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63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 12 - September 11: Burgos - Suances, 186.4km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Hedwig Kröner

Live coverage starts: 15:00 CEST
Estimated finish: 18:00 CEST

14:59 CEST   
Another beautiful Vuelta day has begun, taking us today from Burgos to Suances over 186 kilometres. Although the stage is a medium mountain stage with the Alto de Bocos (cat 3), el Portillo de Lunada (cat 2) and el Alto de Campillo (cat 2) making life hard for the riders, today's route is a pretty flat affair for the last 30 kilometres.

You could thus deduce that we're up for another bunch sprint finish today, but beware of those little bumps on the day's profile during the last kilometres: If a break gets enough of a gap today, or if late attackers can stay clear, you never know if the sprinter's teams are able to pull it together again - especially since their fast men could be tired from the earlier climbs.

15:00 CEST   
At the moment, we have a three-man break in front with Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas). The trio escaped the bunch after eight kilometres into the race, and had a maximum advantage so far of 4'18 minutes. Meanwhile, the gap has come down to 2'50 as they came through Villarcayo, the birth town of Iñigo Cuesta (CSC).

15:02 CEST   
The riders are currently taking on the first categorized climb of the day, the Alto de Bocos (cat 3). The front group is doing a good job, putting some more time between them and the bunch.

15:04 CEST    78km/108.4km to go
As the pass over the summit, the break's lead is 3'50 minutes.

15:08 CEST   
We have some bad news for the riders as our man on the ground, Bjorn Haake, is approaching the coastal finish town of Suances. The start this morning was held under sunny skies, but the further the peloton is rolling towards the Atlantic sea, the cloudier - and then rainier - it gets. It looks like the finish today will be a wet affair.

15:10 CEST   
Sandy Casar was the first to reach the summit of the Alto, followed by Quinziato, then Hinault. None of them has any stakes on the mountains classification, though - they just want to get to the finish first.

15:17 CEST   
There were no non-starters this morning in Burgos, by the way. All 158 riders who finished yesterday are still in the race.

15:17 CEST   
As we wrote this, we have the first abandon today: Gianni Meersman of Française des Jeux.

15:20 CEST   
The second hour of racing was accomplished with an average speed of 41,7 km/h. The gap between the break and the bunch is stable between three and four minutes - right now at 3'24.

The front men are coming to the intermediate sprint of Espinosa de los Monteros at km 89.5.

15:24 CEST   
It's interesting that Sébastien Hinault, who won the stage to Zaragoza in a bunch sprint on Tuesday, is in the break. He must be very sure that he can pass these mountains, and the bunch must also be very sure it can control the escape. In any case, if the trio gets to Suances first, then Hinault is a good bet for the victory.

15:26 CEST   
They've reached the sprint, and the gap is down to three minutes. Doesn't look like the bunch wants to take any risks here today.

15:35 CEST   
Cyclingnews talked to overall leader Egoi Martinez this morning and asked him what it had been like to wear the golden jersey on Tuesday for the first time. Martinez noted that it hadn't been much different to other days, actually. "It was very windy, so there wasn't much respect and a lot of tension in the peloton. But generally it is a great thing. It was nice that everyone congratulated me and I will try to hold on to the jersey [until the rest day - ed.]," he commented.

His team-mate and Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez held a press conference yesterday. He is ready for the Tour of Poland, but said he of course followed the Vuelta closely and thought it was excellent.

"I see a phenomenal race. We already had the first set of mountains and now there is the Angliru coming, the Estación Funetes de Invierno and the mountain time trial. We can expect a maximum spectacle!

"Our strong man is Igor Anton. But it is unlikely that we keep the jersey - it would be nice to succeed until the rest day." That is tomorrow.

15:39 CEST   
This morning, there was news that Belgian team Quickstep signed Tour de France stage winner and Classics specialist Stefan Schumacher. This sparked an annoyed reaction from World champion Paolo Bettini, who apparently said to Gazzetta dello Sport, "They say they don't have the budget to renew with me and then they announce Schumacher. I will look for other avenues."

Cyclingnews will have more on this story in the First Edition News later today.

15:48 CEST   
The best placed rider on GC in the break is Sandy Casar, even though he is well out of contention at almost 15 minutes down. Still, he is a good climber as he proved numerous times.

Quick Step, Lampre and Caisse d'Epargne are doing the work at the front of the bunch to maximize their leader's chances for a stage victory. Bettini, Alessandro Ballan and Alejandro Valverde could be strong enough to win today.

15:51 CEST   
Another candidate for a stage win is Philippe Gilbert. Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake caught up with the Belgian this morning in Burgos.

"It's a good stage for a breakaway," predicted Gilbert. "We're half way through the Vuelta, and a lot of people are tired. It will be harder for the sprinters' teams to control it.

"So far, the Vuelta has been a good preparation for the Worlds for me. After that, I will recover, as a three-week race takes a lot out of you."

15:55 CEST   
Oh, my. As the riders climb the second climb of the day, the Portillo de la Lunada, fog and rain have settled in, and the temperature at the top of the mountain is a mere 7° Celsius.

16:03 CEST   
The breakaway riders are having a difficult time racing through the fog. They are currently on the last slopes of the climb. The descent will be tricky especially during the first kilometres with this intense fog blurring the view. They will have to be careful.

16:05 CEST    106km/80.4km to go
They've passed the summit, with an advantage of 2'50 minutes over the bunch.

16:07 CEST   
The road is wet with the rain still coming down, and the descent is technical. The bunch is taking it easy - no risks are being taken here.

16:10 CEST   
Everybody is descending very cautiously. They're below the fog line now but all is wet. They have their long sleeves on as well as rain jackets, but their fingers still must be freezing.

16:12 CEST   
At the top of the cat 2 climb, it was Casar who took the KOM points in front of Quinziato and Hinault. Mountains leader David Moncoutié (Cofidis) made no efforts.

16:17 CEST   
The rain is still coming down heavily. As far as we know, it won't get much better from now on to the finish.

The break has 3'27 minutes on the bunch as it starts the next climb, the Alto del Caracol.

16:19 CEST   
Quinziato is getting some advice from his DS in the team car. Crédit Agricole is also looking after Hinault, driving up to his side. The riders are soaked.

Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) was in the break yesterday. He still felt the efforts a day after. "Yeah, I am tired," he told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake at the start in Burgos. "But tomorrow is a rest day, so now I will just try to recover before the weekend. Of course, if there is a chance I will go into a break again, but all my teammates also are interested in joining a break..."

Martínez admitted that he had never ridden the Angliru before. "Frankly, I have no desire to do it in training. Racing it is OK. My teammates have done it and they say it is very, very hard." Martínez added that the weather will make it tough, too. "It has been raining at the Angliru lately and even today at the finish it will be raining," Martínez said under the hot Burgos sun at the start.

16:23 CEST   
Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne is leading out the bunch as they hit the first kilometre of the third climb. At his side is Tomas Vaitkus (Astana). They are taking it easy on the climb.

16:24 CEST   
José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur) was also in the break yesterday. He told Cyclingnews how he was feeling a day later. "I am tired. I also have a tooth infection. Today and tomorrow I will take it very easy to recuperate my strength for the last week of the Vuelta. Yesterday was good but in the end we lacked a little bit to bring the break home. Today and tomorrow I will just try to recuperate for Asturias. I hope to finish the Vuelta well."

16:28 CEST    124.4km/62km to go
Lampre is pulling the bunch now. The rain has eased up a bit, but it is still wet on the road. Many riders are calling for their team cars at the back of the peloton.

16:29 CEST   
Lampre sprinter Danilo Napolitano finished ninth yesterday. He looked at the result with mixed feelings, but was mostly happy to have avoided a disaster. "I was a bit unlucky yesterday. With 200m to go I hit a spectator with my helmet. I almost crashed, but fortunately I could avoid that," he told Cyclingnews.

With a little more than 25km to go there is a climb that can serve as a spring board for anybody who wants to avoid a bunch sprint. As Cyclingnews came by earlier, a single spectator was waiting - and the cow was tied to the meadow, so it had not much of a choice. The top is marked by a small village, fittingly called La Montaña. The climb is some three kilometres long. After the descent, the final sprint of the day is waiting.

16:32 CEST   
Our breakaway of three riders has crossed the summit of the Caracol. Mountains leader David Moncoutié has decided to get some extra points here and left the bunch behind some 50 metres to go for fourth place on the KOM.

16:34 CEST   
The Frenchman scores the points no problem. He takes an energy bar out of his back pocket as he tackles the descent.

16:37 CEST   
Damiano Cunego gave his tip for the stage winner before the start. "I believe this is a course for Paolo Bettini," he told Cyclingnews. "For me I just will do the sprint tranquilo. I am feeling better every day. I was a bit unlucky in this Vuelta so far. I am hoping to do something on Sunday. In Asturias I am hoping to ride with the best. I have never ridden the Angliru before."

16:39 CEST   
This also could be a day for Cyclingnews' diarist Sylvain Chavanel, who does not mind the rain or the cold at all and loves bumpy finishes like this one. The Frenchman has been on a roll this year, finally confirming his talent. He, too is off from Cofidis to Quickstep next year, alongside Stefan Schumacher.

16:42 CEST   
David Moncoutié (Cofidis) told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake that he thought it was possible to bring the mountain jersey all the way to Madrid. "Yes, I think that will be an objective now. We have to see after Asturias, but I already have a bit of a gap."

Moncoutié laughed when asked if there was an internal competition between himself and teammate Sylvain Chavanel, who are separated by only 14 seconds on GC. "No, no, there isn't a competition or a bet going on. Sylvain has a different objective. He is thinking about the Worlds. I am fully here for the Vuelta."

16:46 CEST    136km/50.4km to go
Our three-man break is still going strong, passing through the town of Selaya now. The rain has started again. The gap is still up to 2'40 minutes...

16:49 CEST   
The bunch is strung out now, split into several groups in this descent.

The countryside in this part of Spain is nice and green for a change. No wonder with the rain.

16:52 CEST   
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) seems to have been trapped in one of these groups. He's got four men with him pulling him back now.

There are two Astana riders pulling the group of Egoi Martinez, the race leader. There are 53 seconds separating the two groups.

16:54 CEST   
Daniele Napolitano (Lampre) pulled out if the race.

16:57 CEST   
This could be a dangerous situation for Valverde's GC hopes, which is why his team is trying hard to bring him back. Because the favourites' group is pulling hard now to distance him, the gap to the leaders is shrinking rapidly now, down to little more than a minute.

There are still 46 seconds between the favourites' group led out by Euskaltel and Astana, and the group with Valverde.

16:59 CEST   
Valverde is personally working to reduce the gap. Behind him is Philippe Gilbert, and Sylvain Chavanel also seems trapped in this group.

17:00 CEST    148.4km/38km to go
There are 46 seconds between the leading trio and the first bunch, then another 44 seconds to the Valverde group. The breakaway will get caught soon as GC is at stakes.

17:02 CEST   
All the while, it is still nasty weather here today, which doesn't make things easier for anyone.

Astana's Vaitkus is now pulling the Martinez group.

17:04 CEST   
Valverde is again on the front of his group, chasing hard as Astana is putting the hammer down on him. That's what happens when you think you're safe for a day... 49 seconds now separating the Astana leaders from Valverde.

17:08 CEST   
Valverde, Gilbert and Chavanel are working hard to reduce the gap. The Spaniard is starting to have some difficulties, he needs to get out of the saddle to hang onto his companions' wheels.

17:14 CEST   
The rain has eased up, at least.

The trio of Valverde, Gilbert and Chavanel has been joined by another Caisse d'Epargne teammate. It's Arroyo. The gap has grown to 1'29 between the GC favourites' group and Valverde!

17:16 CEST   
Freire is in the front group, which has swallowed the earlier breakaway of Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole), Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux) and Manuel Quinziato (Liquigas).

17:20 CEST   
They're on that climb with 25 kilometres to go. Valverde is losing precious time today, possibly annihilating his GC hopes for this Vuelta. He's lost over two minutes already!

A bigger group with all of his Caisse d'Epargne's teammates has re-joined Valverde now, who was away with Gilbert and Chavanel. Caisse is putting on some rhythm.

17:22 CEST   
Here's an update on Paolo Bettini being annoyed at Quick Step for signing Schumacher today:

Team Manger of Quick Step, Patrick Lefevere, reacted to Paolo Bettini's comments. "You can't say that Schumacher costs the same money as Bettini, it is totally different. His [Bettini - ed.] remarks are not even correct," he said to Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown.

He looked back on Bettini's years with Quick Step. "It was a great ten years and a good period for me. In the last six years, he brought me a lot of winnings. I think often riders forget that they are paid for this."

More from Lefevere will appear in our First Edition news.

17:23 CEST    166.4km/20km to go
Euskaltel, Astana and Quick Step are really pushing hard to gain as much time as possible on the Valverde group, which is currently 2'11 back. It's a team time trial, now.

17:26 CEST   
Freire and Bettini are also in the front group. Some Astana and Euskaltel riders pull so hard they get a gap!

17:27 CEST   
The gap is growing rather than decreasing, though. This is a decisive day for Alejandro Valverde.

Vaitkus is a beast leading the front group. It is incredible how hard they are driving.

17:32 CEST    172.4km/14km to go
The rain has ceased completely, fortunately. The road is still wet, though. There will be a bunch sprint in Suances, so they'd better watch out. Valverde has lost the Vuelta today, so much is probably safe to say.

17:34 CEST   
Bettini 'Il Grillo' looks around to see who's there. We've spotted Freire, too, but do now know of other possible sprint candidates in the front group right now. The gap is up to 2'35 minutes.

17:37 CEST    177.4km/9km to go
One rider is missing in the Caisse train: Joaquin Rodriguez, who is actually up there with the favourites. We're puzzled.

17:39 CEST   
This morning, CSC-Saxo Bank sprinter Juan José Haedo reflected on his third place from yesterday. "In general the sprint was fine, but I messed up the last turn a bit. I am feeling well, though, and we will see what happens in the rest of the Vuelta," he told Cyclingnews. We don't know if he is in the front group or not, though. Sorry!

Caisse's chasing lacks dedication now. They know it's no use anymore.

17:41 CEST    181.4km/5km to go
Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) also sits in this group. Euskaltel, Lampre and Astana are still leading out.

17:44 CEST   
It's still up and down on the road to Suances. A Liquigas rider is slightly off the front.

17:45 CEST    182.4km/4km to go
Tosatto shuts that move down for Quick Step.

17:46 CEST   
Bettini will want to fire today for Worlds' prep and to launch one off at Quick Step.

17:46 CEST    185.4km/1km to go
Into the final 1000 metres. The pace is high on these wet roads.

17:46 CEST   
The roads undulate here in the finale. Actually a good finish for Freire.

17:47 CEST   
Contador attacks with the GC leader on his wheel.

17:47 CEST   
Bettini marks it. Rebellin is on Bettini's wheel.

17:47 CEST   
Cunego is charging... He needs a win.

17:47 CEST   
Contador, Martínez, Rebellin.

17:47 CEST   
Bettini breaks free!

17:48 CEST   
Rebellin chases him down.

17:48 CEST   
But he can't do it. Bettini gets the win. Rebellin 2nd. Two Lampre's in third -- Ballan and Cunego we think.

17:48 CEST   
Valverde is still racing.

17:50 CEST   
Bettini gives a hug and thanks to Tosatto.

17:50 CEST   
The riders are stung out here; coming in slowly. Including Valverde.

17:50 CEST   
The rain keeps coming down.

17:51 CEST   
The gap is over three minutes so far for Valverde.

17:54 CEST   
Bettini really came out to take a pre-Worlds win and what will be one of his final wins with Team Quick Step.

17:56 CEST   
With the time loss, Valverde is now at 4'19" back in the GC. A day when he should not have lost time. After tomorrow's rest, the riders return for the feared Alto del Angliru on Saturday.

Please join us then. Thanks!

Provisional results

1 Paolo Bettini (Ita) Quick Step
2 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre
4 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
5 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
6 Egoi Martínez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
7 Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Gerolsteiner
8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank
9 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
10 Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
General classification after stage 12
1 Egoi Martínez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
2 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana
3 Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC-Saxo Bank
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
6 Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
8 Davide Rebellin (Ita) Gerolsteiner
9 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre
10 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
11 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne   4.19

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