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61st Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 26-September 17, 2006

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Stage 7 - September 1: León - Alto de El Morredero (Ponferrada), 154 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

00:17 CEST   
A flattish stage with an uphill finish. There is only one climb at the end of the race: Alto de El Morredero (Cat. 1 – 1,750 m. above sea level) and there are two intermediate sprints: Toreno (660 m. – km 101) and Ponferrada (530 m. – km 124.7). It should be a day for a climber to shine.

14:30 CEST   
Welcome to today's second mountain stage of the Vuelta, between León and Alto de El Morredero. We already have some idea of the general classification after Wednesday, and after today we'll have an even better one. Danilo Di Luca is in the leader's jersey, but has stated that he is not that interested in keeping it. So who will assume the responsibility?

The weather today seems to be relatively kind: it's 27 degrees and pretty sunny, with slight wisps of cloud trailing across the clear blue skies.

14:38 CEST    60km/94km to go
Today's stage started at 13:15 with all 182 riders signing on. After 2 km, the first attack went with Raúl García De Mateo (Relax-Gam), Steve Morabito (Phonak Hearing Systems), Alberto Benítez (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Walter Beneteau (Bouygues Telecom). They could not get clear and David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile Team), José Antonio Redondo (Astana Team) and Jorge García (Relax-Gam) tried their hands, lasting until km 12 before they were caught.

After 24 km of fast racing, a group of three managed to get clear: Laszlo Bodrogi (Credit Agricole - best on GC at 28'15), David Loosli (Lampre-Fondital) and Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone). They were able to stay away, and have made the most of it, now sitting 9'04 ahead of the peloton.

14:49 CEST    70km/84km to go
The lead of the front trio goes up to 11'28 as they go over the Puerto del Manzanal, an uncategorised 1240m climb. 46.8 km were covered in the first hour, so they're movin'!

15:03 CEST    79km/75km to go
The three leaders are enjoying a 20 km long descent towards the feed zone of today's stage, still holding an 11 minute plus advantage. If the peloton wants to catch them, it had better get a wriggle on.

15:10 CEST    85km/69km to go
The peloton has started to chase the three up front, reducing the gap to 10'39 as the trio rides towards the feed zone.

15:29 CEST   
Carlos Sastre (CSC) is one of the top GC men for this year's Vuelta. We spoke to his team director Kim Andersen this morning, and he told us that Sastre's objective today will be to follow, rather than attack.

15:42 CEST    100km/54km to go
The lead has gone back up again to 12'09, with Bodrogi, Loosli and Scheirlinckx doing a great job to stay out in front with just 54 km to go. Admittedly there's a bit of climbing to do, but one of these guys could well win the stage now.

After two hours, the average speed is still a fast 44.8 km/h.

15:51 CEST    114km/40km to go
The peloton is now definitely chasing, and is in a long line, 11'00 behind the three leaders.

15:52 CEST    115km/39km to go
Quite a few people are out in Moreno to watch the peloton flash by in about 20 seconds. They're doing well over 60 km/h and are now on the descent out of town. Saunier Duval, Liquigas, Euskaltel and Caisse d'Epargne are working.

Loosli, Bodrogi and Scheirlinckx took the three placings in the intermediate sprint in Moreno.

15:55 CEST    118km/36km to go
Race leader Di Luca sits behind his Liquigas train near the front of the bunch. The speed is very high in the bunch, and the gap comes down to 9'30.

15:58 CEST   
We spoke to David Millar (Saunier Duval) about his good form on Wednesday's mountain stage, where he finished 25th. "I might give it another go today but them am likely to back off," he said. "Finishing in the top 20 or whatever doesn't interest me - I am more interested in going for stage wins and preparing for my big objective, the world time trial championships.

"In the second half of the race I am likely to have a day on, day off - be in the autobus sometimes but then go for a stage on others. That's better than finishing the race tired...I want to be fresh at the end for the World's."

16:01 CEST    119km/35km to go
The speed hits 75 km/h in the bunch, which is on one of the main highways in pursuit of the break, which is now 8'37 ahead.

16:04 CEST    120km/34km to go
The three leaders look fairly comfy as they work together, probably well aware of the speed of the bunch behind them. They should reach the foot of the climb with a bit of a gap, but then it will be tough.

16:06 CEST   
The gap falls to 7'48 as the high speed chase continues. Euskaltel, Caisse d'Epargne, Saunier Duval and Liquigas are doing most of the damage.

16:07 CEST   
The next sprint is coming up for the three leaders, in 4 km time. Bodrogi, Loosli and Scheirlinckx present no threat to Thor Hushovd for the points jersey, so there will be no real changes to that today.

16:10 CEST    126km/28km to go
The bunch continues to sit on 60-65 km/h in pursuit of the leaders, who are now in Ponferrada. The advantage drops to seven minutes, and continues to fall.

16:15 CEST    128km/26km to go
Bodrogi, the Hungarian champion, does another powerful turn as the break rides through town. Scheirlinckx is having problems following already. He takes second in the sprint behind Bodrogi, and Loosli is third.

Scheirlinckx is on the comeback trail after crashing badly in the 14th stage of the Giro d'Italia. The Belgian came off and broke his collarbone, a bone in his hand, and two fingers.

16:17 CEST    130km/24km to go
Bodrogi takes another left hander and Scheirlinckx is again gapped. The leaders are heading out of town, just as the bunch rides into it some six and a half minutes behind.

16:19 CEST    132km/22km to go
The leaders head out on a small road in the direction of the Alto del Morredero, an 18.9 km climb averaging 6.1%, with some fairly steep sections. It's like a stair-step climb with three hard bits.

Bäckstedt does a big turn on the front of the bunch. Maybe Di Luca is looking at another win today?

16:22 CEST    134km/20km to go
The bunch flies past the massive castle on the outskirts of Ponferrada, six minutes behind the break. Denis Menchov is near the back, and probably isn't thinking of the win today.

16:25 CEST    135.5km/18.5km to go
The leaders can see the climb looming in front of them as they ride up a deserted back road, with some yellow signs indicating that the Alto del Morredero has started. They turn left, and the road steepens and narrows. It's poor quality too.

Loosli gets a gap straight away, then Scheirlinckx and Bodrogi try to follow, but it doesn't look good. This bit is 10%.

16:28 CEST   
Now Astana is on the front, stringing out the peloton, which is splitting under pressure. The climb hasn't started for the bunch yet.

16:30 CEST    137km/17km to go
Now the bunch takes the left hander and hits the foot of the climb, with Astana to the fore. Vino is in second wheel, protecting Kashechkin. The gap is around 4'30.

The back of the bunch is very damaged.

16:31 CEST   
Up front, Scheirlinckx has slowed and is signaling for water. Ahead of him is Bodrogi, then Loosli.

16:32 CEST   
After you've done a 130 km breakaway, your legs tend not to cooperate when you're 80kg and the road is going uphill at 10%. Bodrogi is realising this now.

16:32 CEST    138km/16km to go
Caisse d'Epargne's Arroyo hits the gas on a 15% section with Valverde well placed in second wheel. The bunch is still fairly big, but it won't stay this size for long.

16:35 CEST    139km/15km to go
David de la Fuente crashes in the rear part of the bunch. Not sure what caused that. Maybe he ran over a bidon. He's on his way again, riding with the dropped riders like O'Grady and Spezialetti.

16:37 CEST   
Menchov is also not bothering to hang onto the lead group, which is now 30 riders strong. Valverde is towards the back, it looks like. The three Discoverys: Danielson, Brajkovic and Beltrán, are well placed.

16:37 CEST   
Up front, Loosli has 50 seconds on Bodrogi, 2'15 on Scheirlinckx, and 4'08 on the bunch. He's doing well!

16:38 CEST   
Luis Perez (Cofidis) attacks the peloton, and all hell breaks loose. Valverde is not on a good day today.

16:40 CEST    140.5km/13.5km to go
Loosli looks comfy as he reaches a flatter part of the climb. Behind, Boogerd, Morabito, Devolder, Brajkovic, Danielson, Valverde, Sastre are in a largish group going under 15 km to go.

16:41 CEST    141km/13km to go
4th rider on the road is still Luis Perez (Cofidis), who is being chased by Beltrán, Perez, J. Rodriguez, Vinokourov, Kohl, and Szmyd. They are working well on a flat section. They look back to see Karpets leading the Valverde/Sastre 'peloton'.

16:43 CEST   
Perez is being slowly caught by the chase group.

Race leader Di Luca is in the Valverde peloton, which is a good 30 riders strong, towed by Caisse d'Epargne.

16:46 CEST    142km/12km to go
The chase group behind fourth on the road Luis Perez: Beltrán, Devolder (Discovery), Hesjedal (Phonak), J. Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Vinokourov and Paulinho (Astana), Kohl (T-Mobile), Szmyd (Lampre). They have now caught Perez.

Still, David Loosli is leading the race on this final climb, and is making good ground as he maintains a 3'30 gap on that group. Di Luca/Valverde/Sastre are another 26 seconds back.

16:48 CEST    144km/10km to go
Loosli rides through San Cristobal De Valdueza, on a very narrow rough road through town. Vinokourov lifts the pace in the chase group behind, which should catch Scheirlinckx and Bodrogi soon.

16:49 CEST   
The chasers reach a downhill part of the climb (this is why it only averages 6.1%). Meanwhile, Loosli is on a 10% uphill bit, and really feeling it as he pedals squares.

The Vino chase group is at 3'00, and the Di Luca peloton at 3'19.

16:51 CEST    145km/9km to go
Scheirlinckx is caught through the town with his teammate Luis Perez riding on the front. Scheirlinckx gives him a bidon, then drops off. 2'50 to the leader, with Bodrogi still to be caught too.

16:52 CEST   
The road steepens and Di Luca, Danielson and Brajkovic are immediately in trouble. Loosli goes under 9 km to go with less than three minutes. He looks cooked.

Di Luca is fighting hard, but it's more about survival now as he is dropped a bit.

16:54 CEST   
The chasing group loses riders as the Valverde group - now just 10 riders strong - gobbles them up. Under 9 km to go, and the gap is 1'59 to the leader. Perez, Beltrán and Vinokourov are the only ones left chasing. Now Valverde is coming up with Kashechkin on his wheel, just. Where is Sastre? Not there.

16:56 CEST    146km/8km to go
Loosli goes under 8 km to go and there have been some serious changes behind him. Bodrogi has been caught and spat, and now we have a group chasing with: Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez (Cofidis), Beltrán (Discovery), Vinokourov (Astana), Kashechkin (Astana), Sastre (CSC), Mayo (Euskaltel), Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Szmyd (Lampre).

16:57 CEST   
Perez sets tempo with Mayo on his wheel, then Valverde, who will test his legs again soon, surely.

16:59 CEST   
The Valverde group is joined by Joaquin Rodriguez, and he now gets to the front of the group, which is 1'27 behind the lone Loosli.

17:00 CEST    147km/7km to go
Beltrán is the best Discovery rider today, as he sits in fifth wheel. Danielson and Brajkovic are trying to get back on.

Di Luca is losing group, riding with Paulinho and a few others. He's already 1'04 down on Valverde.

17:01 CEST   
Devolder has rejoined the chase group, and is now riding at the front with Rodriguez. He looks back to see where his teammates are. Brajkovic is there, Beltrán is there, Danielson is not there.

17:03 CEST   
The chase group now looks like this: Valverde, Karpets, Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez (Cofidis), Beltrán, Devolder, Brajkovic (Discovery), Vinokourov (Astana), Kashechkin (Astana), Sastre (CSC), Mayo (Euskaltel), Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Kohl (T-Mobile) Szmyd, Petrov, Marzoli (Lampre).

Boogerd, Hesjedal and Jufre are trying to get back to it, as Karpets sets tempo. This is a moderately steep part of the climb. They should get a flat bit soon.

17:04 CEST    148.5km/5.5km to go
Loosli is still in with a shout of a stage win, as he reaches a flat/downhill section with 59 seconds on the chasers. This will be a close finish.

17:05 CEST    149km/5km to go
Valverde's two teammates lead the ProTour leader less than a minute behind Loosli, who hammers along under 5 km to go.

17:06 CEST    150km/4km to go
Loosli even has to stop pedaling as this part descends around a few gentle corners. He'll like that.

Di Luca is only 51 seconds behind Valverde's group.

17:07 CEST    150.5km/3.5km to go
Karpets continues to tow the chase group, and they go under 4 km to go 53 seconds behind the leader. It's still downhill.

17:08 CEST    151km/3km to go
Di Luca and Paulinho are working together in their little chase group, but they're having problems closing the gap.

The road goes up again and Karpets gives it all he has left. So does Loosli, who can sense a possible victory with 3 km to go.

17:09 CEST   
Mayo attacks the chase group, and Valverde and Rodriguez react immediately. This is going to hurt a lot.

17:10 CEST    152km/2km to go
But the attack doesn't break the group. Rodriguez gets to the front and sets a steadier tempo. Now Mayo goes again, with Valverde, Brajkovic, Vino, Devolder, Perez, Beltrán all able to react. Kashechkin is in trouble.

Valverde attacks with Brajkovic, then Beltrán counters, but Valverde takes his wheel.

17:11 CEST   
Loosli will be caught soon as Valverde winds it up again.

17:11 CEST    152km/2km to go
Brajkovic is the first rider to get up to Loosli, followed by Vinokourov, who counter attacks hard....

17:12 CEST   
Vino and Brajkovic lead the stage now, with Loosli trying to hold them, but he can't. The Valverde group is 10 seconds behind.

17:13 CEST    153km/1km to go
Brajkovic is working with Vino, as the gap is still small. Rodriguez is trying to tow Valverde and the rest up.

17:14 CEST   
Valverde and Perez are on the front of their group, trying to close the last little gap. Marchante jumps across to the two leaders. Valverde, Beltrán, Sastre, Kashechkin can all follow.

17:14 CEST    153km/1km to go
Vino goes under the 1km to go banner!!

17:15 CEST   
Marchante leads the chase, but no-one will work with him. Vino puts his head down and hammers.

17:15 CEST   

17:16 CEST   
The chasers: Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Luis Perez (Cofidis), Beltrán, (Discovery), Devolder, Brajkovic (Discovery), Kashechkin (Astana), Sastre (CSC), Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval), Mayo (Euskaltel).

Vinokourov has seven seconds. He can see a win...

17:16 CEST    153.5km/0.5km to go
Valverde is doing all the work behind with Brajkovic on his wheel. Vino has 10 seconds, as it flattens out.

17:17 CEST    154km/0km to go
Vino fights for it in the final 200m and almost wins the stage, but Valverde sprints up behind him, passes him with 100m to go and wins it!!! Huge gap, then Sastre second, then Marchante. Vino was sixth. Great finish!

17:19 CEST   
Di Luca finishes at 1'57 and that means Brajkovic will be the new leader! Wow, amazing work for the young Slovenian!

17:23 CEST   
We've covered a third of the Vuelta and two mountain stages, and we can see that Discovery has got a very strong team here. Even without Danielson today, they had three men up in the lead group. Brajkovic can time trial too, but he may be a little young for a three week stage race. We shall see...

Until tomorrow!


1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears      4.01.05
2 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                    0.04
3 José Angel Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir           0.06
4 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        0.07
5 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team             
6 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                          0.12
7 Luis Pérez (Spa) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone               0.16
8 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                                 
9 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team         0.23
10 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                          0.29
11 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                                  
General classification after stage 7
1 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team    26.48.27
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears         0.05
3 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Team CSC                                    0.10
4 José Ange Gomez Marchante (Spa) Saunier Duval-Prodir            0.22
5 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Team                             0.23
6 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team         0.51
7 Ruggero Marzoli (Ita) Lampre-Fondital                           1.17
8 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi                               2.27
9 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Team                          2.28
10 Luis Pérez (Spa) Cofidis, le Credit par Telephone              3.40
11 Stijn Devolder (Bel) Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team        4.31

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