotto was third in that first sprint.

13:57 CEST    124km/43km to go
David George, one of De Sárraga's teammates, is getting treatment from the race doctor after a crash.

14:00 CEST    125km/42km to go
McEwen sits towards the back of the bunch, very calm at the moment. Valverde is also here with Pereiro and Karpets.

The skies are a nice clear blue and it's about 25-27 degrees. Pretty nice.

14:03 CEST    127km/40km to go
After three hours, the average has increased slightly to 39.1 km/h. The sprinters teams are doing a solid job, and Lampre also has a man in front. Mario De Sárraga has 2'30 of his lead intact.

14:08 CEST    127km/40km to go
The bunch rides through Montemayor, and the pace is not that high, with De Sárraga still dangling out there. Plenty of time to catch him.

14:10 CEST    129km/38km to go
De Sárraga does take first in the second intermediate sprint at Fernan Nuńez, cheered on by a good crowd lining the streets.

14:12 CEST   
Cofidis and Credit Agricole leads out the sprint in the bunch, then Bäckstedt puts in a big effort to take second ahead of Hushovd. Both riders have picked up six bonus seconds today. The final sprint could see Hushovd (or Bäckstedt) as the new leader. Or someone else. There are many possibilities.

14:14 CEST    132km/35km to go
Robert Förster is on the front of the bunch, descending at high speed. He is quick, and gets a gap on the peloton. But is not interested in an attack.

14:16 CEST    133km/34km to go
We have a counter attack from Thierry Marichal (Cofidis) and Benoît Joachim (Discovery Channel). Interesting move - they'll get De Sárraga pretty quickly.

14:18 CEST    134km/33km to go
The two chasers get 15 then 20 seconds on the peloton, which is content to let them go, even though they are fresh. This is a false flat section, not quite a climb, but uphill enough to hurt.

De Sárraga is caught.

14:21 CEST    137km/30km to go
De Sárraga shakes his head as he tries to hold onto the fresh Joachim and Marichal. He won't do a turn. These two are motors.

Apparently, Hushovd was second in that previous sprint ahead of Bäckstedt. But these results tend to have a floating quality about them. We'll see at the end of the day.

14:23 CEST    138km/29km to go
The three leaders have 49 seconds on the peloton, and are giving it full gas. Well, two of them are. Marichal and Joachim are not asking De Sárraga to come through.

14:24 CEST   
Bonus seconds today: De Sárraga has 12, Hushovd has 8 (he needs 13 to take the jersey) and Bäckstedt has 4.

14:25 CEST    140km/27km to go
The three leaders ride through endless brown plains that are a feature of Spain. There ain't many trees out here.

14:27 CEST    142km/25km to go
Mr De Sárraga has dropped off now, as Joachim and Marichal pound away. It took a slight uphill to drop him. The two leaders have more than a minute.

14:28 CEST   
The bunch is riding harder now with Milram, Davitamon and Credit Agricole still doing all the work. They catch De Sárraga and are less than a minute behind Joachim and Marichal.

14:32 CEST    145km/22km to go
The bunch exits the main road and snakes down a side road, 40 seconds behind Marichal and Joachim.

14:33 CEST    147km/20km to go
The two leaders fly under 20 km to go, enjoying a slight descent. But they are losing ground compared to the bunch, and are now about half a minute ahead.

14:35 CEST    149km/18km to go
Joachim comes through at 57 km/h and Marichal has to work to get the big Luxembourger's wheel.

Liquigas is also in the chase. Everyone wants a go at riding on the front today!

14:37 CEST    152km/15km to go
There is a fast rotation going in the peloton, and that is making it very hard for the two leaders to stay clear. 15 km to go, and they have 10 seconds.

14:39 CEST    154km/13km to go
And it's peloton agrupado as Benoît Joachim and Thierry Marichal are caught. It's going to be hard to escape now, as the pace is really on.

14:41 CEST    156km/11km to go
Vinokourov moves up to the front to stay out of danger, as does Stijn Devolder.

Horner and Dockx are working for Davitamon, plus a couple of Milrams. Will we have any late suicide attacks?

14:43 CEST   
Córdoba is spread out below the riders now as they hit the outskirts of town. Erik Zabel is looking very focused, and maybe he will go for the sprint today instead of Petacchi.

14:45 CEST    157.5km/9.5km to go
Liquigas has a couple of men up front as the bunch picks up speed on the final downhill into Córdoba. Davitamon, Milram and Lampre also have interests in front.

14:45 CEST    158km/9km to go
And Credit Agricole, courtesy of Anthony Charteau. The speed is about 50 km/h now. It will get quicker.

14:48 CEST    160km/7km to go
The compact peloton takes another exit and passes under the 7 km to go banner at 55 km/h. Now it's time for the positioning to really start.

14:49 CEST   
The speed lifts to 60 km/h on the flat with Davitamon, Lampre and Milram stringing things out. It's tough to move up at that speed.

14:50 CEST    161km/6km to go
They bunch is just about to enter into the main part of Córdoba, and it's in a long line as it passes a river.

14:50 CEST    162km/5km to go
Under 5 km to go, and Milram has a man on the front.

14:51 CEST    163km/4km to go
We've got a top quality field of sprinters, possibly even better than the Tour de France. The bunch threads through a tightish corner and continues to hurtle towards the finish.

14:52 CEST    164km/3km to go
Horner does his last turn and has a Milram rider on his wheel. He swings off. Job done for the day. Sebastien Rosseler (Quick.Step) tries an attack with 3 km to go.

14:52 CEST   
Rosseler is a time trialist, but it's hard at 60km/h. Really hard. He lasts a good 100m.

14:53 CEST    165km/2km to go
Riders are now battling for position in the front, and no team has control. Millar is up there for Ventoso, it looks like.

14:54 CEST   
Millar does a huge turn as Sastre has a mechanical inside 3 km to go. He'll get bunch time.

14:54 CEST    166km/1km to go
That's a massive turn by Millar. Now Milram has four men, with Zabel in fourth wheel.

Sastre is back on the bike, but won't get the peloton.

14:55 CEST   
1 km to go and two Milrams lead Zabel. Ventoso in fourth? Hushovd also up there.

14:55 CEST   
Paolini takes Hushovd's wheel. McEwen is behind them, on Rodriguez, who accelerates early.

14:56 CEST    167km/0km to go
McEwen looks to have it won with 100m to go, but runs out of gas and it's Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step) who wins the first stage!!! Hushovd might be second ahead of Paolini, which may give him the jersey.

14:57 CEST   
Rodriguez went fairly early, but didn't get McEwen far enough in front. McEwen had to go just a bit too long, and didn't quite have it. He was fourth. Bettini was on Murn's wheel, who was following McEwen. Murn moved to the left a bit, giving Bettini the gap he needed to get through and win.

Hushovd will be the new leader.

15:06 CEST   
It's confirmed: Thor Hushovd is the new leader of the Vuelta, with Paolo Bettini in second at 2 seconds, then (although he hasn't registered on the results yet) Carlos Sastre at 7 seconds.

That's all from us here in the blimp above Cordoba. Join us at the normal time (14:30 CEST) for tomorrow's third stage between Córdoba and Almendralejo.


1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                    4.19.31
2 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                                  
3 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas                                         
4 Robbie Mcewen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                 
5 Uros Murn (Slo) Phonak Hearing Systems                              
6 Francisco José Ventoso (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir                   
7 Inaki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                                 
8 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française des Jeux                             
9 Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra) AG2R Prevoyance                            
10 Erik Zabel (Ger) Team Milram                                       

General classification after stage 2

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                           4.27.00
2 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step-Innergetic                       0.02
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team CSC                                   0.07
4 Lars Ytting Bak (Den) Team CSC                                      
5 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor) Team CSC                                    
6 Nicki Sorensen (Den) Team CSC                                       
7 Marcus Ljungqvist (Swe) Team CSC                                    
8 Ińigo Cuesta (Spa) Team CSC                                         
9 Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Team CSC                                     


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