With commentary from Jonathan Vaughters
Good Morning and welcome to VeloNews.com’s coverage of the 21st and final stage of the 2002 Vuelta a España.
It’s all come down to a contest between race leader Roberto Herras of the U.S. Postal team and Kelme’s Aitor Gonzalez. The two men are separated by a scant 1:08… possibly enough of a buffer for a super-motivated Herras to save his overall lead in the Vuelta. But Gonzalez has already beat Herras in this tour’s other individual race against the clock, besting the Postal man by 1:34 over the course of the 36.5km timer trial on September 16.
Today’s 41 km individual time trial from Warner Bros. theme park to Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium in downtown Madrid will force both men to pull out all the stops and pray for good luck. Even a flat tire for either man will probably seal the outcome.
Joining us for live commentary this morning is a man who has competed in the Vuelta and turned in some impressive time trial performances in his own careeer, Jonathan Vaughters, currently of the Credit Agricole squad but now aiming to bring his racing career back to the U.S.
Welcome Mr. Vaughters. Let’s start with an easy one. Do you have any predictions for today?
Jonathan Vaughters — It is fairly hard…. Normally I’d say Gonzalez, but Heras is much better in TTs after three weeks than after three days. It sems so is Gonzalez as he won the last TT of the Giro, which had a similar course profile. The crucial split will be at 30kms, because the last part of the TT is uphill, so Gonzalez needs to have his time by then.
3:39 p.m. — At this point, Postal’s Dave Zabriskie has had the second best time of the day… he’s had a pretty good introduction to a grand Tour, given the tough position of being on a lead-defending team in his first major tour.
Jonathan Vaughters — I’m sure having to defend the lead on your first big tour was difficult, and I’m sure he’s done all he could. Looks like he’s’ trying to leave the Vuelta with a little bit of ride
3:51 p.m. — We have also opened up the opportunity for readers to offer up their own questions. (You can send in your own question at Rosters@7Dogs.com)One of the most common questions we’ve gotten over the past couple of weeks is the one asked here by Lou Frankel of Atlantic City, New Jersey:
”It would’ve been nice to have Lance Armstrong returning the real favor and having him help ‘pull, some of the load’ as Roberto did for him in July this year, Eh??”
Jonathan Vaughters: True, but I think Lance has had his eyes on winning five or six Tours for a little while now. So, if he wants to do that, he needs to make sure he doesn’t run his motor too hard all year. Doing the Vuelta would probably be too much.
Sure other guys can do both, but they’re not trying to win the Tour.
Jonathan Vaughters: Just a point to make: It looks like the this stage has a tricky finish. If either Heras or Gonzalez is too nervous that finish could cause a pretty nasty crash. It’s that tricky.
4:05 p.m. — Here’s another question from reader Michael Pollack:
“Just wondered if the UCI has ever considered not allowing a Mario Cipollini to abandon a race like the Vuelta after only a few stages, so that he can train for the world’s. It seems like if he enters an important “grand tour” like the Vuelta España or the Tour de France that he should stay in it, unless he gets sick or injured. Too many riders do this.”
Jonathan Vaughters: You’re right, but then again look at how many years Cipollini has been winning big races, not many people last that long. Probably if he’d forced his way through more big tours he’d have slowed down by age 34…
The UCI actually does try to prevent that, with a rule that states if you’ve dropped out of one race, you can’t start another until the one you dropped out of has ended.
4:07 p.m. — Christian Vande Velde is on course now. He’s had a remarkable Vuelta this time, hasn’t he?
Jonathan Vaughters: He has and he’ll be riding this one hard. He’ll certainly be the guy Johann Bruyneel gets his course information from.
He’ll try to ride the TT all out, but at the same time try to radio a little info to the team car, so Johan can use it and tell Roberto.
8:09 p.m. — Botero has now turned in the fastest time at the third time check. Is he serving the same duty for Gonzalez?
Jonathan Vaughters: I would say so, but Botero has motives of his own… and I would hope Christian does, too.
4:16 p.m. — Santiago Botero has finished with the best time of the day, so far: 49:49.
4:21 p.m. We have a question from Kyle in Athens Greece:
“Comparing Heras to Armstrong. Do you think that Heras has the potential to become a TDF contender if he were to switch teams and have the same single-mindedness towards the tour as LA does? We know that Lance was always a good TT rider and developed the climbing skills later, but how hard is it for a guy like Heras, who is a great climber, to develop the TT skills that would take him to the top of the TDF? Also, wouldn’t he have to switch teams?”
Jonathan Vaughters: It is much more difficult for a climber to become a really top TT rider. When an athletic rider like Lance decides to become a climber, the biggest factor is simply losing weight, which is possible. But when climber decides to try and become a chrono man, he must increase his power, a more difficult task. I don’t know if Heras is potential TdF winning material due to his lack of TT ability, but if I were Lance I’d want to keep him on my team just to make sure.
4:24 p.m. — Our man Andrew Hood just spoke with Antonio Cruz. He said the hills aren’t nearly as steep as hoped, which he says doesn’t work in the favor of Heras. “I don’t think the hills are big enough to help Roberto. They’re just power hills. I never got out of the big ring.”
David Zabriskie rode hard the first 20 kilometers to give Roberto Heras some time checks. “There are some tailwinds, but it’s pretty calm. I went as hard as I could the first 20 km for Roberto. It’s going to be close.”
The finish: Thousands of fans are pouring into the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, the soccer stadium for the Real Madrid soccer team. An estimated 15,000 fans are expected today, even though the 80,000-person stadium … The riders come through a dark narrow tunnel that’s not more than 6-feet wide; no lights and there’s a curve.
“That’s really dangerous in there,” said Antonio Cruz. “If two guys come in there together, there’s going to be a bad crash.”
4:31 p.m. — The biggies will be starting soon. Our latest report from Madrid says that we still have sunny, warm weather, some mild crosswinds, but nothing major …
Jonathan Vaughters: — It doesn’t look like there are too many rhythm changes on the course, which favors Gonzalez.
Heras would be better on a course in which jumping in and out of the saddle is more important.
4:39 p.m. — Last year’s winner Angel Casero is on course.
Jonathan can you fill us in on what sort of tire choices riders will be making on a course like this? What about pressure?
Jonathan Vaughters: — It looks like the road is smooth. With not too many tight turns, so high pressure like 130-140 would be in order today. Were it rougher, you would want to lower the pressure.
4:43 p.m. — Here’s another reader question. This one is from Tom Hawley:
“Mr. Vaughters:I understand that you won a Time Trial up Mt. Ventoux in record breaking time in the 1999 Dauphine. What was your time and does it still stand as a record for the ascent of Ventoux?”
We can answer that one for you JV. The record is 56:50 and no one, not even Lance has ever gone faster. Good job.
4:49 p.m. — Joseba Beloki is on course. He is close to Sevilla. Could we see him move into third overall?
Jonathan Vaughters: — He really could win the stage. He’s gotten better and better as the race went on. The time he lost was all at the beginning. Sometimes, when you save yourself the big efforts in the first week, because your body just wasn’t there, then in the last week you have power no one else has. Obviously the favorites for the stage win are is Gonzalez or Botero, but I give Beloki an outside shot at winning the stage.
4:53 p.m. — Aitor Gonzalez is on route. He looks very relaxed.
4:55 p.m. — Heras is on course.
4:57 p.m. — Oooooo Sevilla has had a mechanical and he had a really bad bike switch.
And now he has made a second switch! What a mess.
Jonathan Vaughters: — — I can’t figure why the second bike didn’t work.
5:00 p.m. — Mmmmm… Well folks, looks like Kelme may have a mechanic’s position open.
Jonathan Vaughters: — yeah , if the same happens to Gonzalez’ bike, that would be disaster.
But he is looking great. Maybe a little too fast at the start. But Heras doesn’t look as good.
We’ll see what the time splits are.
5:04 p.m. — Beloki has hit the first time check, just seven seconds slower than Botero. He appears to be set to take a podium spot.
Jonathan Vaughters: — He should get faster toward the end too. Meanwhile, Gonzalez is looking perfect.
5:08 p.m. Time splits from the road are not good for Heras. He is already 30 seconds down on Gonzalez’s pace.
Jonathan Vaughters: — Gonzalez is dead steady on the bike, good pedaling motion, seems to be effortless… for the moment.
5:11 p.m. — At the 12km time check, Herras has come through 33 seconds down on Gonzalez’s time. And time checks from the road give him 44 seconds, just three or four km later.
Jonathan Vaughters: — Gonzalez won’t put as much time per km in Heras from here on out, but I think it looks grim for Heras. Gonzalez looks so much better than Heras.
He’s really suffering trying to keep the pace of Aitor Gonzalez.
5:17 p.m. — Beloki is flying and looks well on his way to taking third overall.
Meanwhile David Plaza finishes with a 49:40… the new best time of the day.
5:21 p.m. — Gonzalez has set a new best time at the 24km time check: 27:38.
Jonathan Vaughters: — It seems Gonzalez has recovered from three weeks of racing as well as Heras….only a mechanical or crash could stop him now. Don’t forget the last tunnel.
But otherwise, it’s lost for Heras. Gonzalez is riding beautifully.
5:23 p.m. — Heras has crossed through 24km at 29:01 — 1:23 behind Gonzalez.
5:25 p.m. — Wow…. Sevilla has just been caught and passed by Gonzalez.
5:27 p.m. — Impressive.
Angel Casero, the man who won on the last stage TT last year, has set the new best time of 49:17.
These last-stage TTs really add a ton of excitment.
Jonathan Vaughters: — They do keep you on your toes.
5:30 p.m. — Beloki has gon through 35.5km with the day’s 4th best time. He is close to taking the third spot on the podium.
Meanwhile Gonzalez is flying…
5:35 p.m. — Gonzalez has crossed through the 35.5km with the best time of the day: 40:39.
5:38 p.m. — Beloki finishes in 50:04.
5:39 p.m. Heras crosses through 35.5km 2:40 behind Gonzalez…. it’s over, huh?
Jonathan Vaughters: — Gonzalez only has to be careful in the last few corners. Those are a little dicey.
5:41 p.m. — 47:54 — Gonzalez takes the top spot so far.
5:42 p.m. — Sevilla finsihes and has lost third to Beloki.
5:43 p.m. — Herras has just lost the Vuelta. He is still on the road and his time is already 1:08 down on Gonzalez.
5:47 p.m. — Well it’s over Heras finishes and preserves his hold on second in the overall standings. Gonzalez wins the Vuelta and Joseba Beloki takes third.
Jonathan Vaughters: — Gonzalez sure came through under pressure, and came through in big style. He left no doubt in this race. I knew Heras needed more time on L’angrilu, and it seems he did.
5:50 p.m. — Thanks to Jonathan Vaughters.
Check back soon for results, a full stage report from Andrew Hood and photographs from Graham Watson.