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Photo ©: Bettini

63rd Vuelta a España - GT

Spain, August 30 - September 21, 2008

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Stage 15 - September 15: Cudillero - Ponferrada, 200.8km

Complete live report

By Hedwig Kröner

15:04 CEST    Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta, today coming to you from Ponferrada. Stage 15, the last mountain stage for this race, saw the riders start in Cudillero for a journey taking them across three categorized climbs: the Puerto de Somiedo (cat 1) at km 80, then the Alto de la Mina (cat 2) at km 140.5 and a final category three climb, the Alto de Orcero 40 kilometres before the finish.

15:07 CEST    On the way up the first mountain, the breakaway of the day formed, totalling 17 riders: Matti Breschel (CSC), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Olivier Bonnaire (Bouygues), David Arroyo and Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Sébastien Minard and Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre) Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step), Theo Eltink (Rabobank), David Garcia Dapena (Xacobeo-Galicia), Pieter Jacobs (Silence), Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff). This front group had an advantage of 9'42 minutes when they approached the first intermediate sprint of Villablino (at 102 km).

15:11 CEST    As they crested over the Alto de Somiedo, Garate took all the KOM points, followed by Minard, Arrieta, Tiralongo, Breschel, Garcia Dapena, Haussler, Ignatiev and Gilbert in that order.

15:13 CEST    It's a comfortable race situation with alomst every team represented in the break, except for Andalucia-Cajasur, Milram and Astana. Alberto Contador's squad is controlling the pace behind.

15:14 CEST    102km/100km to go Now, the break is in Villablino. The gap is up to 10'09.

15:15 CEST    Eltink was the first at the sprint. Gilbert and Nuyens took second and third.

15:20 CEST    Milram's Artur Gajek just abandoned. Earlier during the stage, CSC's Juan José Haedo also stepped off the bike. But there were no non-starters this morning in Cudillero.

15:25 CEST    With this stage, the high mountain week-end of the Vuelta is coming to its end. Astana's Alberto Contador again showed he was currently the best climber in the world and dominated his rivals impressively. One climber that we haven't seen so much is Mauricio Ardila Cano of Rabobank, who didn't have the greatest of mountain stages. When Cyclingnews asked him how it went over the weekend, he replied, "Now I am really bad. The Vuelta started out really good for me, but about three or four days ago I started to have a really bad pain in my shoulder. Yesterday was really bad. It hurts to pull on the handlebar."

Ardila Cano had finished 20th this year in the Giro d'Italia. He won the climber's jersey in the Regio Tour and was really looking forward to the Vuelta. But things have changed. "Now I just want to get the last week over with. I really was eyeing the overall and things started out so well." Cano rolled away, looking a bit disappointed how a simple thing could ruin his Vuelta so badly. "I just did a bad movement in one stage and started to have that pain in the shoulder."

15:29 CEST    The breakaway got some much beeded food and drink at the feed zone. They collaborate well and are able to increase their lead to 10'22.

15:34 CEST    Jurgen Van Goolen (CSC-Saxo Bank) was the main protagonist yesterday. He was in the break of the day, then pulled away solo. However, on the final climb he was caught by his rivals. Van Goolen quickly found the culprit. He told Cyclingnews' Bjorn Haake before the start of stage 15 what went wrong. "It's a pity that Caisse d'Epargne pulled so early." Van Goolen currently still lives in flattish Belgium. When asked about equally strong climber Jurgen van den Broeck, Van Goolen acknowledged that his days in his home country may be numbered. "I think I am also contemplating moving somewhere else."

15:51 CEST    The gap keeps growing. It is now 11'04 minutes.

15:57 CEST    The weather here today in Northern Spain is nice and sunny again, with that big yellow fire ball in the sky heating up the ground air to around 28° Celsius.

16:03 CEST    The breakaway of 17 is now starting the ascent of the second climb of the day, the Alto del Corral (category two). If Astana continues its mellow pace, the front group could well succeed its plan. Contador and Leipheimer certainly have no objectives today after the brilliant week-end.

16:04 CEST    Sandy Casar currently lies 20th overall, 23.17 back. The Française des Jeux rider looked relaxed this morning at the start in Cudillero. The relaxedness belied the toughness of the weekend, though. "The mountain stages were very hard. I just tried to lose not too much time," he told Cyclingnews.

Casar regretted that the first he was slightly handicapped. "I had some intestinal problems. But now it is going better." Casar agreed that the stage today could be tailor-made for him. "It's true, I think today we will see a breakaway. I will try to be in it, but also have to see I feel."

Casar also acknowledged he could feel a bit of a strain already. "The Vuelta and the whole season is starting to get long." He emphasized that you have to take the opportunities to get into a break when they are on offer, but he won't put all his eggs in today's basket. "There are still two or three other really nice stages [for a break]." His teammate Gilbert instead managed to jump away in the right group.

The view over the start area in the harbour area in Cudillero
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

16:08 CEST    136km/66km to go Arroyo has taken some lead on the climb, 28 seconds to be exact. the bunch is 12'20 minutes away now.

16:11 CEST    The peloton is on a steep part of the climb, currently 11 percent gradient. The Astana riders in front have their jerseys zipped open. Paolo Bettini is taking it easy towards to back of the field.

16:14 CEST    141km/61km to go The breakaway has split up a bit. Arroyo has 1'18 minutes over two of his former escape mates, which look to be Haussler and Eltink. They have crossed the summit of the mountain now and are on their way down.

16:18 CEST    'Chechu' Rubiera (Astana) agreed to talk to Cyclingnews before the start, but it had to be muy rapido (very fast), he said. Okay, then, how were the last couple of days for you with all the work? "Yesterday wasn't so bad. Caisse d'Epargne did the work for us. But the day before we had to work very hard." At this point Rubiera remembered it had to be muy rapido and he started talking twice as fast. "We are very happy with the result of the two days in the Asturian stages." And off he went to the sign-in, muy rapido.

16:20 CEST    The break is down to 12 riders, who look to catch up with the missing ones off the front in the descent. Arrieta, who was also away, just gets caught again.

16:32 CEST    158km/44km to go Okay, it looks like the break came back together again, although we are not sure if there isn't someone missing from the initial 17. We don't see Haussler anymore. The bunch is back at 15'27.

16:34 CEST    AG2R's Arrieta is again off the front. He tried several times earlier, too. He has 50 metres.

16:36 CEST    Vanotti and Jacobs have made it back. The front group counts thus 15 riders, with Haussler and Eltink struggling at a distance.

16:41 CEST    162km/40km to go They are now climbing the category three mountain Alto de Ocero. Arrieta is still off the front, and he gets the support of a few spectators. He's reached the summit now.

16:42 CEST    Gilbert and a Caisse rider follow at 40 seconds.

16:44 CEST    In the peloton, Contador gets some medical assistance out of his team car - an ointment on his left knee. Looks like he suffered a minor crash. He's got some scraped skin.

16:47 CEST    His teammates are bringing him back to the bunch, while Arrieta leads by 33 seconds over his chasers.

16:50 CEST    In the round of also letting the lesser known riders speak up, Cyclingnews asked José Antonio Carrasco of the Spanish Andalucía-Cajasur team his opinion of what the day might bring. "Bueno, it's another nice day and the start area is nice. But I think today will be very hard." In his first Vuelta, Carrasco admitted that "I am feeling my legs a bit."

16:54 CEST    There is one last bump on the profile with 12 kilometres to go. Arrieta leads by 42 seconds over 15 riders. Haussler made it back, but Rabobank's Eltink is still somewhere adrift.

16:59 CEST    Cofidis and Rabobank are now pulling the bunch behind, trying to keep the gap reasonable. Arrieta is really pulling one off here. His advantage, however, needs to grow over a minute if he wants a chance at victory.

17:02 CEST    177km/25km to go 54 seconds for Arrieta. The chasers don't look very concerned with the leading Spaniard. The bunch is 16.40 minutes back, led out by Cyclingnews diarist Sylvain Chavanel.

17:04 CEST    The chase is picking up now on these long, straight roads. It's quite green though in this part of Spain. Arrieta gets some energy gel from his team car.

17:05 CEST    180km/22km to go Haussler launched an attack, together with Garcia Dapena. They're being marked.

17:05 CEST    Haussler goes again, followed by a Caisse rider. The others hesitate.

17:06 CEST    It's Zandio from Caisse. But they can't get away.

17:08 CEST    182km/20km to go Arrieta has 40 seconds as he comes through Pontferrada. The streets are lined with supporters for the Spaniard.

17:11 CEST    But Arrieta will not succeed. There are only 14 seconds left now that the chasers got moving properly.

17:13 CEST    They have Arrieta in the crosshairs now. There are a lot of accelerations all the time, everybody is testing legs. Arrieta is caught.

17:15 CEST    187km/15km to go Bonnaire now leads out, with Tiralongo following. Now Tiralongo goes, followed by Zandio. But no one gets a significant gap.

17:17 CEST    Garate puts one in, and it is a good one. He has 80 metres. We're almost at the foot of that little uncategorized climb at 12 kms from the finish.

17:18 CEST    The others look at each other - who will do the work of pulling him back? Garate has eight seconds. He's climbing now - 13 percent gradient. Ouch.

17:20 CEST    This hurts after so many kilometres in front... Garate suffers, as the others are coming back on him. It's Nuyens who catches him, together with a Caisse rider.

17:22 CEST    It's Nuyens, Garate and Breschel who lead. But the others are not letting go, following just behind.

17:24 CEST    Arroyo and Nuyens are leading now. Arroyo accelerates again, trying to drop him. They do have a small gap.

17:25 CEST    192km/10km to go This climb is harder and longer than it looks on paper. It's leg-breaking!

17:27 CEST    Now they've made it. Garcia Dapena flies downward with Arroyo, Nuyens and Breschel. Astarloza and Tiralongo are chasing.

17:28 CEST    The descent is not easy... but it's getting rollier now.

17:30 CEST    196km/6km to go Arroyo has taken his chances again as the others are being dropped. 15 seconds at the 6 km-mark in front of Astarloza.

17:32 CEST    198km/4km to go Tiralongo bridges up to Astarloza. Arroyo is in the back again, as Nuyens attacked.

17:33 CEST    It's Nuyens in front with Arroyo, Garcia Dapena and Garate leading now.

17:34 CEST    Garcia Dapena attacks at the 3km-mark. Nuyens leads the chase, but doesn't want to.

17:35 CEST    200km/2km to go Garcia Dapena is flat out, while the three look at each other. This could be it!

17:35 CEST    Nuyens sets out to bridge up. He is being marked by the two others.

17:36 CEST    Garcia Dapena is being cheered on inside town. Nuyens tries again.

17:37 CEST    Garcia Dapena is gone for the others. Now it's a battle for second place.

17:37 CEST    Garcia is on the finishing straight... a great win for the 30 year-old.

17:38 CEST    He salutes, overjoyed. Nuyens takes second, Garate third, Tiralongo fourth, Astarloza fifth. Arroyo must have sat up.

17:42 CEST    It was a good day for the escapists, with the bunch behind taking a break from racing. Let's not wait for them to come in - at more than 15 minutes! Thanks for joining us today; until tomorrow, Adiós!

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