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By Andrew Hood
Markus Zberg was the first rider to abandon the 56th Vuelta a España when he crashed in the opening time trial on Sept. 8 in Salamanca and dislocated his shoulder. In Friday’s 206-km (128-mile) 13th stage, brother and Rabobank teammate Beat Zberg won one for the family.
Zberg held off seven other riders in a breakaway in a frenetic sprint to take his first stage victory in a three-week grand tour. But his victory was just as much for his brother as it was for himself.
“This victory means a lot to me. My brother was very distraught when he crashed and I dedicate this victory to him,” said Zberg, who won in 4:28:07, with an average speed of 46.099 kph.
“I wanted to come to this Vuelta to do something special in the overall, but when we saw the Spanish riders were so strong, I instead focused on trying to win a stage,” said Zberg, 30, who added he would dedicate his stage winnings to the victims of last week’s terrorist attack in the United States. “We worked hard in the break to stay away and I was fortunate to win the sprint. It was complicated.”
Zberg and eight other riders escaped the clutches of the peloton midway through the stage and built a 4-minute advantage over the category-three Alto de Belltall. The break worked well together over the category-two Col de Lilla with 35 km to go and held a 3:58 gap. The group held off the sprinting teams, led by Telekom and Mapei, on the long flat to Port Aventura, an amusement park along the Mediterranean Coast.
Joining Zberg were: Darius Baranowski (ibanesto.com), Massimo Giunti (Cantina Tollo), Richard Virenque (Domo), Igor Flores (Euskaltel), Juan Guillamon (Jazztel), Cesar Garcia Calvo (Relax-Fuenlabrada) and Roberto Sgambelluri (Telekom).
Virenque tried to attack off the front of the group with four kilometres to go. The controversial French rider finished second, his best result since winning a Tour de France stage at Morzine last year.
“I didn’t know who was strongest in the group, so that’s why I attacked. When they brought me back, I knew there was no chance for me,” said Virenque, who returned to racing from a 10-month doping suspension in August. “I am feeling better and I will try again to win a stage.”
Kelme’s Oscar Sevilla retained the overall lead when he finished in the main bunch 35 seconds back. Telekom’s Erik Zabel led the bunch in, ahead of Festina’s Sven Teutenberg and Mapei’s Oscar Freire. The 24-year-old Sevilla says the fight for the overall title will be a “war” with Festina’s Angel Casero.
“The war is just beginning. Festina will be attacking us every chance they get. It was very fast today and we must be vigilant, but team is strong,” Sevilla said. “I will need to attack in Aitana (a beyond-category summit finish Sunday) to get more time on Casero. I think I will need two minutes going into the final time trial at Madrid. That would be sufficient.”
U.S. Postal’s Levi Leipheimer finished 34th, safely in the lead group to remain in fourth overall at 2:19 back. There were no changes in the overall leaders.
The 21-stage, 1,851-mile Vuelta a España continues Saturday with the 170-km (105-mile) 14th stage from Tarragona to Vinaros. The course features a category-two climb at 43 kilometers and another unrated climb at 82 kilometers before dropping back to sea level 65 kilometers to the finish.
56th Vuelta a España, stage 13, Sept. 21, 206 kilometers, Andorra to Port Aventura
1. Beat Zberg (Swi), Rabobank, 4:28:07, 46.099 (kph0; 2. Richard Virenque (F), Domo, same time; 3. Igor Flores (Sp), Euskaltel, s.t.; 4. Rafael Diaz (Sp), ONCE, s.t.; 5. Darius Baranowski (Pol), iBanesto.com, s.t.; 6. Roberto Sgambelluri (I), Telekom, s.t.; 7. Juan Guillamon (Jazztel), s.t.; 8. Massimo Giunti (I), Cantina Tollo, s.t.; 9. Erik Zabel (G), Telekom, at 35 seconds; 10. Sven Teutenberg (G), Festina, s.t.
Three riders abandoned, including former world champion Oscar Carmenzind (Lampre). 155 riders remain in the race.
Overall standings after 13 stages
1. Oscar Sevilla (Sp), Kelme, 42:02:25; 2. Angel Casero (Sp), Festina, at 0:41; 3. Juan Miguel Mercado (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 2:02; 4. Levi Leipheimer (USA), U.S. Postal Service, at 2:19; 5. Jose Maria Jimenez (Sp), iBanesto.com, at 2:50; 6. Roberto Heras (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, at 2:55; 7. David Plaza (Sp), Festina, at 3:17; 8. Santiago Botero (Col), Kelme, at 4:21; 9. Jose Luis Rubiera (Sp), U.S. Postal Service, at 5:27; 10. Iban Mayo (Sp), Euskaltel, at 5:32