61st Vuelta a España - GT
Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006
Results & report
Stage 4 - August 29: Almendralejo - Cáceres, 142 km
Complete live report
Welcome back to the burning 'Hell
of the South' La Vuelta a España stage four. From the already-cooking Almendralejo,
where the peloton yesterday finished the longest stage of this year's tour,
it's up North today for the shortest stretch in 2006. Cáceres will be reached
after "only" 135 kilometres, and we all bet that the riders are very grateful
for that today, as temperatures at the start rose already above 39° Celsius
Nevertheless, short stages have always
been known to be raced quite fast, so we may see the pros drink a lot of water
again today - if they have the time to fetch the bottles at their team cars,
that is... AG2R yesterday reported 20 bidons per rider, which also means more
work than usual for the team staff. Intermediate sprints today will be located
at km 39 and 90.
Today's stage will probably again
be the sprinters' business, with camisa de oro wearer Thor Hushovd (Crédit
Agricole) hoping to get a stage win and retain the jersey before the race heads
to its first mountain stage on Wednesday. Davitamon's Robbie McEwen will also
hope to score as he was duped first by Bettini, then by Ventoso yesterday. And
after being the King of Sprinters in the Tour de France this year, that will
surely bug him... He'll have to keep an eye on Bettini again, though, as well
as on Valverde, as it's an uphill finish. Stuart O'Grady (CSC) could be up there,
This morning, the UCI performed doping controls on 45 riders
from the teams Caisse d'Epargne, Phonak, QuickStep, Relax and Liquigas. There
was no "adverse analytical finding" so they were all declared fit to start.
14:50 CEST 20km/115km to go
And so they did -
all 189 riders have again taken the start today, with the bunch sent off in
Almendralejo at 14.00 CET. After only a few kilometres, one bold Spaniard took
off, hoping someone would come with him through the blistering heat. But no-one
did, so Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam) is currently alone ahead of the peloton...
His advantage increased rapidly to almost 4 minutes after 15 kilometres of racing
- reason enough for Liquigas, Lampre and Quick.Step to put some pressure on
the pedals and reel him in again to 2.50 minutes. Whatever that was for.
14:54 CEST 24km/111km to go
But now, things are
calming down again and García De Mateo's breakaway continues. He's already back
to 4 minutes as Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi) gets a wheel change.
Uhh... this will be a looong stage
for him, although it's in fact pretty short. There will not be any beautiful
countryside to see (or to describe) either: this stretch of land is simply barren.
It's all straight, long roads in between dry fields of olive trees, planted
like a checkerboard. Occasional haciendas in the middle of nowhere are
the only highlights. No cow sightings to report, I'm afraid.
15:14 CEST 35km/100km to go
Cáceres has been
visited by the Vuelta a few times already since its beginnings in 1935 - last
in 2004. José Julia (Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme) won that year, in a chaotic
finale with saw a 13-rider breakaway disintegrate on the last few kilometres
before the line. It was September 21, and the latest news in the cycling world
that day was that of Tyler Hamilton's positive doping result for homologous
Our lonesome rider in Spain's 'Extremadura' (literally
'extremely hard') region is meanwhile turning his legs 5.48 minutes ahead of
It is now again Liquigas who is driving
the bunch in pursuit of the Spanish breakaway rider. They're working for Luca
Paolini and/or Danilo DiLuca.
The first hour of the race was accomplished at 42,2 km/h.
15:33 CEST 52km/83km to go
García De Mateo continues
to increase his lead: it is now up to 6.33 minutes. The race also passed the
first intermediate sprint of the day in Jaraiz de la Vera. The Relax-Gam rider
obviously scored the most points (4), followed by Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole)
and Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), who take 2 and 1 points respectively along the
way, as well as some bonus seconds.
André Korff (Gerolsteiner) is back in the bunch from visiting the race's medical
assistance - the doc's car.
And there is simply NO SHADE to relieve
the riders in this merciless region. All we can see are olive trees, harvested
wheat fields and a massive blue sky hovering above the horizon in the distance.
García De Mateo is giving his very best, hammering down. Poor lad, one can't
16:03 CEST 75km/60km to go
Crédit Agricole is
still lined up in front of the bunch - eight riders all for one, Thor Hushovd.
With about 60 kilometres still to go, the Relax-Gam rider is still 5.30 minutes
ahead of the field.
Drinking is crucial today, and we can see the
helpers within the teams constantly moving up and down the bunch to see their
team cars and stuff their jerseys full of bottles.
In the distance, we can see the terrain
going uphill for a small mountain range. Looking at the stage's profile, that
should be the ascent to Pueblo Obando.
Riders are squirting out the
rest of their bottles onto their helmets and faces, looking for a little freshness.
The lonesome breakaway rider is now 5.30 minutes away, still pedalling hard.
García De Mateo has been a pro with Relax since 2005 - and he surely knows that
he will not resist to the sprinter's teams. But miracles do happen, don't they?
16:18 CEST 80km/55km to go
One Davitamon rider
has joined the Crédit Agricole train leading the bunch in the blistering heat.
They are currently racing through Roca de la Sierra, 55 km to go. White houses
with brick-orange roofs - there is a small river, but it is not carrying too
The second hour of the race was achieved with just over
40 km/h, and the lead of García De Mateo is down to 4.30. They're letting him
"die slowly", as they say.
Paolo Bettini has zipped up his jersey
like many of the riders have today. But there are still no cows in sight.
Ouch - now, García De Mateo looks like he's really suffering. Not much juice
left in those legs. His advantage is fading away, too - merely 3.20 minutes
David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes
Balears) gets some bidons in the back, and offers them to his teammates Garcia
Acosta and Valverde. The latter will try to spare as much energy as possible
for tomorrow's CG-decisive stage to ski station La Covatilla...
16:36 CEST 90km/45km to go
In the meantime, García
De Mateo has passed the second sprint of the day at Puebla de Obando - but the
bunch is now only 2.30 behind him.
Here they come: Hushovd gets a
perfect lead-out and O'Grady is unable to come around him. 4 seconds again for
the Norwegian, and 2 for the Aussie. Afterwards, they slow down again for a
friendly chat... Noice.
Hushovd therefore has and advantage
of 15 seconds over O'Grady on General Classification - this might be important
later in the final sprint in Cáceres.
16:43 CEST 98km/37km to go
It is slowly getting
greener in this area. More and more bushes and trees, as well as undulating
hills, finally make the landscape less hostile.
Paolo Bettini is munching away at an energy bar, talking to Luca Paolini (Liquigas).
Some trees provide a little bit of
shade on the left side of the road, and a few riders swerve to this side of
the road to get some relief from the relentless sun - but only for 50 metres.
García De Mateo is still pedalling bravely, but with merely two minutes left
on the last 35 kilometres, he won't be alone for long anymore.
Oops - a Cofidis rider went down
into the ditch alongside the road. It's Bingen Fernández. He doesn't look hurt
and gets back on his bike, but he has a problem with his rear wheel. A mechanic
from Euskaltel assists him and gives him a push to continue.
García De Mateo's advantage is now
under two minutes as he gets two new bidons. His team car will soon have to
wait for the bunch again and align in the caravan with the others - once the
gap is under one minute.
17:07 CEST 112km/23km to go
Mads Kaggestad and
Mark Renshaw (Crédit Agricole) are leading the main field now, and can see the
Spanish rider in the distance as the roads are straight again across a plain.
The gap is only 1.20 minutes now with 23 km to go.
Some information on the finish in
Cáceres, before it is too late: The bunch will drive on a false flat downhill
with 2 km to go, then there will be a left hand side 90° curve and another one
soon after. A front position there will be important. The last k is a false
flat uphill, something for big guys like Hushovd we believe. But we could be
17:16 CEST 119km/16km to go
Here they come -
García De Mateo is now swallowed by the big group. And another Relax rider counters
his teammates' move and jumps away! It's Jorge García.
17:18 CEST 121km/14km to go
García is in aero
position, driving hard. He has 20 seconds.
17:20 CEST 123km/12km to go
AG2R, Davitamon and
Crédit Agricole are all collaborating in the front now, keeping the gap low.
17:23 CEST 124km/11km to go
Cáceres. The gap is being kept constant at 18 seconds. Two Davitamon riders
are in front, followed be four Crédit Agricole.
García is hammering,
but will he succeed? You never know.
17:25 CEST 126km/9km to go
But it is not enough,
the bunch reeled the Spaniard in just after the 10 km mark. Now it's Markel
Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi) in front, trying his luck.
But getting away is practically impossible
on these long, flat straights... 7 clicks to go, and the Euskaltel rider is
looking back all the time. He won't make it. It's over.
Now, the different trains are forming.
Crédit Agricole still controls the situation, but these Vuelta sprints have
been a bit chaotic lately, as many teams open up trains in the final kilometres
for their respective sprinters. Valverde is seen in the upper part of the bunch
17:31 CEST 130km/5km to go
A few guys are breaking
off the front, including an Astana rider. They have 50 metres.
José Antonio Redondo (Astana Team)
and Luis Pérez (Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone) have opened up a gap. Gerolsteiner
is chasing now.
17:33 CEST 131km/4km to go
That was it for them
- caught again with 4000 metres to go.
17:34 CEST 132km/3km to go
The peloton is now
inside town. Left, a Milram train, in the middle, a Saunier Duval pounding in
17:35 CEST 133km/2km to go
yesterday's stage winner, is in second position, with the Milram's on his wheel.
Now we're on the uphill. Milram still
in front. Bettini comes to the front, as well as some Gerolsteiner riders.
And Erik Zabel (Milram) wins!! Bettini
was on Nazon's wheel, but didn't make it. Hushovd second, then Nazon or O'Grady.
Just when everyone said Zabel was
not going to win any sprint anymore - there he is. Good sprint also for Nazon,
who had been a little too hesitant lately. This should give him back some confidence.
Big Thor keeps the leader's jersey for tonight; and tomorrow the GC contenders
are expected to change the face of the race completely. Join us again for that
first Vuelta mountain stage to La Covatilla - a climb that will surely provide
for more action! Hasta la vista!
1 Erik Zabel (Team Milram)
2 Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole)
3 Jean-Patrick Nazon (AG2R)
4 Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC)
5 Francisco Ventoso (Saunier Duval)
6 Bernhard Eisel (Francaise des Jeux)
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