Stage 3: San Vicente del Raspeig-Murcia: 134.2 km (one of the shortest road stages).
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The stage is a 134.2 drag race from San Vicente to Murcia over dead flat roads with only a minor bump in the middle of the profile. There are intermediate sprints at 48 km, 115 km, and 125 km to liven up the stage. Look for Acqua e Sapone, Telekom, and Mapei to crush any breakaways without mercy.
On yesterday's stage, which didn't really suit the sprinters, their teams were still strong enough to chase back all the breakaways despite the several climbs. Today, without the climbs, there will be practically no chance for a breakaway to succeed.
Today should really see that deep sprinting field light it up at the finish. The climbs yesterday put Ivan Quaranta (Index-Alexia), Jeremy Hunt (BigMat), Jeroen Blijlevens (Domo), Fabrizio Guidi (Coast), and Antonio Cruz (US Postal) out of the action.
They should all be right there today to make for a very exciting finish. Cruz was also the victim of a crash and required assistance from the medical staff. He made it to the finish in the grupetto, and should be good to go today.
Oscar Freire (Mapei) seems frisky today, saying before the beginning of the stage that he feels good and ready to go for the stage win. Mario Cipollini (Acqua e Sapone) will also be a favorite; not known for his climbing, he hung on in the main group until the finish, though he didn't have enough legs to contest the sprint. Only sprinters like Angel Edo (Milaneza-MSS, 4th) and Erik Zabel (Telekom, 2nd) who have good climbing legs were able to contest the finish.
47 km into the race, Jurgen Van Goolen (Domo) is 7'15" ahead of the peloton on a solo breakaway.
His teammate Bram Tankink has just had a nasty crash back in the field, having struck an object on the side of the road.
Tankink is back up and racing, looking only to be a bit bruised up with some road rash.
Nicolas Portal (AG2r Prevoyance) went down earlier and is also a bit banged up. No word on the seriousness of his injuries or whether he continued yet.
Tankink is holding on to the doctor's car getting attention. There is a stiff headwind, and it will be tough for him to rejoin the group.
The wind has also affected Van Goolen, whose lead has decreased to 6' 22".
Jose Rebollo (Relax) was also taken down in the climb and is struggling back behind the peloton.
On the front of the peloton Index-Alexia, Mapei, and Acqua e Sapone are leading the group. Behind them is the ONCE train. So the teams of the sprinters have already taken control and started to shut down the break.
This finish will suit "Cheetah" Quaranta perfectly. He's one of the few who can smoke Cipollini and Zabel and Freire on a good day. But he's only worth a toss on perfectly flat stages like today.
6:46 PDT. Three Index-Alexia men are on the front. They have covered 60 km, with 74 km left to go. The lead is now down to 5' 22". The sprinters's teams may be shutting it down too quickly.
Telekom now shows itself at the front, assisting in the chase. The riders are winding through a lot of big roundabouts right now. Once the pack brings the lead under about 2-3', they might back off a bit to thwart any counter-attacks, then nail Van Goolen back with a few km to go.
So one man each from Mapei, Telekom, Acqua e Sapone, and two from Index-Alexia on the front. This makes ONCE happy, as they have to do very little work today.
6:51 PDT, 67 km left. Van Goolen leads by 5' 05". Yesterday's victor Danilo DiLuca (Saeco), whose teammates call him DiCaprio because of his matinee idol looks, was very happy with his victory. He sent out his love to Jean Marie Leblanc and the Tour organization that disinvited the Saecos from this year's Grand Boucle.
DiLuca has been winning big races regularly for years now. He won a similar stage of the Giro (largely flat, with some small climbs and an uphill finish) two years ago. That's why DP picked him as a favorite in the Stage 2 Preview (he said modestly).
We also tabbed Edo and Zabel as the sprinters with a chance. They finished 4th and 2nd, respectively. But we'll probably screw up and look stupid here soon enough!
7:00 PDT. The stiff headwind is really putting the hurt on Van Goolen. The peloton is not all strung out anymore, and it looks like the pace has slacked a bit. The riders are tucked in across the road... this could develop into a tricky situation.
Last year, US Postal went to the front on a similar stage and broke the peloton into echelons in a stiff crosswind, and put some serious time into some of their rivals. We'll see if the wind is strong enough and the racers are game enough for another such move this year.
On a side note, the magnificent Mexican Julio Perez of Paneria has announced he will race in the upcoming San Francisco Grand Prix against Lance Armstrong and a powerful field on Sept. 15th. We can't wait to see him and the rest of the riders go at it!
Perez has won three Giro stages in the last two years, and has become a very popular rider in the peloton. He has a great climbing ability, and he will get a big welcome from his American fans.
Perez is coming back from a broken collarbone, and the SFGP will be his first race back.
7:07 PDT. A Telekom rider and now an Index-Alexia man pull through on the front. There is a lot of swamping going on, riders moving up the sides to stay near the front, which indicates two things: the pace isn't that high, and the wind has several riders worried that there will be a split in the group.
The wind seems to be coming across the road from the front left, as the slipstreams are strung out to the right of the riders. The pace is still relatively low, but enough to cut Van Goolen's lead to just over 4'.
Postal, Kelme, and ONCE are all being very attentive at the front, surely marking each other to make sure their leaders don't get caught behind if the peloton splits into echelons. Maybe something is up?
7:15 PDT. The heat is blistering at 38 degrees celsius. The riders hit the feeding station. That explains why the leaders came to the front to control the pace...they were lining up for their food!
54 km left. "The Battler" Santiago Botero has had a puncture. No reports on whether he has rejoined yet.
Telekom, Mapei, Acqua e Sapone, and Index-Alexia are back on the front now. Freire is prominent at the front, with the Gold Jersey of Beloki on his wheel. He looks to be recovered from his back injury that he aggravated with that crash in the Tour de France.
Van Goolen has given up the ghost. On the long straight road the peloton now has him in their sights. He will be caught soon.
7:21 PDT. Tankink (Domo) is back with the group after his crash. His teammate Van Goolen is just now being caught. The pace has slacked a bit, and Botero must be back in the pack again as there is no camera shot of him chasing. A Lampre man has come to the front to help out, so Jan Svorada must be feeling good for the sprint today.
The peloton is stringing out a bit now. The sprinters teams will want to discourage any new attacks now that they have caught todays big escapador. The Posties White, Heras and Rubiera are right on Beloki's wheel. Beloki has four of his boys at the back of the train of the sprinters' teams.
So at the cabeza del peloton, another Lampre man has appeared. The pace is steady, but not too hard. Two Telekoms lead the way. They are followed by two of Cipo's wild zebra-men. There are just over 40 km left now.
Happy birthday to Aitor Osa of iBanesto.com, who turns 29 today. The Spaniard had a great breakaway win in the recent Volta a Portugal, and is on good form right now. He has been riding with the Banestos since 1997.
7:43 PDT, 37 km to go. So there have been no counterattacks, but there is lots of jostling for position in the peloton behind the Telekom/Acqua/Lampre/Index train.
Fassa Bortolo is being attentive at the front, likely trying to keep "Scarecrow" Casagrande in good position and setting up their big sprinter, Alessandro Petacchi.
Jan Svorada is coming through the cars behind a big Lampre train...he looks to have suffered a flat or some kind of mechanical. He is safely back at cola del peloton (the back of the main group).
The zebra-men are starting to snort and kick a bit at the front, their striped butts pounding out the rhythm and keeping the pace high. They are hitting some roundabouts and the hammer is down. They are approaching the next Meta Volante (intermediate sprint), and there are a bunch of riders now struggling to stay alive in the back.
Tauler (Kelme) and a few others are out of the saddle at the back trying to move up, where they are in danger of getting dropped.
The cabeza del peloton is very tightly packed and the pace is high. After that first 60 riders, the rest of the group is strung out and hurting.
7:55 PDT. Piccoli (Lampre) takes the Meta Volante. Nobody else cared enough to contest it. The wind seems to have abated somewhat. The pace is still blistering with about 20 km left to go.
Beloki and the other GC men are mixing with the sprinters' teams fighting for safe position. The pace is over 55 kph right now. ONCE is on the front to protect the Gold Jersey. Telekom is there too, as is Mapei and the Zebras.
Angel "Judge" Edo looks well placed near the front. He was 4th yesterday, and is a hot sprinter right now. He is a dark-horse favorite to upset the big boys today. But while he is strong, Cipo, Zabel, and Freire are still the men to beat. Petacchi is another threat, as is Svorada.
Jan Hruska (ONCE) sets the pace. In the back, it's a struggle to survive.
8:04 PDT The Saeco boys and the Kelmes are just behind ONCE. Now an attack goes! And Rolf Aldag of Telekom is on him faster than an amorous jackrabbit! The attack is quickly quelled and brought back.
8:08 PDT, 8 km to go. Mapei is now on the front, with some Saeco men and some Aqcua e Sapone men. The peloton is still strung out. The Milaneza train is coming up, with "Judge" Edo in tow. Things are really "hotting up."
Here's the Lampre train now, competing with the zebra train. The Telekom train is mixed in. The Milaneza train is there. The Mapei men are there. Everyone seems to be there!!
Now here comes Quaranta's Index-Alexia boys! Man, the pace-lead changes every few seconds as these men hammer each other in the fight for position!
Big Mario's men come to the front once again...they won't be denied!
Things are hairier than hell out there...amazing there have been no crashes yet (knocks on wood). The group is strung out and flying. A mixed train has now established itself, with Acqua e Sapone, Telekom, and Mapei men mixed into it.
Now here comes Fassa Bortolo for Petacchi! Man! What a great battle! They hit a right-hander at about 90 degrees and that streches the peloton. If you ain't at the front now, you're done!
They still have a few km to go to the finish yet, and men are sprinting flat out in the fight for position!
Now here comes the Cipo train, with the big man in about 6th wheel inside of 2 km.
They are moving at around 60 kph. A rider misses a barrier and goes up a the wrong road, but doesn't crash! The zebras have control now, just like the Giro, but there are a lot of men nipping their heels.
8:15 PDT, last kilometer. The final left-hander is flying and here comes the sprint! Cipo and Zabel are in the best position in 3rd and 4th wheel. Here comes Lombardi and Teutenberg! Here come Mario on the front! Petacchi and Zabel all cross and it comes up a photo finish! Nobody raises their arms in victory, it's that close! Cipo wins it! Cipo wins it!
Petacchi 2nd, Zabel 3rd, Freire 4th. Man what a sprint!! Teutenberg 5th.
Cipo hit the front early, and it looked like he might have been in the wind too soon. But Mario's sprint is known as not the fastest, but the longest and the steadiest...he just doesn't fade. Zabel came on his right and Petacchi came on his left to challenge, and while they were able to close some ground, he still finished ahead by a wheel in front of Petacchi, and a bike-length in front of Zabel.
That is why he is the best in the world. He won Milan-San Remo, he won six stages of the Giro, and now he has won his first ever Vuelta stage!
There was a split in the field, and the sprinters gain 6" on the rest of the field. That means Beloki will still be in Gold tonight.
And Super-Mario, the blonde Bombshell, the Toothy Tuscan, is showing his prowess with opening the champagne and nuzzling the podium girls. His smile is only surpassed by the stunning pearly-whites of Michael Boogerd in the world of cycling.
Erik Zabel now takes the lead in the Points Competition ahead of DiLuca and Cipollini. He is also pursued by "Judge" Edo of Milaneza-MSS in the race for the Red and White Jersey.
Stage 3 Results
1. Mario Cipollini (Ita) Acqua e Sapone @ 3h 07' 37"
2. Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo @ ST
3. Erik Zabel (Ger) Telekom @ ST
4. Oscar Freire (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step @ ST
5. Sven Teutenberg (Ger) Phonak @ ST
6. Zoran Klemencic (Slo) Tacconi Sport @ ST
7. Angel Edo (Spa) Milaneza-MSS @ ST
8. Martin Garrido (Arg) Relax-Fuenlabrada @ ST
9. Juan Guillamon (Spa) Jazztel-Costa de Almira @ ST
10. Jan Svorada (Cze) Lampre-Daikin @ ST
11. Ivan Quaranta (Ita) Index-Alexia @ ST
12. Robert Sassone (Fra) Cofidis @ ST
13. Gerrit Glomser (Aut) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ ST
14. Jeroen Blijlevens (Ned) Domo-Farm Frites @ ST
15. Fabrizio Guidi (Ita) Team Coast @ ST
30. David Millar (GBr) Cofidis @ 6"
31. Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski @ 6"
35. Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 6"
41. Jeremy Hunt (GBr) BigMat-Auber '93 @ 6"
44. Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 6"
63. Manuel Beltran (Spa) Team Coast @ 6"
64. Fernando Escartin (Spa) Team Coast @ 6"
67. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 6"
70. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo @ 6"
75. Claus Møller (Den) Milaneza-MSS @ 6"
78. Angel Casero (Spa) Team Coast @ 6"
82. Roberto Heras (Spa) U.S. Postal @ 6"
84. Danilo DiLuca (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 6"
94. Francisco Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 6"
97. Juan Miguel Mercado (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 6"
130. Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre-Daikin @ 6"
133. Jose Luis Rubiera (Spa) U.S. Postal @ 6"
GC after Stage 3
1. BELOKI, Joseba (Spa) Once-Eroski @ 7:33:39
2. ZARRABEITIA, Mikel (Spa) Once-Eroski @ ST
3. GONZALEZ DE GALDEANO, Igor (Spa) Once-Eroski @ ST
4. AZEVEDO, José (Por) Once-Eroski @ ST
5. SERRANO, Marcos (Spa) Once-Eroski @ ST
6. JAKSCHE, Jörg (Ger) Once-Eroski @ ST
7. GUTIERREZ, José (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 9"
8. ZABEL, Erik (Ger) Team Telekom @ 12"
9. HERAS, Roberto (Spa) U.S. Postal @ 14"
10. VANDEVELDE, Christian (USA) U.S. Postal @ 14"
11. RUBIERA, José Luis (Spa) U.S. Postal @ 14"
12. SEVILLA, Oscar (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 15"
13. BOTERO, Santiago (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 15"
14. GONZALEZ, Aitor (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 15"
15. DE LOS ANGELES, Juan José (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 15"
22. CASAGRANDE, Francesco (Ita) Fassa Bortolo @ 23"
27. MILLAR, David (GBr) Cofidis @ 26"
34. MANCEBO, Francisco (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 27"
35. MERCADO, Juan Miguel (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 27"
40. FREIRE, Oscar (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step @ 36"
41. CIPOLLINI, Mario (Ita) Acqua e Sapone @ 37"
42. CASERO, Angel (Spa) Team Coast @ 39"
43. BELTRAN, Manuel (Spa) Team Coast @ 39"
44. ESCARTIN, Fernando (Spa) Team Coast @ 39"
61. GARATE, Juan Manuel (Spa) Lampre-Daikin @ 54"
65. MÖLLER, Klaus (Den) Milaneza-MSS @ 54"
83. DI LUCA, Danilo (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 1'13"
84. SIMONI, Gilberto (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 1'13"
Mountains Competition after Stage 3
1. CLAIN, Mederic (Fra) Cofidis 16 pts
2. NIETO, Germán (Spa) Relax-Fuenlabrada 12 pts
3. LAGUNA, Oscar (Spa) Relax-Fuenlabrada 10 pts
4. BRUYLANDTS, Dave (Bel) Domo-Farm Frites 8 pts
5. NOVAL, Benjamín (Spa) Relax-Fuenlabrada 6 pts
6. MÖLLER, Klaus (Den) Milaneza-MSS 6 pts
Points Competition after Stage 3
1. ZABEL, Erik (Ger) Team Telekom 36 pts
2. CIPOLLINI, Mario (Ita) Acqua e Sapone 25 pts
3. DI LUCA, Danilo (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport 25 pts
4. EDO, Angel (Spa) Milaneza-MSS 23 pts
5. PETACCHI, Alessandro (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 20 pts
6. CAMENZIND, Oscar (Swi) Phonak 16 pts
7. FREIRE, Oscar (Spa) Mapei-Quick Step 14 pts
This concludes our Stage 3 Live Coverage. Thanks for reading, and see you tomorrow for Stage 4!