Valverde sprints to Vuelta win; Nozal holds jersey

Who could have imagined a bunch sprint atop a 2410-meter chunk of rock in the heart of the Pyrénées? But that's just what happened in Sunday's 174.8km ninth stage. Okay, it wasn't a classic Mario Cipollini train, but Kelme phenom Alejandro Valverde won a 13-up sprint in an exciting summit finish up the "especial" Port d'Envalira climb in Andorra. "I'm very happy. I don't know what to say," said Valverde after nipping Italian Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo). "This stage was full speed all day. The team had a lot of confidence in me. I'm very happy with what's happened so far." Despite efforts

By Andrew Hood

Valverde showed his quality today

Valverde showed his quality today

Photo: AFP

Who could have imagined a bunch sprint atop a 2410-meter chunk of rock in the heart of the Pyrénées? But that’s just what happened in Sunday’s 174.8km ninth stage.

Okay, it wasn’t a classic Mario Cipollini train, but Kelme phenom Alejandro Valverde won a 13-up sprint in an exciting summit finish up the “especial” Port d’Envalira climb in Andorra.

“I’m very happy. I don’t know what to say,” said Valverde after nipping Italian Dario Frigo (Fassa Bortolo). “This stage was full speed all day. The team had a lot of confidence in me. I’m very happy with what’s happened so far.”

Despite efforts by to win the stage (they had three riders in the top five), Valverde was the quickest in the group of leaders that survived the 28km battle of attrition up the grinding Port d’Envalira climb.

Valverde was one of the day’s main protagonists, attacking early up the final climb of the Pyrénées. The favorites traded punches until a group of 13 came in together with 500 meters to go. Frigo jumped first, but Valverde came around the Italian to score the biggest win of his young career.

Along with race leader Isidro Nozal (ONCE) and Joaquin Rodriguez (ONCE), Valverde is the Spanish revelation of this Vuelta. The 23-year-old is proving he can climb as well as chase victories in such races as the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour of Aragon.

“We knew that Valverde was capable of having a great Vuelta. We have put confidence in him from the start of the race, but do not put pressure on him,” said Kelme sport director Vicente Belda. “He is feeling stronger and we’ll see what happens.”

Status quo in the Pyrénées

Sunday’s three-climb stage was the last of three hard days through the Pyrénées and while the overall favorites took swipes at each other, the overall leader board remained largely unchanged through Sunday’s stage.

ONCE was more than pleased how the three-day high-altitude battle turned out. Nozal continues to show resilience and panache beyond his years to retain the overall lead while designated team leader Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano only forfeited 17 seconds to rival Roberto Heras (USPS) and remained in second place overall at 1:45 back.

“We have defended very well in these hard stages of the mountains. The team has worked in perfect unison,” said ONCE’s sport director Manolo Saiz. “The last 10 kilometers were very fast, very intense. We came out of the Pyrénées with first and second, and that’s just as good as we could have imagined.”

Nozal followed the strongest up the final assault on the Envalira to finish seventh at six seconds back. He even gained seven seconds on Heras when the Postal rider lost contact in the final charge to the line.

Galdeano struggled slightly on the final climb, slipping off the leading attackers in the final 2km, but came through 14th at 30 seconds back to remain ahead of U.S. Postal’s Manuel Beltran (third at 1:58 back) and Fassa Bortolo’s Dario Frigo (fourth at 3:02 back).

“It went pretty good for us in these stages. The entire team worked to protect Igor. He remains the team leader for the final classification,” said Nozal, who said he hopes to defend his lead all the way through the next major climbing stage, to La Pandera in stage 15.

The top contenders all took swipes at each other, but the overall leader board remains largely unchanged. With Cofidis rider Luis Perez in 11th place, there are 10 riders within 4:22 of Nozal.

“I think ONCE is riding the wrong tactic. I saw Igor not looking very good today and I see Nozal much stronger. He is working for the others and is still able to defend his leader’s jersey,” said Perez, a winner of the Vuelta’s second stage. “It’s clear he’s stronger.”

Perez also said he saw Heras struggling up the Envalira. Heras countered moves by Aitor Gonzalez (Fassa Bortolo) and Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) up the climb and came through 12th at 13 seconds back.

“I don’t think Roberto is the same rider we saw attacking on the Aubisque (in stage 7). I believe he’s not in his best form at the moment, but he is a smart rider and he’s able to hide it,” said Perez, who finished 11th at 13 seconds back.

U.S. Postal rolls out of the Pyrénées with Beltran in third and Heras in fifth, but couldn’t wrestle away the leader’s jersey from Nozal, and Heras was unable to make up large chunks of time in the Pyrénées.

The Vuelta continues Monday with the 194km transition stage from Andorra to Sabadell, a suburb outside Barcelona. The peloton enjoys its first of two rest days Tuesday before Wednesday’s and Thursday’s rolling stages leading to the second time trial in Albacete on Friday.

Valverde reveals new colors up the Envalira

Osa on the attack

Osa on the attack

Photo: AFP

The peloton hit the base of the Envalira ready to go after neutralizing some early moves.

Quick Step’s Jurgen Van Goolen and’s Leonardo Piepoli were the first to make the attacks. In their wake were four chasing riders – Valverde,’s Unai Osa, La Barca’s Felix Cardenas and Euskaltel’s Roberto Laiseka.

With 10km to go, Van Goolen and Piepoli had 36 seconds on the four-man chase group and 1:07 on the main group. ONCE’s warriors once again set the pace on the long, grinding climb.

U.S. Postal moved to the front with 9km, with Beltran and Heras upping the pace. Perez took a strong pull and only Rabobank’s Michael Rasmussen, Heras and Nozal could follow. Strong pulls by Gonzalez and Galdeano brought back the lead group of about 20 riders with 8km to go.

With 7km to go, Piepoli and Van Goolen were caught by Cardenas, Osa and Valverde (Laiseka fell off the pace) and held a 20-second gap on the leaders.

Brisk head and cross winds slammed the riders once the course cleared the trees in the final 6km to the barren summit high in the Pyrénées.

With 5km to go in the hardest part of the climb, Perez accelerated once again off the front of the chase group while Osa attacked the leading group and forced Van Goolen to drop back to the chase group.

With 4km to go, Galdeano was having trouble hanging on and Gonzalez and Heras took turns hitting the accelerator. With just over 3km to go, Rasmussen quickly shot off the front to bridge out the leading four while Heras was driving the chasers hard at 13 seconds back. Txema Del Olmo (Milaneza) got caught up in the race fence and crashed.

Then the chasers and leaders came together for a brief breather when Gonzalez shot off the back of the group to attack again – riding in the big chain ring.

With 2km to go, Galdeano hung eight seconds behind the lead group with Beltran right on his wheel and despite attacks by Gonzalez and Rasmussen, the leaders stayed together. Cardenas shot off the front and Piepoli grabbed his wheel.

With 1km to go, Cardenas and Piepoli held a small gap when Osa and Valverde bridged out, putting the original four attackers back into the lead. Gonzalez once again pushed a huge gear to bring it back together with 500 meters to go.

Valverde had enough in the tank to charge ahead of Frigo to snag the victory. Already a winner of six races this season, Valverde said he’s met his goal for this Vuelta. Everything else from here on out will be icing on the cake.

“We came here with a goal to win a stage and to carry (Oscar) Sevilla to victory, but Oscar is not feeling well, so now I will try to see how far I can go in the overall classification,” said Valverde, now seventh at 3:57 back.

Valverde said himself along with ONCE’s Joanquin Rodriguez and Nozal herald a new generation of Spanish riders.

How far this young trio of riders will be remains to be seen. There are still 12 stages and nearly two weeks before the Vuelta makes it to Madrid.

Virenque KO’d, Zülle abandons

Quick Step’s Richard Virenque and La Barca’s Sergio Perez were both kicked out of the race for taking illegal pulls up the final climb while two-time Tour winner Alex Zülle (Phonak) abandoned the race.

Virenque’s departure leaves no French riders in the Vuelta. The French Cofidis team remains in the race, but is filled with non-French racers. Quick Step and La Barca both got one of their team cars kicked out of the race as well.

Zülle is gone after having trouble breathing. Winner of the 1996 and 1997 Vueltas, Zulle’s future is in doubt; he might not be back to race next year.

Now remaining in the Vuelta are 174 riders.

Photo Gallery


1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 4:48:36

2. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, at 0:01

3. Unai Osa (Sp),, at 0:03

4. Leonardo Piepoli (I),

5. Francisco Mancebo (Sp),

6. Felix Cardenas (Col), L2C

7. Isidro Nozal (Sp), ONCE – Eroski

8. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

9. Aitor Gonzalez (Sp), Fassa Bortolo

10. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, all s.t.

11. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, at 0:13

12. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service

13. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, both s.t.

14. Igor Glez. Galdeano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, at 0:30

15. Manuel Beltran (Sp), U.S. Postal Service

16. Txema Del Olmo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS

17. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak

18. Jurgen Van Goolen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, all s.t.

19. Marcos Serrano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 1:46

20. José Jufre (Sp), CRF, 2:11

21. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 2:16

22. Manuel Calvente (Sp), CSC, 2:16

23. Iker Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 3:05

24. José Gutierrez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 3:05

25. Sven Montgomery (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, 3:05

26. Gonçalo Amorim (P), Milaneza – MSS, 3:05

27. Guido Trentin (I), Cofidis, 3:05

28. Alberto Martinez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 3:12

29. Félix Garcia Casas (Sp), Bianchi, 3:28

30. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 4:49

31. Pedro Cardoso (P), Milaneza – MSS, 5:18

32. Joaquin Lopez (Sp), ALM, 5:33

33. Iñigo Cuesta (Sp), Cofidis, 6:08

34. Christian Werner (G), Telekom, 8:27

35. Carlos Torrent (Sp), ALM, 10:18

36. Rafael Casero (Sp), ALM, 12:34

37. Benoit Joachim (Lux), U.S. Postal Service, 12:34

38. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Bianchi, 12:34

39. Renato Silva (P), Milaneza – MSS, 12:34

40. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), ALM, 12:34

41. Daniel Atienza (Sp), Cofidis, 12:34

42. Kyryl Pospyeyev (Ukr), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 12:34

43. Gorka Gerrikagoitia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 12:34

44. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 12:34

45. Gorka Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 12:34

46. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, 12:34

47. David Lopez (Sp), L2C, 12:34

48. José Azevedo (P), ONCE – Eroski, 13:44

49. Carlos Golbano (Sp), ALM, 17:01

50. Levy Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank, 19:50

51. Cesar Garcia Calvo (Sp), L2C, 19:50

52. Francisco Vila (Sp), Lampre, 19:50

53. Juan Manuel Garate (Sp), Lampre, 19:50

54. David Navas (Sp), CRF, 19:50

55. Domingo Sanchez (Sp), ALM, 19:50

56. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 19:50

57. Joan Horrach (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 19:50

58. Bram Tankink (Nl), Quick Step-Davitamon, 19:50

59. Jörg Jaksche (G), ONCE – Eroski, 19:50

60. Kurt Van De Wouwer (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 19:50

61. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Milaneza – MSS, 19:50

62. Eladio Jimenez (Sp),, 19:50

63. Michael Barry (CAN), U.S. Postal Service, 19:50

64. Pablo Lastras (Sp),, 19:50

65. Francisco José Lara (Sp), Bianchi, 19:50

66. David Latasa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 19:50

67. Peter Luttenberger (A), CSC, 19:50

68. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 19:50

69. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 19:50

70. José Luis Arrieta (Sp),, 19:50

71. Juan José De Los Angeles (Sp), Fassa Bortolo, 19:50

72. Klaus MÖller (Dk), Milaneza – MSS, 19:50

73. José Luis Martinez (Sp), ALM, 19:50

74. Peter Farazjin (B), Cofidis, 19:50

75. Gorka Arrizabalaga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 19:50

76. Santiago Blanco (Sp), CRF, 19:50

77. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 19:50

78. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, 27:12

79. Alessandro Bertolini (I), Alessio, 27:12

80. Steffan Wesemann (G), Telekom, 27:12

81. Niki Aebersold (Swi), Phonak, 27:12

82. Addy Engels (Nl), Rabobank, 27:12

83. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, 27:12

84. Paulo Barroso (P), Milaneza – MSS, 27:12

85. Torsten Hiekmann (G), Telekom, 27:12

86. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, 27:12

87. Francisco Cabello (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 27:12

88. Juan Fuentes (Sp), Saeco, 27:12

89. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak, 27:12

90. Jose Luis Rebollo (Sp), CRF, 27:12

91. David CaÑada (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon, 27:12

92. Antonio Tauler (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 27:12

93. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp),, 27:12

94. Beat Zberg (Swi), Rabobank, 27:12

95. Gustavo Otero (Sp), L2C, 27:12

96. Benjamín Noval (Sp), CRF, 27:12

97. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), U.S. Postal Service, 27:12

98. David De La Fuente (Sp), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

99. José Garcia Acosta (Sp),, 27:12

100. Igor Astarloa (Sp), Saeco, 27:12

101. Mikel Pradera (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 27:12

102. Bobby Julich (USA), Telekom, 27:12

103. Jan Hruska (Cz), ONCE – Eroski, 27:12

104. Santiago Perez (Sp), Phonak, 27:12

105. Dmitri Fofonov (Kaz), Cofidis, 27:12

106. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 27:12

107. Ronald Mutsaars (Nl), Rabobank, 27:12

109. Gonzalo Bayarri (Sp), Phonak, 27:12

110. Volodymir Gustov (Ukr), Fassa Bortolo, 27:12

111. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

112. Angel Vicioso (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 27:12

113. Patrick Sinkewitz (G), Quick Step-Davitamon, 27:12

114. Oscar Laguna (Sp), CRF, 27:12

115. Ivan Herrero (Sp), L2C, 27:12

116. Francisco Cerezo (Sp), L2C, 27:12

117. Simone Bertoletti (I), Lampre, 27:12

118. Igor Pugaci (MDA), Saeco, 27:12

119. Christian Pepoli (I), Saeco, 27:12

120. Mariano Piccoli (I), Lampre, 27:12

121. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 27:12

122. Rubens Bertogliati (Swi), Lampre, 27:12

123. Nacor Burgos (Sp), CRF, 27:12

124. Floyd Landis (USA), U.S. Postal Service, 27:12

125. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo, 27:12

126. Stephan Schreck (G), Telekom, 27:12

127. Iñaki Isasi (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 27:12

128. Michael Sandstod (Dk), CSC, 27:12

129. Gianpaolo Mondini (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 27:12

130. Denis Lunghi (I), Alessio, 27:12

131. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 27:12

132. José Luis Rubiera (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 27:12

133. Germán Nieto (Sp), CRF, 27:12

134. Jesus Maria Manzano (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 27:12

135. Raphael Schweda (G), Bianchi, 27:12

136. Pietro Zucconi (Swi), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

137. José Javier Gomez Gozalo (Sp), L2C, 27:12

138. Unai Etxebarria (Vz), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 27:12

139. Aitor Osa (Sp),, 27:12

140. Aitor Garmendia (Sp), Bianchi, 27:12

141. Cristian Moreni (I), Alessio, 27:12

142. Gianluca Sironi (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

143. Pedro Diaz Lobato (Sp), ALM, 27:12

144. Matthew White (Aus), U.S. Postal Service, 27:12

145. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, 27:12

146. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 27:12

147. Angel Casero (Sp), Bianchi, 27:12

148. Thorsten Rund (G), Bianchi, 27:12

149. Thomas Bruun (Dk), CSC, 27:12

150. Steven De Jongh (Nl), Rabobank, 27:12

151. Bekim Christensen (Dk), CSC, 27:12

152. Nicki Sorensen (Dk), CSC, 27:12

153. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 27:12

154. Filippo Simeoni (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 27:12

155. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank, 27:12

156. Simone Masciarelli (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

157. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Phonak, 27:12

158. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre, 27:12

159. Sergio Perez (Sp), L2C, 27:12

160. Angelo Lopeboselli (I), Cofidis, 27:12

161. Guido Trenti (USA), Fassa Bortolo, 27:12

162. Richard Virenque (F), Quick Step-Davitamon, 27:12

163. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo, 27:12

164. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank, 27:12

165. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

166. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Fassa Bortolo, 27:12

167. Francisco Gutierrez (Sp), L2C, 27:12

168. Antonio Bucciero (I), Saeco, 27:12

169. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Sidermec Vini Caldirola, 27:12

170. Angelo Furlan (I), Alessio, 27:12

171. José Maestre (Sp), CRF, 27:12

172. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank, 27:12

173. Alberto Vinale (I), Alessio, 27:12

174. Stefano Casagranda (I), Alessio, 27:52

Preliminary – Overall standings
1. Isidro Nozal (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 29:46:47

2. Igor Glez. Galdeano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 1:48

3. Manuel Beltran (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 2:01

4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 3:05

5. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 3:28

6. Francisco Mancebo (Sp),, 3:40

7. Aitor Gonzalez (Sp), Fassa Bortolo, 4:00

8. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 4:00

9. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 4:04

10. Unai Osa (Sp),, 4:14

11. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, 4:25

12. Michele Scarponi (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 5:52

13. Felix Cardenas (Col), L2C, 6:21

14. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 8:56

15. Marcos Serrano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 9:10

16. Txema Del Olmo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 9:18

17. Félix Garcia Casas (Sp), Bianchi, 9:18

18. Iker Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 10:02

19. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 10:40

20. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak, 13:00

21. Guido Trentin (I), Cofidis, 13:20

22. José Jufre (Sp), CRF, 20:10

23. Leonardo Piepoli (I),, 23:17

24. Iñigo Cuesta (Sp), Cofidis, 25:07

25. Manuel Calvente (Sp), CSC, 25:42

26. Christian Werner (G), Telekom, 30:33

27. José Gutierrez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 32:20

28. Gonçalo Amorim (P), Milaneza – MSS, 35:42

29. José Azevedo (P), ONCE – Eroski, 37:41

30. Pedro Cardoso (P), Milaneza – MSS, 40:47

31. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 43:00

32. Jurgen Van Goolen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 44:31

33. Kyryl Pospyeyev (Ukr), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 45:39

34. Gorka Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 47:25

35. Daniel Atienza (Sp), Cofidis, 48:11

36. Gorka Gerrikagoitia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 50:05

37. Carlos Torrent (Sp), ALM, 52:20

38. Alberto Martinez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 53:04

39. Benoit Joachim (Lux), U.S. Postal Service, 1:05:23

40. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis, 1:07:31

41. David Lopez (Sp), L2C, 1:10:57

42. Carlos Golbano (Sp), ALM, 1:14:25

43. Joaquin Lopez (Sp), ALM, 1:15:09

44. Rafael Casero (Sp), ALM, 1:15:35

45. Renato Silva (P), Milaneza – MSS, 1:16:51

46. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), ALM, 1:19:33

47. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Bianchi, 1:28:47

48. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 1:32:25

49. Sven Montgomery (Swi), Fassa Bortolo, 1:34:33