Vuelta: ‘Chicken’ gets a win; Nozal holds on to lead

With five kilometers to go to victory in Friday’s difficult four-climb stage, Michael Rasmussen knew he had it in the bag. The former mountain bike world champion held off a counter-attack from U.S. Postal’s Manuel Beltran and Cofidis’ Luis Perez on the Category 1 summit finish to the Cauterets Cam-Basque ski station and slipped across the line to win the seventh stage of the Vuelta a España. “This is a dream come true for me, to win a stage with a mountain top finish in a grand tour,” said Rasmussen, who won in 5 hours, 1 minute, 14 seconds. “By far this is the most important victory of my

By Andrew Hood

Photo: Graham Watson

Photo: Graham Watson

With five kilometers to go to victory in Friday’s difficult four-climb stage, Michael Rasmussen knew he had it in the bag.

The former mountain bike world champion held off a counter-attack from U.S. Postal’s Manuel Beltran and Cofidis’ Luis Perez on the Category 1 summit finish to the Cauterets Cam-Basque ski station and slipped across the line to win the seventh stage of the Vuelta a España.

“This is a dream come true for me, to win a stage with a mountain top finish in a grand tour,” said Rasmussen, who won in 5 hours, 1 minute, 14 seconds. “By far this is the most important victory of my career.”

Photo: Graham Watson

The Vuelta’s first major mountain stage delivered its promise to provide some fireworks to what’s been a relatively “tranquilo” race. The overall leader board is taking shape, with the strong climbers moving up and others moving way down.

ONCE’s Isidro Nozal held on to the race leader’s jersey despite a strong move by Beltran, who gnawed Nozal’s lead down to a manageable 55 seconds.

Big win for Rasmussen
Denmark’s highest point is 173 meters, but Rasmussen is evolving into one of cycling’s best climbers.

The rail-thin Dane – nicknamed “The Chicken” for his thin legs – made it over the Col d’Aubisque with such big guns as Roberto Heras (USPS) and six other riders.

Rasmussen picked out Friday’s difficult stage as one he wanted to win. His strategy was to follow Heras and when ONCE worked hard to bring back the move, Rasmussen followed the wheel of’s Aitor Osa when the main group came back to together after coming off the Aubisque.

The pair opened a one-minute gap and the Dane dropped the Spanish rider with 12km to go.

“I was trying to convince him to work and he said, ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ I thought he was just playing around with me. But then I was just pulling and he came off the wheel without even accelerating,” Rasmussen said. “But he was working very hard in between when we went away on the descent.”

Rasmussen’s chances for victory looked slim when Beltran and Cofidis strongman Luis Perez jumped off the front of the lead group of 20 riders with 11 km to go. Nozal bridged out to follow Beltran and the threat he posed to ONCE’s hold on the golden jersey.

Rasmussen was nursed a one minute lead all the way up the final six kilometers, the steepest part of the climb.

”I was concerned until about three or four kilometers to go, then I could see it was 60 seconds and suddenly it was 65 seconds. They were beginning to crack at the back as well,” Rasmussen said. “I was planning on following Heras because he’s the strongest. He attacked on the Abisque and I followed him.

Nozal clings to lead
Beltran wanted to get the leader’s jersey Friday, but might have to wait one more day after a strong Nozal fought to the end to keep the lead. When Beltran jumped with Perez, Nozal couldn’t follow and it looked like “Triki,” as Beltran’s called by his U.S. Postal Service teammates, might get the jersey.

Beltran came across third at 58 seconds back, four seconds slower than Felix Cardenas (La Barca), who shook off a crash on the descent of the Aubisque to take second. All eyes were on Nozal, who did tremendous work to help ONCE captain Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano reel in the Heras move over the Aubisque.

Nozal came through 24th at 2:46 back and retained the leader’s jersey by 55 seconds. Not that he really cares. Just like Victor Hugo Peña at the Tour, who worked hard while wearing the yellow jersey to help Lance Armstrong, Nozal knows his job is to help Galdeano.

“I worked for the team, not for my jersey,” Nozal said. “When Heras attacked on the Aubisque, I stayed a little off to help Igor. When Beltran attacked, I went with him but later went back to help Igor again.”

Beltran echoed the altruistic feeling. Here’s here to help Heras, who came through 10th at 1:29 back and sits in fifth overall at 3:18 back.

“I came to the Vuelta not to win but to help Roberto,” Beltran said. “This situation is good for me and for the team. This Vuelta is only beginning and there are still are a lot of days left. It’s too early to make an analysis on how things will be resolved.”

Sitting 21 seconds ahead of third-place Galdeano, Beltran stands a good chance to grab the jersey in Saturday’s climbing stage to Vielha.

Shaking out the leader board
The showdown between Galdeano and Heras has the makings of a classic. The pair is separated by less than two minutes, with Galdeano hoping to limit his losses in the mountains and Heras hoping to open up enough time before the next time trial in Albacete in stage 13 to control the race.

But there are some real threats to this would-be two-man duel. Defending champion Aitor Gonzalez and Fassa Bortolo teammate Dario Frigo both finished with the lead group sit quietly in seventh and fourth, respectively.’s Francisco Mancebo is lurking in sixth while Luis Perez (Cofidis), whom Beltran called the Vuelta’s strongest rider, is 11th overall at 4:35 back.

The big losers Friday were 2001 Vuelta winner Angel Casero (Bianchi), who plummeted to 60th at 32:43 back and Klaus Moller (Milaneza), who fell from the top 5 to 14th overall at 5:54 back.

Saturday’s 166km, four-climb stage over the Aspin, Peyresourde and Portillon climbs before the summit finish up the especial climb to Pla de Beret could be U.S. Postal’s day, with a likely scenario putting Beltran in the leader’s jersey and Heras with the stage victory.

To see how things developed on this first real test in the mountains, just Click Here to pull up our Live Update Window and then check back soon for a complete stage report, results and photos.

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Note: – North American riders in BOLD and riders on North American teams UNDERLINEDOverall Posted Below

Stage Results
1. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 5:01:14

2. Felix Cardenas (Col), L2C

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

4. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, 1:08

5. Unai Osa (Sp),, 1:10

6. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 1:17

7. Francisco Mancebo (Sp),, 1:24

8. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 1:26

9. Felix Garcia Casas (Sp), Bianchi

10. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 1:29

11. Txema Del Olmo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 1:31

12. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

13. Aitor Gonzalez (Sp), Fassa Bortolo

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

15. Igor Glez. Galdeano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 1:40

16. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, 1:50

17. Leonardo Piepoli (I),, 1:53

18. Iñigo Cuesta (Sp), Cofidis, 1:58

19. Gorka Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:12

20. Iker Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 2:16

21. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 2:30

22. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC

23. Guido Trentin (I), Cofidis

24. Isidro Nozal (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 2:46

25. Kurt Van De Wouwer (B), Quick Step-Davitamon

26. Jose Gutierrez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 3:17

27. Klaus Möller (Dk), Milaneza – MSS, 4:24

28. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 4:39

29. Marcos Serrano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 4:45

30. Manuel Calvente (Sp), CSC, 5:27

31. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 5:45

32. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak, 5:58

33. Jose Jufre (Sp), CRF

34. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), ALM, 6:27

35. Eladio Jimenez (Sp),, 9:05

36. Carlos Torrent (Sp), ALM, 10:54

37. Christian Werner (G), Telekom

38. Peter Luttenberger (A), CSC

39. Patrick Sinkewitz (G), Quick Step-Davitamon

40. Gon‡alo Amorim (P), Milaneza – MSS

41. Jose Luis Martinez (Sp), ALM

42. Jose Azevedo (P), ONCE – Eroski, 12:02

43. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 12:14

44. Joan Horrach (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 12:46

45. David Lopez (Sp), L2C

46. Aitor Osa (Sp),, 13:14

47. Daniel Atienza (Sp), Cofidis, 13:47

48. Richard Virenque (F), Quick Step-Davitamon, 18:17

49. Joaquin Lopez (Sp), ALM

50. Cesar Garcia Calvo (Sp), L2C

51. Constantino Zaballa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca

52. Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

53. Pedro Cardoso (P), Milaneza – MSS

54. Mario Aerts (B), Telekom

55. Gorka Gerrikagoitia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

56. Benjamín Noval (Sp), CRF

57. David Latasa (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca

58. Kyryl Pospyeyev (Ukr), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

59. Jose Luis Rebollo (Sp), CRF

60. Pablo Lastras (Sp),

61. Francisco Vila (Sp), Lampre

62. David Navas (Sp), CRF

63. Volodymir Gustov (Ukr), Fassa Bortolo

64. Beat Zberg (Swi), Rabobank

65. Alberto Martinez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

66, Juan Jose De Los Angeles (Sp), Fassa Bortolo

67. Giampaolo Cheula (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

68. Pedro Diaz Lobato (Sp), ALM

69. Carlos Golbano (Sp), ALM

70. Cristian Moreni (I), Alessio

71. Santiago Blanco (Sp), CRF, all s.t.

72. Dmitri Fofonov (Kaz), Cofidis, 20:03

73. Juan Fuentes (Sp), Saeco, 25:48

74. Juan Manuel Garate (Sp), Lampre, 27:27

75. Jose Luis Arrieta (Sp),

76. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom

77. Jose Garcia Acosta (Sp),

78. Frank Schleck (Lux), CSC

79. Renato Silva (P), Milaneza – MSS

80. Denis Lunghi (I), Alessio

81. Domingo Sanchez (Sp), ALM

82. Gustavo Otero (Sp), L2C

83. Simone Bertoletti (I), Lampre

84. Bert Grabsch (G), Phonak

85. Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS

86. Francisco Cabello (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca

87. Rafael Casero (Sp), ALM

88. Igor Astarloa (Sp), Saeco

89. Michael Barry (Can), U.S. Postal Service

90. Francisco Cerezo (Sp), L2C

91. Oscar Laguna (Sp), CRF

92. Stephan Schreck (G), Telekom

93. George Hincapie (USA), U.S. Postal Service

94. Peter Farazjin (B), Cofidis

95. Jurgen Van Goolen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon

96. Aitor Garmendia (Sp), Bianchi

97. Jörg Jaksche (G), ONCE – Eroski

98. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp),

99. Benoit Joachim (Lux), U.S. Postal Service

100. Gonzalo Bayarri (Sp), Phonak

101. Bingen Fernandez (Sp), Cofidis

102. Unai Etxebarria (Vz), Euskaltel-Euskadi

103. Jesus Maria Manzano (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca

104. Fabian Jeker (Swi), Milaneza – MSS

105. Sven Montgomery (Swi), Fassa Bortolo

106. Jan Hruska (Cz), ONCE – Eroski

107. Francisco Jose Lara (Sp), Bianchi

108. Iñaki Isasi (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

109. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), U.S. Postal Service

110. Levi Leipheimer (USA), Rabobank

111. Raphael Schweda (G), Bianchi

112. Roberto Laiseka (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

113. Floyd Landis (USA), U.S. Postal Service

114. Addy Engels (Nl), Rabobank

115. Angel Vicioso (Sp), ONCE – Eroski

116. Igor Pugaci (MDA), Saeco

117. Angelo Lopeboselli (I), Cofidis, 27:39

118. Angel Casero (Sp), Bianchi, 29:54

119. Filippo Simeoni (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

120. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Bianchi

121. Aitor Kintana (Sp), L2C, 33:35

122. Christian Pepoli (I), Saeco

123. Mariano Piccoli (I), Lampre

124. Paulo Barroso (P), Milaneza – MSS

125. Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

126. Michael Sandstod (Dk), CSC

127. Andrea Brognara (I), Alessio

128. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo

129. Giovanni Lombardi (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

130. Gianpaolo Mondini (I), Domina Vacanze – Elitron

131. Steven De Jongh (Nl), Rabobank

132. Niki Aebersold (Swi), Phonak

133. Ronald Mutsaars (Nl), Rabobank

134. Mikel Pradera (Sp), ONCE – Eroski

135. Pedro Horrillo (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon

136. Sergio Perez (Sp), L2C

137. Tom Boonen (B), Quick Step-Davitamon

138. Max Van Heeswijk (Nl), U.S. Postal Service

139. David Cañada (Sp), Quick Step-Davitamon

140. David De La Fuente (Sp), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

141. Jose Javier Gomez Gozalo (Sp), L2C

142. Pietro Zucconi (Swi), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

143. Mathew Hayman (Aus), Rabobank

144 Bobby Julich (USA), Telekom

145. Guido Trenti (USA), Fassa Bortolo

146. Bram Tankink (Nl), Quick Step-Davitamon

147. Matteo Tosatto (I), Fassa Bortolo

148. German Nieto (Sp), CRF

149. Stefano Casagranda (I), Alessio

150. Jaime Hernandez (Sp), Bianchi

151. Ruslan Ivanov (MDA), Alessio

152. Alessandro Bertolini (I), Alessio

153. Thorsten Rund (G), Bianchi

154. Antonio Tauler (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca

155. Steffan Wesemann (G), Telekom

156. Gianluca Sironi (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

157. Jan Boven (Nl), Rabobank

158. Nicki Sorensen (Dk), CSC

159. Thomas Bruun (Dk), CSC

160. Jose Maestre (Sp), CRF

161. Santiago Perez (Sp), Phonak

162. Gorka Arrizabalaga (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi

163. Simone Masciarelli (I), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

164. Daniele Righi (I), Lampre

165. Serguei Ivanov (Rus), Fassa Bortolo

166. Angelo Furlan (I), Alessio

167. Matthew White (Aus), U.S. Postal Service

168. Torsten Hiekmann (G), Telekom

169. Rubens Bertogliati (Swi), Lampre

170. Alberto Vinale (I), Alessio

171. Juan Carlos Dominguez (Sp), Phonak

172. Fred Rodriguez (USA), Sidermec Vini Caldirola

173. Karsten Kroon (Nl), Rabobank

174. David Millar (GB), Cofidis, 33:47

175. Bekim Christensen (Dk), CSC

176. Alexandre Usov (Blr), Phonak, 33:49

177. Alex Zülle (Swi), Phonak

178. Francisco Gutierrez (Sp), L2C, 37:50

179. Nacor Burgos (Sp), CRF, 40:22

180. Antonio Bucciero (I), Saeco

181. Julian Dean (NZl), CSC, 45:10

Overall, after Stage 7 –Preliminary
1. Isidro Nozal (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 20:08:37

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

3. Igor Glez. Galdeano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 1:21

4. Dario Frigo (I), Fassa Bortolo, 3:07

5. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, 3:18

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

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

8. Alejandro Valverde (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 4:03

9. Michael Rasmussen (Dk), Rabobank, 4:24

10. Unai Osa (Sp),, 4:34

11. Luis Perez (Sp), Cofidis, 4:35

12. Félix Garcia Casas (Sp), Bianchi, 5:14

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

14. Klaus MÖller (Dk), Milaneza – MSS, 5:54

15. Iker Flores (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 5:54

16. David Etxebarria (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 5:55

17. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, 6:31

18. Felix Cardenas (Col), L2C, 6:41

19. Marcos Serrano (Sp), ONCE – Eroski, 6:48

20. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 7:10

21. Gorka Gonzalez (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, 7:17

22. Santos Gonzalez (Sp), Domina Vacanze – Elitron, 8:07

23. Txema Del Olmo (Sp), Milaneza – MSS, 8:51

24. Guido Trentin (I), Cofidis, 9:01

25. Iñigo Cuesta (Sp), Cofidis, 9:45

26. Wladimir Belli (I), Lampre, 10:32

27. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 11:13

28. Oscar Pereiro (Sp), Phonak, 11:16

29. José Gutierrez (Sp), Kelme – Costa Blanca, 12:08

30. Manuel Calvente (Sp), CSC, 20:14

31. José Jufre (Sp), CRF, 21:02

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

33. Kurt Van De Wouwer (B), Quick Step-Davitamon, 25:12

34. Jorge Ferrio (Sp), ALM, 39:35