Welcome to our live coverage in progress. Please refresh the page (F5) often for the latest info.
Today's Stage 17 will be dangerous for the GC contenders, as the first half of the race is flat (with a slight downhill grade) and heads south from Benavente near the ocean.
High winds could well wreak havoc in the field, breaking it into echelons and leading to time gaps that could ruin the aspirations of an inattentive or unlucky rider. In the second half of the course the roads become more rolling and difficult as the riders make their way to Salamanca.
This stage will likely end in a bunch sprint, but the real question is, who will be left in the bunch to contest the sprint? Will the leaders find the road to Salamanca an easy day of rest and recuperation, or a hellish day of fighting for position under treacherous conditions?
Yesterday, US Postal allowed Heras to get isolated by Kelme and ONCE. The Posties will have to be extra attentive today to protect Heras and avoid a silly time loss.
6:34 PDT. The pace has been high today. Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) has gained points and has been faster than Zabel (Telekom) in both the intermediate sprints so far. The second hour was ridden at 52kph, a furious pace. So it looks like Petacchi is once again faster than the Pink German.
Two men are off the front: Elio Aggiano (Mapei) and Diego Ferrari (Tacconi Sport) have a gap of 32" on the field. Blanco (iBanesto.com) has punctured, which can be disastrous on a day with crosswinds and a high pace.
Today the riders started with 145.6 kilometers to cover; they now have about 70 km left. The attacks came early with a group of 12 getting away after only 2km. They were reabsorbed by the high pace, however.
It is highly doubtful that Telekom and Fassa Bortolo will let these two men get too far up the road. Fassa Bartolo has massed six riders on the front. They clearly like Petacchi's wins, which gain much more publicity than their GC man Francesco Casagrande. "The Scarecrow" is in 6th on GC, but has been a ham-gazer the entire race.
6:45 PDT. Well, the peloton is going through the feed zone on a slight uphill, and so they slowed down a bit. The break now has 1' 39" with 64km left.
6:50 PDT. Team Coast has come to the front and put the hammer down. They are trying to break up the race. The group is splitting into 2-3 echelons!! This is the same move Postal made early in the race last year that led to huge time gains.
ONCE-Eroski is helping out Coast with inflicting the damage. Heras is near the front, with only one Postie in sight. But he doesn't look in trouble, latched on to the back of the ONCE train in his Gold Jersey.
6:57 PDT. The two breakaways are being swept up now. Roberto Heras is on the front! He is actually in the wind at the front of the race, being vigilant! Not a bad move, as long as he doesn't try to stay there.
Heras is clearly saying "bring it on!" Everyone has attacked him and his diminished Postal squad, but he has responded easily.
Coming to the front and pulling for a turn is as much a psychological move as anything, as he says "I'm so strong I can win this race on my own! Bring it, you skirt-wearing nancies!" Or some more modest and reasonable Spanish version of that.
7:02 PDT. The peloton is split into two groups. The front group has a big gap. Posties Matt White and Tony Cruz are with Heras in the front group, along with Vandevelde and Zabriskie. The Posties have not been hurt by this latest attack. Yesterday, they were all blown away on the final climb of the day except Heras.
Danilo DiLuca said that he couldn't understand what was going on in yesterday's race. He was dropped by the Gold Jersey group on the climb, but he quickly rejoined on the descent. When he got back into the Gold Jersey group, he saw Heras isolated in a group with five ONCEs and five Kelmes.
What he couldn't understand is why Kelme and ONCE then just sat up and didn't attack Heras once he was isolated. They had him on the ropes, and then backed off. DiLuca was baffled.
With the Posties rebounding, and with Heras' strength in the climbs, the ONCEs and Kelmes may have blown a huge opportunity.
Rubiera (Postal) is riding next to Heras in the front group. The pace has shut off, and the second group has caught back on. Fassa Bortolo are now back on the front, riding for Petacchi.
7:09 PDT. Just over 40 km left to the finish. The group is all together again. Fassa Bortolo sets a stiff pace, but not a blistering one that will break up the peloton. It's just enough to discourage breakaways from taking a chance in the wind.
The peloton is winding on a slight downhill at 74 kph right now. All of the Fassa Bortolo men are at the front, looking spiffy in their white and blue team stripe. Heras and the big GC men are all in attendance just behind the Fassa train.
Heras looks comfortable. He is riding with the protection of Posties, with a bunch of Milaneza-MSS pasta-men right next to him.
The Milaneza-MSS squad is riding extremely well, especially for a Division 2 squad. They haven't had the big result yet, but they have attacked the entire race and still stand in (a now distant) 3rd in the team competition.
US Postal's Frankie Andreu gave us his account of his "expulsion" from the race along with Victor Hugo Pena for "assisting" Pena up the Angliru. Frankie told the DP:
"First off, about the second team car. It was only withdrawn for one day, and Victor Hugo Pena did not hang on the car even once. He never grabbed the car and this is the problem that we couldn't explain to the commissaires."
So Frankie clearly believes that Pena did nothing wrong and should still be in the race. And for his part, he is now back on the road in the Vuelta dispensing water bottles and expertise to his riders from the second team car.
7:42 PDT. A Jazztel rider has attacked. It is Dario Gadeo. He has a smart gap on the field. His head is down while he hammers into the wind.
The Fassa Bortolo train is in hot pursuit, and Gadeo looks like he's going nowhere fast.
Milaneza is a pasta manufacturer, thus the nickname "pasta-men". MSS is a construction company, so I occasionally call them the "steel pasta men." Milaneza-MSS has Møller in 13th on GC, Jeker in 14th, and Sousa in 15th. They could improve on this before the finale in Madrid.
7:30 PDT. Another attack has gone: Jazztel rider Juan Carlos Guillamon. He is a former Spanish road champion, and he's flying along at 60kph. The riders now have a tailwind, and it is unlikely this attack will succeed.
7:37 PDT. Flecha (iBanesto) counter-attacked, but now it's all been swept up by the Fassa train. They have 23 km to go.
The pace is extremely high. With such flat roads and a tailwind, it would take a Rich Pink-style all-out door-blowing attack for a rider to solo away. As Pink isn't riding the Vuelta, it looks extremely likely now that this will come down to a dual between Zabel and Petacchi in a sprint finish.
There are no pies to win in the Vuelta, so of course Pink will never ride it. Meanwhile, small attacks keep trying to go away. The Telekoms are now helping to run down any breaks, with Rolf Aldag putting the hammer on the latest attempt.
The town the riders are flying through right now has a huge message supporting Heras painted in a field. This is clearly his home region.
7:47 PDT. Less than 20km to go. A pink and blue Lampre train has formed now, clearly looking to set up Jan Svorada. Angel Edo of Milaneza-MSS will also like the looks of today's sprint.
The riders roll through the intermediate sprint, with Zabel and Petacchi eyeing each other but neither making a move to contest it. They've clearly made an agreement to just have it out at the finish. Zabel had a 29 point lead over Petacchi in the Points competition starting today, and that has diminished a bit with Petacchi's performance in the first two intermediate sprints.
7:56 PDT. 8 km to go. There is a big knot of riders jockeying for position at the front of the field, and then the rest of the field is strung out just trying to finish. The GC leaders and the sprinters are the ones jostling one another at the front. There are several teams contributing to the pace-setting now, and the neat Fassa train is gone.
5 km to go. The Fassa train is back now. There are a couple of Telekoms mixed in. The front is strung out now, heading into some of the traffic circles and corners of the city of Salamanca.
The Lampre men are still lurking, along with a few Milaneza pasta-men. The sprinters are lining up now.
The Telekoms are in control with 2 km to go. Zabel is right behind. Glomser is visible too. The hard corners are really stringing out the field. Lampre is trying to challenge the Telekoms. Zabel is right on Petacchi's wheel, at the back of the Telekom train.
Wow, a lot of corners. Here comes Telekom coming into the final corner! Here it comes!
An Alessio rider takes the win over Zabel!!
Angelo Furlan came around Zabel on the right. It looked like Zabel had it, but Furlan came out of nowhere to snake the win!! Zabel is really snakebit this year! He finally beats Petacchi, and someone else jumps from the twilight zone to beat him!
Both Edo and Petacchi were right there for a bit in the sprint, but faded as Zabel pulled away. Furlan came around Zabel like he was shot out of a cannon!
1. Furlan, 2. Zabel, 3. Petacchi, 4. Teutenberg, 5. Glomser, 6. Hauptman, 7. Bossoni, 8. Zanette, 9. Edo, 10. Svorada.
Official Stage Results
1. FURLAN, Angelo ITA ALS 2:58:00
2. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL m.t.
3. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS m.t.
4. TEUTENBERG, Sven GER PHO m.t.
5. GLOMSER, Gerrit AUT SAE m.t.
6. HAUPTMAN, Andrej SLO TAC m.t.
7. BOSSONI, Paolo ITA TAC m.t.
8. ZANETTE, Denis ITA FAS m.t.
9. EDO, Angel ESP MIL m.t.
10. SVORADA, Jan CZE LAM m.t.
11. TORRENT, Carlos ESP JAZ m.t.
12. FERRIO, Jorge ESP JAZ m.t.
13. GUERRA, Alessandro ITA INA m.t.
14. ALDAG, Rolf GER TEL m.t.
15. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN m.t.
16. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL a 5
17. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 5
18. PORTAL, Nicolas FRA A2R a 5
19. CLAIN, Mederic FRA COF a 5
20. MARTIN PERDIGUERO, M.A. ESP ACQ a 5
23. VANDEVELDE, Christian USA USP a 5
24. MAYO, Iban ESP EUS a 5
28. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP a 5
29. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE a 5
32. MÖLLER, Klaus DEN MIL a 5
34. CASERO, Angel ESP COA a 5
42. CRUZ, Antonio USA USP a 5
GC After Stage 17
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 61:53:13
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
16. TRENTIN, Guido ITA COF a 9:55
17. PLAZA, David ESP COA a 10:13
18. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN a 12:57
19. GARCIA, Carlos ESP KEL a 15:20
20. VALJAVEC, Tadej SLO FAS a 15:33
Overall Points After Stage 17
1. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL 165
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS 135
3. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL 98
4. GLOMSER, Gerrit AUT SAE 80
5. FURLAN, Angelo ITA ALS 77
Overall Climber After Stage 17
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
Team Rankings after Stage 17
1. Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL 185:31:48
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
As expected, there was no change on the GC today and Heras did not gain any time. Things will likely change tomorrow in Stage 18 that arrives in an uphill finish at La Covatilla. The question is whether the Postal Service can adequately support Heras tomorrow, or if he is merely keeping the jersey warm for the next rider. This promises to be a pivotal stage (as does Friday) so please join us then, and thanks for reading today!