Welcome to live coverage of the Vuelta Stage 16. Please refresh this page often (F5) to see the latest info.
Today is a 154.7 km day on uneven terrain between Aviles and Leon. The start in Aviles is on the northern border of Spain, and the riders head due south where they will encounter the Cat 3 Alto de San Tirso at 42 km.
They then begin the slow ascent up the Cat 1 Puerto de Pajares, a leg-breaking climb that begins at 75 km. The climb is 13.6 km long, and begins with the moderate grade of 6.5-7.5% for the first 4 km. Then the riders hit a couple of patches that go as high as 13% before levelling off to a mere 2.5-3.5% at 7 km.
At 8 km the road begins to pitch skyward again, with the grade getting steadily steeper until 17% grade near the top.
While the Puerto de Pajares will break the peloton to pieces, there are still 65.7 km for the race to regroup before the finish. While the GC contenders will have to reamain vigilent, the day will likely come down to another contest between the low-placed opportunists and the sprinters.
We hit the ground running: five men are still remaining from a break of twelve riders off the front of the peloton on the climb of the Cat 1 Puerto de Pajares.
More importantly, Kelme came to the front and attacked the weak US Postal squad at the bottom of this monster climb.
They have shed all the Posties but Heras in their brutal pacesetting up the climb. Heras is not in difficulty, but he is isolated with over 70km left until the finish.
Simoni (Saeco) comes to the front of a group of about twelve riders that remains from the the peloton to take maximum points in defense of his Climbing Jersey.
Beloki is in the lead group, as are all the important top ten men. The exception: Zubeldia of Euskaltel-Euskadi. However, with so long to the finish, there will likely be a big regrouping. Heras will probably find allies in the other GC men who are isolated in this group, like Beloki.
The men off the front: David Plaza (Coast), Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com), Santiago Botero (Kelme), Jose Gutierrez Cataluna (Kelme), Luis Perez (Coast).
They are chased by Rui Lavarinhas and Joan Horrach (Milaneza-MSS) and Daniel Schnider (Phonak). The peloton is about 4' behind the leaders on the road. But the peloton is still very small, as it was shattered to bits on the climb.
6:47 PDT. Men are catching back on to the group of GC leaders. Tauler (Kelme) and a Coast rider jump on the back on the descent.
Meanwhile, the group of five containing two Coasts, two Kelmes, and an iBanesto works well together. This break is critically important for the team competition, where Kelme holds a very slim lead of 31" over Coast.
The peloton swells. Kelme did major damage to US Postal, but never put Heras (who wears the leader's Gold Jersey) into difficulty. Now they seem to not know what to do. Heras is isolated, but there have been no further attacks.
6:53 PDT. Aitor Osa is probably the best placed to win the stage. The Coasts and Kelmes are doing most of the pacemaking and marking one another, so Osa will have the legs and tactical advantage to sneak away.
So the chase is off in the back. The break's lead is now 5' 30". With Kelme and Coast in the front and the peloton splintered, the break will likely succeed.
6:56 PDT. There are under 50km left to go. For all their attacking, Kelme has yet to dent Heras' lead. Their attempts to stretch their lead in the team competition has been marked by Coast so far. Kelme seems the strongest team in the race, but it has done them no good so far today.
Aitor Osa has now taken over the lead in the Climbing competition, snatching the jersey from Gilberto Simoni.
The peloton is back to about 50 riders. The front of the peloton is controlled by Kelme. A line of Coast riders follows them. David Etxebarria (Euskaltel) abandoned on the climb.
7:02 PDT. 5'46" for the breakaway over the peloton. There are two Posties at the front of the peloton now. It is Vandevelde and Zabriskie there for the Posties.
The Kermits seem to be playing nice with one another today. Gonzalez publicly apologized to Sevilla and his team for attacking and launching Heras to victory up the Angliru.
Sevilla accepted the apology, and they did the public kiss and make up thing. You can bet that Sevilla is still pissed off and watching Gonzalez like a hawk.
US Postal was already suffering with the abandons of Michael Barry and Stefan Kjaergaard. Then up the Angliru, they lost Victor Hugo Pena and their 2nd support car. Why? Because Pena was holding on to the support car up the climb, even after repeated warnings.
Oscar Camenzind (Phonak) and Leif Hoste (Domo) did not start today.
Frankie Andreu, that great former rider from Postal, was driving the 2nd support car. Frankie was always one to really suffer up the climbs, so perhaps his sympathy got the better of him when trying to help Pena.
A Lampre, Euskaltel, and Milaneza rider are helping the Posties with the chase now. There are now three Posties with Heras in the front of the field.
7:10 PDT. The other teams are picking up the chase, but are unlikely to chase back the five leaders. So Postal, Euskaltel, Milaneza, and Lampre are all contributing riders to lead the chase in the peloton, but they aren't hammering. They are likely just trying to limit the time gains of the breakaway.
The breakaways have 5'54" on the peloton with about 30km left. There are still two Milaneza riders in no-man's land. The breakaway contains Plaza and Perez (Coast), Gutierrez and Botero (Kelme), and Osa (iBanesto).
It is good to see Botero find his legs after falling off the back so much this race. He has climbed like he has concrete undies, but today he has seen a return to his Tour de France form.
"The Battler" could win the final time trial if his form comes all the way back. His return to form could provide the winning margin in the team competition for Kelme in the final time trial in Madrid.
7:18 PDT. Hmmm...a Telekom rider has come to the front to help the chase, and picks up the pace. Erik Zabel must have made his way back into the peloton. If the sprinter's teams start to chase, there is enough road left to catch them.
Heras has punctured!! The race is in the last 20kms, and his front wheel is flat!!
Heras is back up and in the cars, and his two Postie teammates are pacing him. His weak team may really really hurt him!
Matt White and Christian Vandevelde are both hammers, and should help Heras catch back on with no problem.
7:22 PDT. Heras is back in the peloton. The chase seems to be bringing back time on the breakaways. Even if they don't catch them, the Telekoms will want to set up Zabel to take maximum points as he defends his Red and White Jersey.
Nope, never mind. The breakaways are now pulling away from the peloton quickly. Their lead is over 8' now. The Telekoms are just trying to keep Zabel in a good position for maximum points.
After the last stage up the Angliru, Oscar Sevilla changed from the "flying elf" into the "cranky gremlin". He was so angry, he reportedly couldn't even talk about Gonzalez. He was yelling and red-faced, an understandable reaction for a man in the Gold Jersey whose teammate leads out the enemy on a devastating attack.
7:30 PDT. Two Telekoms, a Postie, two Milanezas, and an Acqua e Sapone Zebra-man lead the peloton. Milaneza was in third in the team competition, and that's why they had two men in the break trying to match Coast and Kelme. But their two men got split off on the climb by 10", and couldn't catch back on. The two riders, Horrach and Lavarinhas, are riding together ahead of the peloton but several minutes behind the breakaway. A tough break for the Division II team from Portugal, who would have loved the automatic bid to all the grand tours that comes with winning the team competition.
Francesco "Scarecrow" Casagrande (Fassa Bortolo) is near the front. He has been riding well, but hasn't attacked yet in the race. Despite being 6th on GC, the "Scarecrow" has ridden a pretty anonymous race. But at least he hasn't punched anyone and run them off their bike like he did in the Giro.
7:35 PDT. The riders are getting close to the 10km banner. The breakaway is long gone. Still, two Telekoms are on the front pulling. There is now a crosswind, which could make things interesting.
The break is 9'21" up the road. Telekom is setting the pace, but aren't really chasing. The long, straight road with crosswinds is tricky, but nobody is attacking to try to break up the race.
7:39 PDT. The breakaways go under the 10km banner. The peloton is still over 9' behind. The breakaways are still working well together, but that will change soon. I still say that Osa has the tactical advantage despite being the only iBanesto man in the group. The two Kelmes and two Coasts will mark each other for the team competition, and be more likely to let Osa go when he attacks.
7:42 PDT. 8km to go. Gutierrez sits on the back shaking his thighs. Botero sets the pace on the front. Could an attack by Gutierrez be imminent? Wow, the peloton is only just going under the 15km banner! What a huge lead for the breakaways!
Now ONCE comes to the front with Coast in the peloton. Are they trying to break up the race in the crosswinds?
The breakaways are still pulling through with only 4km to go. No attacks yet.
In the peloton, things have settled back down. Telekom and Postal are once again allies on the front.
7:48 PDT. 3km to go. The breakaways are now in the city of Leon. Perez misses a turn. Now Gutierrez goes to the back to watch Perez. Things are getting dicey.
Here goes Plaza. Kelme responds quickly. 2km to go.
Perez has now attacked for the Coast. Botero responds, and the three others sit up! Osa has blown it!
So now it's Botero and Perez mano-y-mano.
They are in the final kilometer. Perez and Botero are sitting up looking at each other. Perez is in the front, Botero has just followed him and forced him to lead out.
Perez tries some slowing to get Botero to come through, but Botero doesn't bite. Perez is leading out still. Perez is not riding smart.
Here comes the sprint! Botero takes it! Not by much, but who cares? He won!!
A wonderful return to form of "The Battler", taking a great breakaway victory for the Kermits. The rest of the breakaways cross the line together. So after all that, no changes in the top 2 spots in the team competition. But both Kelme and Coast have now distanced themselves from the field.
The peloton is still a long ways back.
The peloton catches Horrach and Lavarinhas of Milaneza-MSS. A sad end for the pasta-men.
The peloton has 1km to go. Zabel will want maximum points for his lead in the points competition. Zabel comes up the barriers to pass some upstarts and take 6th position! Wow, a great sprint that was! And a daring, brilliant move by Zabel to take 6th!
Stage 16 Results
1. Santiago Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 3h 32' 07"
2. Luis Perez (Spa) Team Coast @ ST
3. Jose Gutierrez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 5"
4. Aitor Osa (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 5"
5. David Plaza (Spa) Team Coast @ 5"
6. Erik Zabel (Ger) Telekom @ 8' 58"
7. Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Acqua e Sapone @ 8' 58"
8. Gerrit Glomser (Aut) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 8' 58"
9. Carlos Torrent (Spa) Jazztel-Costa de Almeria @ 8' 58"
16. Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 8' 58"
17. Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 8' 58"
22. Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski @ 8' 58"
24. Claus Michael Møller (Den) Milaneza-MSS @ 8' 58"
31. Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal @ 8' 58"
Overall after Stage 16
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 58:55:13
2. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 35
3. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL a 1:08
4. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE a 1:57
5. MAYO, Iban ESP EUS a 2:16
6. CASAGRANDE, Francesco ITA FAS a 3:56
7. GARCIA CASAS, Félix ESP BIG a 4:05
8. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE a 4:55
9. BELTRAN, Manuel ESP COA a 5:20
10. ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS a 5:26
11. JAKSCHE, Jörg GER ONE a 5:27
12. CASERO, Angel ESP COA a 5:31
13. MÖLLER, Klaus DEN MIL a 6:18
14. JEKER, Fabian SUI MIL a 6:43
15. SOUSA, Rui Miguel POR MIL a 9:29
Overall Points after Stage 16
1. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL 142
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS 113
3. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL 98
4. DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE 74
5. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN 70
Overall Climbers after Stage 16
1. OSA, Aitor ESP BAN 78
2. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE 75
3. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 74
4. PEREIRO, Oscar ESP PHO 62
5. GARCIA CASAS, Félix ESP BIG 57
Overall Teams Standings after Stage 16
1. Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL 176:37:48
2. Team Coast COA a 31
3. Milaneza - MSS MIL a 22:55
4. Once - Eroski ONE a 25:16
5. Euskaltel - Euskadi EUS a 38:28
This concludes our stage coverage for today - watch for reports later on, and join us tomorrow for Stage 17 - Benevente to Salamanca. This stage is flat for the first two thirds and becomes more rolling near the end. As the riders parallel the coast toward the end of the stage, winds could be a factor.
Thanks for reading, and see you tomorrow!