Events

Heras, Perez race tightens at Vuelta as Gutierrez wins stage

The Vuelta a España is coming down to the final time trial once again. Saturday’s 178km 20th stage was the last chance for anyone to attack race leader Roberto Heras going into Sunday’s finale and Santi Pérez rose to the occasion on the steep road to Puerto de Navacerrada. The rail-thin Phonak rider started the Vuelta’s penultimate stage second at 1:13 back, but he trimmed Heras’s lead by 30 seconds after putting down a vicious acceleration with 2km to go that the defending champion couldn’t answer. Pérez couldn’t win his third stage of this Vuelta – his Phonak teammate Enrique Gutiérrez

By Andrew Hood

Photo: AFP

Perez makes his move

Perez makes his move

Photo: Graham Watson

The Vuelta a España is coming down to the final time trial once again.

Saturday’s 178km 20th stage was the last chance for anyone to attack race leader Roberto Heras going into Sunday’s finale and Santi Pérez rose to the occasion on the steep road to Puerto de Navacerrada.

The rail-thin Phonak rider started the Vuelta’s penultimate stage second at 1:13 back, but he trimmed Heras’s lead by 30 seconds after putting down a vicious acceleration with 2km to go that the defending champion couldn’t answer.

Pérez couldn’t win his third stage of this Vuelta – his Phonak teammate Enrique Gutiérrez was already up the road taking care of business – but he pumped further excitement into an already wild Vuelta and trimmed Heras’s lead to 43 seconds.

“I knew this was the last chance for me to try anything,” said Pérez, who came across the line fourth. “I felt good, but you never know if you’re capable of dropping Heras, but to get 30 seconds in two kilometers is pretty good against a climber of his caliber and those 30 seconds taste like glory.”

The 7km climb up the Cat. 1 Navacerrada in the mountains north of Madrid was the final climb of a mountainous Vuelta, marking the last opportunity for the challengers to shake things up going into Sunday’s 28.2km time trial.

Postal's Cruz was in the day's early break

Postal’s Cruz was in the day’s early break

Photo: Graham Watson

Gutiérrez was part of an early 12-man breakaway that included American Tony Cruz (U.S. Postal Service) and the tall Phonak rider held off the fast-charging main bunch to win.

With the break up the road, Liberty Seguros controlled the pace all the way up the lower flanks of the Vuelta’s final climb. Then Phonak sent Oscar Sevilla and Tadej Valjavec on the move just before the steepest part of the climb with 5km to go.

Pérez, a winner at Granada and Sierra Nevada last weekend, shot away on ramps as steep as 10 percent and only Heras could follow. The Liberty Seguros rider showed tactical savvy by simply staying on Pérez’ wheel, but couldn’t follow when Pérez punched the accelerator again with 2km to go.

Pérez came across the line fourth at 1:37 back and then all eyes turned to the clock. Heras slipped across sixth at 2:07 and saw his lead shrink by 30 seconds.

In the pair’s wake, there was still some fighting going on between Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) and Alejandro Valverde (Valenciana-Kelme). Mancebo managed to slip away in the final kilometers to eek out a small gap to cross the line eighth at 2:10 back, eight second faster than Valverde and just enough to move into third overall seven seconds ahead.

The margin may just be enough for Mancebo to stay on the podium. He beat Valverde by 35 seconds over the course of the 40.1km of the stage 8 individual time trial on September 11.

Another break away
Despite the heavy winds, several riders once again tried their luck early in the stage.

Morning blood tests by UCI’s vampires didn’t turn up anything suspicious and the Vuelta peloton was down to 119 riders for the start of the penultimate stage. The attacks came quick and fast, but the first to build a gap of any significance got away at 14km and dominated the stage.

In the break was Eladio Jimenez (Valenciana-Kelme), the highest ranked rider in the break at 20th at 32:55 back. Jimenez won a stage early on and gave the main bunch reason to be worried. American Tony Cruz obviously wanted to finish the Vuelta off on a good note and covered the move.

Joining Jimenez and Cruz were: Joan Horrach (Illes Balears-Banesto), José Gutierrez (Phonak), Cedric Vasseur (Cofidis), David Latasa (Valenciana-Kelme), Aitor Perez (Sp), Cafes Baque), Rafael Casero (Saunier Duval), Maarten Den Bakker (Rabobank), Mauro Gerosa (Vini Caldirola), Manuel Quinziato (Lampre) and Daniele Righi (Lampre).

The group worked well together over the day’s first two obstacles: the Cat. 1 Puerto de la Moricuera at 47km and the Cat. 1 Puerto de Cotos at 78km. The route climbed through the lovely pine-covered mountains north of Madrid and the main bunch seemed content to let the break grab some early TV time.

The break had a gap north of nine minutes but the main bunch trimmed it to around four minutes hitting the base of the final climb to Navacerrada.

In their wake, the main bunch came to life over the Cat. 1 Alto de León that climbed out of the Madrid side of the mountains to get the peloton on the northern side of the Navacerrada climb.

Valenciana-Kelme massed their men at the front of the main bunch on middle flanks of the climb to put the hurt on some of Heras’s Liberty Seguros foot soldiers. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) exploited the situation and went on a solo flier followed by Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

Jimenez jumped with 15km to go, but Gutiérrez fought back

Photo: Graham Watson

The main bunch split over the climb, but came together on the flat heading toward Navacerrada. Strong headwinds kept the action together heading to the base of the final climb.

Jimenez jumped with 15km to go, but Gutiérrez and Den Bakker bridged out to join him. Gutiérrez counter-attacked with 8km to go and had enough gas to hang on for Phonak’s fourth victory of the Vuelta.

“I am so happy. To win a stage in the Vuelta so hard, especially one so mythical as Navacerrada, it just makes it even better,” he said. “I am destroyed; the last kilometers of the climb were unending. I knew that behind they were coming very hard, but I knew I had an advantage so I kept suffering.”

Time trial finale
The 59th Vuelta concludes Sunday with a 28.2km time trial that covers much of the course riders will see in the 2005 road cycling world championships. Not nearly as flat as the 40km course in Valencia in stage eight, there are a few hills in the early part of the course.

The Vuelta has been decided on the final time trial every year since 2001. That was the first year Vuelta organizers put the time trial on the final day, with Angel Casero erasing a difference to Oscar Sevilla. The following year, Aitor Gonzalez did the same thing to Roberto Heras. In 2003, Heras got some back after coming from behind against Isidro Nozal on the penultimate stage with a climbing time trial at the Alto de Abantos.

Now, the Vuelta comes down once again to the finale.

The question is whether Heras will be able to hold off Pérez to win his third Vuelta in five years. Pérez thinks so.

“I think he has enough to win, but now we’re going to make it interesting,” Pérez said. “This Vuelta won’t be decided until tomorrow. Today’s 30 seconds is a good prize to me, but we’re going to keep fighting. Maybe we can still win, we’ll see.”

During that stage 8 TT – when Phonak’s top riders Tyler Hamilton and Oscar Sevilla were supposed to be vying for GC – Perez finished nearly two minutes down on Heras in an event in which neither man is a real specialist. This time, however, Perez is a team leader with plenty of motivation to turn in the ride of his career.

Like the man said, “we’re going to make it interesting.”


To see how today’s decisive stage unfolded, simply open up our LIVE UPDATE WINDOW.

Photo Gallery

Results

Preliminary Stage Results
1. José Gutierrez (Sp), Phonak, 4:52:20

2. Eladio Jimenez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, at 0:38

3. David Latasa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 1:25

4. Santiago Perez (Sp), Phonak, 1:37

5. Aitor Perez (Sp), Cafes Baque, 2:03

6. Roberto Heras (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 2:07

7. Cedric Vasseur (F), Cofidis, 2:07

8. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 2:10

9. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 2:18

10. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 2:18

11. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 2:24

12. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, 2:27

13. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 2:27

14. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, 2:27

15. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Rabobank, 2:39

16. Damiano Cunego (I), Saeco, 2:48

17. Joan Horrach (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 2:49

18. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:56

19. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:57

20. Rafael Casero (Sp), Saunier Duval, 3:01

21. David Blanco (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 3:04

22. Marcos Serrano (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 3:15

23. Isidro Nozal (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 3:15

24. Antonio Cruz (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 3:21

25. Angel Gomez (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 3:57

26. Unai Osa (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 3:57

27. Jurgen Van Goolen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 4:11

28. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Saunier Duval, 4:13

29. Felix Cardenas (Col), Cafes Baque, 4:13

30. Daniel Atienza (Sp), Cofidis, 4:15

31. J.antonio Pecharroman (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, 4:21

32. Francisco José Lara (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 4:21

33. Stefano Garzelli (I), Vini Caldirola, 4:21

34. Johan Van Summeren (B), Relax Bodysol, 4:21

35. Ruslan Ivanov (MDA), Alessio-Bianchi, 4:21

36. Thorwald Veneberg (Nl), Rabobank, 4:24

37. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre, 4:24

38. Juan Manuel Garate (Sp), Lampre, 4:24

39. Pieter Weening (Nl), Rabobank, 4:30

40. José Luis Arrieta (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 4:50

41. David Plaza (Sp), Cafes Baque, 4:55

42. David Herrero (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 5:13

43. Manuel Beltran (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 5:19

44. José Miguel Elias (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 5:21

45. Bram Tankink (Nl), Quick Step-Davitamon, 5:21

46. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Phonak, 5:41

47. Tadej Valjavec (SLO), Phonak, 5:41

48. Manuel Quinziato (I), Lampre, 6:05

49. Dariusz Baranowski (Pol), Liberty Seguros, 6:18

50. Pablo Lastras (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 6:18

51. Josep Jufre (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 6:26

52. Jose Luis Rebollo (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 6:26

53. Luis Pasamontes (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 6:26

54. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, 6:47

55. Julián Sanchez (Sp), Fassa Bortolo, 6:55

56. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), CSC, 7:37

57. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile, 8:36

58. Cadel Evans (Aus), T-Mobile, 8:36

59. Stephan Schreck (G), T-Mobile, 8:36

60. Juan Fuentes (Sp), Saeco, 9:38

61. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 9:38

62. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), Saeco, 9:38

63. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, 9:38

64. David CaÑada (Sp), Saunier Duval, 9:38

65. Hernan Buenahora (Col), Cafes Baque, 9:38

66. Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 9:38

67. Mauro Gerosa (I), Vini Caldirola, 9:38

68. Dario Andriotto (I), Vini Caldirola, 11:19

69. Vladimir Miholjevic (CRO), Alessio-Bianchi, 11:19

70. Dario David Cioni (I), Fassa Bortolo, 11:19

71. Mikel Pradera (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 11:19

72. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Vini Caldirola, 11:19

73. Joost Posthuma (Nl), Rabobank, 11:19

74. Kevin De Weert (B), Rabobank, 11:19

75. Volodymir Gustov (Ukr), Fassa Bortolo, 11:19

76. Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), U.S. Postal Service, 11:19

77. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak, 11:19

78. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), Saunier Duval, 12:44

79. Koldo Gil (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 12:44

OVERALL
1. Roberto Heras (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 77:07:28

2. Santiago Perez (Sp), Phonak, at 0:43

3. Francisco Mancebo (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 2:19

4. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 2:26

5. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 6:33

6. Isidro Nozal (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 7:16

7. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 8:16

8. Angel Gomez (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 12:11

9. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, 12:45

10. Stefano Garzelli (I), Vini Caldirola, 14:35

11. David Blanco (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 15:10

12. Marcos Serrano (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 16:07

13. Manuel Beltran (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 16:08

14. Francisco José Lara (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 22:21

15. Samuel Sanchez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 27:28

16. Damiano Cunego (I), Saeco, 28:37

17. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 28:40

18. David Plaza (Sp), Cafes Baque, 29:15

19. Eladio Jimenez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 31:26

20. Luis Pasamontes (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 35:09

21. Unai Osa (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 35:21

22. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Phonak, 37:19

23. Juan Manuel Garate (Sp), Lampre, 38:32

24. Joan Horrach (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 43:29

25. Daniel Atienza (Sp), Cofidis, 44:39

26. Leonardo Piepoli (I), Saunier Duval, 45:35

27. Tadej Valjavec (SLO), Phonak, 47:11

28. José Luis Arrieta (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 48:36

29. Felix Cardenas (Col), Cafes Baque, 50:55

30. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Saunier Duval, 52:47

31. Hernan Buenahora (Col), Cafes Baque, 55:35

32. Dariusz Baranowski (Pol), Liberty Seguros, 56:54

33. José Gutierrez (Sp), Phonak, 57:29

34. Johan Van Summeren (B), Relax Bodysol, 1:11:00

35. Cedric Vasseur (F), Cofidis, 1:11:24

36. Pablo Lastras (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 1:16:13

37. José Miguel Elias (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 1:16:42

38. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), Saunier Duval, 1:21:34

39. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 1:23:54

40. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile, 1:26:03

41. David CaÑada (Sp), Saunier Duval, 1:33:18

42. J.antonio Pecharroman (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, 1:33:23

43. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC, 1:33:23

44. Thorwald Veneberg (Nl), Rabobank, 1:33:29

45. Jose Luis Rebollo (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 1:33:55

46. Dario David Cioni (I), Fassa Bortolo, 1:34:33

47. David Latasa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 1:34:51

48. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 1:37:44

49. Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 1:39:30

50. Jurgen Van Goolen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 1:42:56

51. Koldo Gil (Sp), Liberty Seguros, 1:44:27

52. Stephan Schreck (G), T-Mobile, 1:45:13

53. Pieter Weening (Nl), Rabobank, 1:45:42

54. Cadel Evans (Aus), T-Mobile, 1:47:15

55. Josep Jufre (Sp), Relax Bodysol, 1:47:31

56. Guennadi Mikhailov (Rus), U.S. Postal Service, 1:49:52

57. Bram Tankink (Nl), Quick Step-Davitamon, 1:53:20

58. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Vini Caldirola, 1:55:45

59. Aitor Perez (Sp), Cafes Baque, 1:58:53

60. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, 1:59:17

61. Eddy Mazzoleni (I), Saeco, 1:59:21

62. Antonio Cruz (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 2:00:38

63. Kevin De Weert (B), Rabobank, 2:02:13

64. David Herrero (Sp), Paternina – Costa De Almeria, 2:03:16

65. Rafael Casero (Sp), Saunier Duval, 2:07:26

66. Vladimir Miholjevic (CRO), Alessio-Bianchi, 2:17:35

67. Ruslan Ivanov (MDA), Alessio-Bianchi, 2:19:09

68. Juan Fuentes (Sp), Saeco, 2:30:39

69. Mikel Pradera (Sp), Illes Balears-Banesto, 2:34:51

70. Maarten Den Bakker (Nl), Rabobank, 2:38:04

71. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak, 2:44:14

72. Joost Posthuma (Nl), Rabobank, 2:52:27

73. Manuel Quinziato (I), Lampre, 2:56:03

74. Vladimir Gusev (Rus), CSC, 2:56:35

75. Mauro Gerosa (I), Vini Caldirola, 2:57:24

76. Volodymir Gustov (Ukr), Fassa Bortolo, 2:59:34

77. Dario Andriotto (I), Vini Caldirola, 3:11:14

78. Julián Sanchez (Sp), Fassa Bortolo, 3:18:13

79. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre, 3:22:34