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Vuelta Live Coverage - Stage 18
 
By Jaime Nichols
Date: 9/26/2002
Vuelta Live Coverage - Stage 18
 

Welcome to the Daily Peloton's coverage of the climb to Covatilla! We join the race in progress.

Please refresh this page often (F5) to see the latest information.

Current race leader Roberto Heras has said that it is here on these slopes that he must make his move to solidify his lead; so if the little climber that could has some powder in those legs, there could be some fireworks today. Heras rides today into his home region on roads he knows well, in front of his home crowd, so perhaps that will put some wind beneath his wings... and yes, I know that Bette Midler reference was a low blow at this hour of the morning, so let's turn immediately to our trusty Locutus for a some stage preview information:

Stage 18 is another crucial mountain test for the GC leaders. As the race for the Gold Jersey comes into the final days, the four categorized climbs between Salamanca and Estación de Esquí La Covatilla could well decide the fate of many podium aspirations. The first 101 km of the 193.7 km course are flat and slightly downhill, with high winds again a possible danger facing the peloton. At 106.9 km the riders face the first big test of the day, the Cat 1 Puerto de Honduras. The climb is 9.1 km long with the steepest grade of 10% coming in the first kilometer. The top half of the climb is a steady grind between 5-7%, and this climb should see the attack of some low-placed climbers out for a stage win. After the climb there is a long descent heading up to the Cat 2 Solana de Avila at 143 km. This is immediately followed by the Cat 2 Puerto de Tremedal, which crests at 168 km.

The leaders will likely mark each other until the final climb, the Special Category Estación de Esquí La Covatilla, a 9.5 km climb that starts at the 183.5 km mark. The gradient changes often as the riders twist their way up the mountain, with several sections just over 10%. This day will be crucial for the GC contenders, as this is the last big uphill finish and the last real chance to attack before the final time trial. However, look for the stage win to go to a low-placed climber who breaks away on one of the earlier climbs and holds off the leaders to the finish.

Locutus has joined me today, so we can all look forward to more talk about skirt wearing nancies, and cranky little gremlins.

As we join the boys in progress, the racing over the past two hours has been fast! An average of 47 kph!

Jorg Jaksche (ONCE-Eroski) has abandoned the race as the road tilted upward! A big loss for the Beloki squad.

The peloton is currently lead by the Saeco team, but Heras is just behind with three of his Postal companions. So far so good...

The riders are just embarking on the Tornavacas climb...

Vincente Belda reportedly said today that Kelme planned to blow the race apart today... it sounds like there are a lot of big plans for today's stage.

The pace remains high; the race is currently 10 minutes ahead of the fastest estimated arrival time.

Teutenberg, Loda and Smetanine were just behind a sixteen man break but are now bridged. In the break: Sven Teutenberg (Phonak), Nicola Loda (Fassa Bortolo), Serguei Smetanine (Jazztel), Davide Bramati (Mapei), Juan Antonio Flecha and Santiago Blanco (iBanesto.com), Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio), Mederic Clain (Cofidis),Christophe Oriol (AG2r), and Jose Gutierrez (Kelme). The breakaway was nineteen, but is now splintering.

Flecha is riding at the front of the breakaway followed by Christophe Oriole. They are nearing the summit.

The break is riding very aggressively, and is down to 8 or 9 riders, with the others falling off the back.

Jan Svorada (Lampre), Erik Zabel (Telekom), and Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) are being shed from the leading group of 19 on the climb.

They were out to contest the intermediate sprints, and won't try to hang with the climbers now.

So Chechu and Christian are leading the peloton now...

Santiago Blanco has slipped the nets in the break. He is ahead of a break of 8 remaining riders, and driving hard on the flat.

He is ahead of a break of 8 remaining riders, and driving hard on the flat.

7:00 PDT. 41 km left in the race.

Blanco does have a teammate in the chase in Flecha, so perhaps they are planning a one-two punch, with Flcha sitting on now, and ready to take up where his teammate leaves off should he be caught.

Two climbs left to come: the Puerto de Tremedal (Cat 2) and the Special Category La Covatilla Ski Station.

Chechu Rubiera is showing his mettle, riding at the front. It looks like Postal is prepared to give everything for their leader. Rubiera's face is 100% concentration.

They are flying on the descent of the Puerto de Tornavacas. Christian Vande Velde is right there as well.

Santiago Blanco presses on in the lead, and the peloton has just caught Sven Tuetenberg.

7:08 PDT. The breakaways are making their way towards the Puerto de Tremedal. Blanco is still in the lead alone. He is chased by a few small group. The peloton is still riding a hard tempo under the impetus of US Postal.

Inexplicably, an Acqua e Sapone rider has come to the front to help Postal set the pace. Interesting.

Blanco is now on the Tremedal. He is stretching his lead to 1' 20" over a group of nine breakaways, and 5' 45" ahead of the peloton.

The chasing breakaway men are led by Gutierrez (Kelme), and they are hitting the lower slopes of the climb as well.

7:13 PDT. 30 km left, but man, what a lot of climbing in that 30 km. Blanco is riding like a man possessed. He is a great climber who has struggled over the last year or so. He seems to have found a winning form again. He is fully capable of holding his lead until the finish.

The sprinters Teutenberg, Zabel, Petacchi, and Svorada were all in the break originally, but their lead butts have caused them all to fall off the pace on the climb.

7:16 PDT. Blanco won Stage 10 of last year's Vuelta in a breakaway just like this. He is chased by 8 riders at 1' 34".

Garmendia (Coast) is in the chase group with Flecha (iBanesto), Caucchioli (Alessio), Gutierrez (Kelme), Canada (Coast), Horrach (Milaneza) and two others.

The peloton is still led by an Acqua e Sapone rider, who is in front of Rubiera and Vandevelde of US Postal. Still not sure why the zebra-man is pulling on the front.

Blanco is really flying still. He's nearing the top of the Tremedal. Vandevelde has now come to the front of the peloton, which is 6' 38" behind the flying iBanesto climber. Aitor Osa, who wears the Orange Jersey of the king of the mountains, is off the back of the peloton as they climb the Tremedal.

Petacchi gets swallowed up by the peloton, along with Zabel. The feisty Zabel has done a great job defending his Points Jersey today!

7:25 PDT. The pace set by Vandevelde is really shattering the peloton on the Tremedal. Chunks of peloton are scattered all over the road off the back now.

Not known as a climber, Vandevelde has really been the big hammer for team leader Heras in this years Vuelta. He has led Heras out and has been the lone support Postie in the bunch several times.

7:28 PDT. Blanco is 26 km from the finish. The peloton is greatly reduced in numbers, chasing up the Tremedal. Caucchioli, Flecha, and Gutierrez are the three men in the second group on the road in pursuit of Blanco. Five more riders are a bit further back.

Rubiera is riding strong at the front. He leads the peloton. The Postal team looks to be revived today, and ready to protect the gold jersey.

The lead of Blanco over the peloton has dropped to 5'26".

"The Punisher" Rubiera really looks to be back on top of his game today.

The leaders are all together in the peloton, and Blanco presses on in a lone break on the penultimate climb of the day. Is it Chechu? or Choo Choo? Rubiera is looking good today!

Blanco has stretched his lead to 2' 10" over the chase group of three riders.

7:33 PDT. Blanco descending now, with only the final climb ahead. He has about 24 km to go.

Rubiera continues to drive the pace at the front, looking back over his shoulder to see the golden jersey.

Caucchioli, Gutierrez, and Flecha crest the climb of the Tremedal 2' 10" behind Blanco. Flecha sprints to take out maximum points.

Two Acqua e Sapone riders have again come to the front to help Postal chase.

Choo Choo Rubiera is taking turns with the Acqua e Sapone riders on the front of the peloton.

Rubiera has found his legs at just the right moment for the fortunes of his team.

Heras (Postal) and Jeker (Milaneza) are visible near the front. Blanco is negotiating some rough road, slowing down over patches of gravel on the descent.

Blanco is ahead by 2'07".

Caucchiolo, Flecha and Gutierrez are following on sketchy roads.

7:39 PDT. Less than 15 km to go.

And now it's Christian Van de Velde taking the lead in the peloton.

US Postal is on the front on the descent, riding like the team of the leader, protecting their man. Heras will be bouyed in his bid for victory by this performance from his teammates.

Blanco has just gone under the 15 to go mark... the peloton is 3 miles behind. He has a lead of 2' 15" over the chasing trio. 3'45" from the chasers to the peloton.

Wow! Spain is beautiful today!

7:45 PDT. Blanco is on the false flat leading up to the Covatilla.

Horrach, Oriol, and Garmendia are the third group on the road ahead of the peloton.

US Postal still escorts the peloton, Christian Van de Velde has the reins.

They're all approaching the Covatilla, and the fireworks are soon to begin.

Blanco continues to gain time on all the chasers. It looks like he may have done enough for the stage win.

Blanco really looks set to take the stage. He's almost to the bottom slopes of the Covatilla.

Acqua e Sapone continues to share the pace-making with Postal. Erik Zabel is right up there in the leaders' group.

Aitor Gonzalez is right behind Heras, and looking very serious.

The big leaders are now getting into position for the final dogfight of the day.

7:52 PDT. Blanco is now on the monstrous, Special Category climb of the Covatilla. He's on the shallow lower slopes, but they'll kick up soon enough.

Blanco has 2' 46" on the 1st chase group of Gutierrez, Caucchioli, and Flecha.

The third group on the road of Horrach, Garamendia, and Oriol is just over 4' behind Blanco. The peloton rolls along under the impetus of US Postal at just over 6' behind Blanco.

7:57 PDT. Blanco has 8 km of intense climbing left. He looks strong, and will likely win the stage. The big question is what will happen when the GC men attack from the peloton?

Rubiera is followed by two Acqua e Sapone riders in their pacing of the peloton. The Acqua e Sapone riders have given Postal a lot of help today with the pacemaking.

8:00 PDT. All the riders are now on the Covatilla.

Acqua e Sapone are leading out Heras at the base of the climb! Chechu is fading out the back. He's done some beautiful work today.

Heras looks to be the lone Postie in the group on the foot of the last climb. There are 8 km to go. Acqua e Sapone continues to help Heras... perhaps they have joined Postal?

Mayo is following Heras very closely. Blanco presses on with a lead of 5'16".

Heras is seconf man on the road right behind Perdiguero. Heras won't wait much longer.

The gaps are opening!! Sevilla is hurting! Sevilla is gritting his teeth behind... it's a killer pace.

Perdiguero, Heras and Gonzalez are off the front Heras has gone. He's off the front like his ASS IS ON FIRE!!

Aitor Gonzalez is 35 seconds down...

Sevilla is gritting his teeth in pursuit, trying to get back on terms. Gonzalez is clawing his way up towards Heras... it's mano a mano right now. Sevilla is about 100 meters behind his teammate.

Heras rises out of the saddle, he looks strong. He has to attack, as he will lose time in the final time trial. The three leaders of this race are fighting hard... Joseba Beloki is left behind.

Beloki and Garcia Casas (BigMat) are riding with Horrach a ways behind Heras, Gonzalez, and Sevilla.

Heras looks over his shoulder... the climb is flattening out, and he will want the steeper grades to put the wood to 'em. Beloki catches Sevilla!

And Gonzalez is closing on Heras on the shallower part of the climb!

Now it's all back together. Heras is with Gonzalez, and Beloki, Sevilla, and Casas are just behind. Heras will be on the ropes here. He needs to drop Gonzalez. He keeps looking over his shoulder to see any sign of pain or weakness on the face of his rival. Mayo and "Scarecrow" Casagrande have been shelled...they are nowhere to be seen! Heras, Gonzalez, Sevilla, Beloki and Casas.

Casas attacks the group! Casas goes.

Heras is right on him. He doesn't want to give anyone a chance to sit still.

8:11 PDT. 4 km to go for Blanco.

His lead is just over 3' now.

Casas is riding hard. Heras goes again!

Aitor Gonzalez rides on like a time triallist - he can't follow these quick accelerations.

Beloki caught onto Heras for a minute, but Hears has dropped him as well.

Beloki almost closes down Heras, but not quite. Once again, Beloki gets a nice view of Postal hams as they fly up a mountain.

Heras looks cool as a cucumber as he puts the hammer down. He's killing them! Sevilla has dropped Gonzalez! Heras has passed Gutierrez...

Blanco is only 2' 45" ahead of Heras now. Nobody else is between them. What a ride! Heras is drilling it up that mountain!

Heras is flying he is getting his gap on Gonzalez! Blanco looks sure to win the stage now. He'd have to bonk hard to lose it.

Heras took a minute and a half out of Blanco in the last kilometer! He just may catch him for the stage win!

Sevilla, Casas and Gutierrez are together.

Heras is 2'13" behind Blanco. Heras catches Flecha and Caucchioli!

The climb kicks back up to 10% shortly, and Heras will put more time on his pursuers.

Heras goes under the 3 km banner... and Gonzalez has cracked! He is falling down the back with 3 km to go.

Flecha is now working with Heras!

Heras continues to drive it... throwing some words over his shoulder to Flecha...

Beloki suffers on the steeper slopes. He really looks like a whipped dog on his bike. Beloki is losing ground, and Gonzalez is a broken man!

Sevilla, Beloki and Casas are together on the chase. Blanco is hurting up the road!

Casas is suffering, and Sevilla is looking good! Beloki drops Sevilla now!

Heras is on the steep part of the upper section now. Heras is putting the hurt on, and only Flecha can follow.

[Site_Goddess note: Well now, that was an extremely inopportune time for a server crash, wasn't it? It appears our live coverage is so popular that our server cannot handle the traffic. My sincerest apologies...now here is the rest of the ticker, and the results.]

Johan Bruyneel is beside Heras in the card offering encouragement...

Heras is digging for everything he has today. If Heras comes to the line with Flecha, the iBanesto will likely take the win. That is, if they can catch Blanco.

The finish is in sight for Blanco. He looks like he will hang on.

Blanco is at the end of his powers but he has the win! He has done it!

Heras drops Flecha!! Heras is off on it! Heras will come in second!Heras closes it down to only 39" behind Blanco!

Does he have enough to win this tour? The clock is running!

Flecha 3rd, Beloki 4th. Sevilla 5th. Sevilla draws Gonzalez to the line, they have conceded 36 seconds to Heras! What a finish! Best of the year!

1. Blanco, 2. Heras, 3. Flecha, 4. Beloki, 5. Caucchioli, 6. Casas, 7, Sevilla, 8. Gonzalez, 9. Casero.

Gonzalez is now 1.12 seconds behind Heras, and still in second. Stage 18 Results
1. Santiago Blanco (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 5h 04' 17"
2. Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal @ 39"
3. Juan Antonia Flecha (Spa) iBanesto.com @ 47"
4. Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski @ 51"
5. Pietro Caucchioli (Ita) Alessio @ 1' 09"
6. Felix Garcia Casas (Spa) BigMat-Auber 93 @ 1' 09"
7. Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 1' 16"
8. Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 1' 16"
9. Angel Casero (Spa) Team Coast @ 1' 26"
10. Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo @ 1' 31"
11. David Plaza (Spa) Team Coast @ 1' 32"
12. Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 1' 48"
13. Danilo DiLuca (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport @ 1' 53"
14. Fabien Jeker (Sui) Milaneza-MSS @ 2' 10"
15. Jose Gutierrez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 2' 19"
16. Manuel Beltran (Spa) Team Coast @ 2' 19"
14. Fabien Jeker (Sui) Milaneza-MSS @ 2' 10"
15. Jose Gutierrez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca @ 2' 19"
16. Manuel Beltran (Spa) Team Coast @ 2' 19"
17. Claus Michael Møller (Den) Milaneza-MSS @ 2' 21"
18. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2' 38"
19. Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2' 38"

Overall After Stage 18
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 66:58:09
2. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 1:12
3. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL a 1:45
4. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE a 2:09
5. MAYO, Iban ESP EUS a 4:15
6. GARCIA CASAS, Félix ESP BIG a 4:35
7. CASAGRANDE, Francesco ITA FAS a 4:48
8. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE a 6:04
9. CASERO, Angel ESP COA a 6:18
10. BELTRAN, Manuel ESP COA a 7:00
11. ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS a 7:25
12. MÖLLER, Klaus DEN MIL a 8:00
13. JEKER, Fabian SUI MIL a 8:14
14. PLAZA, David ESP COA a 11:05
15. TRENTIN, Guido ITA COF a 12:21
16. SOUSA, Rui Miguel POR MIL a 12:37
17. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN a 14:56
18. GARCIA, Carlos ESP KEL a 18:28
19. VALJAVEC, Tadej SLO FAS a 18:44
20. DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE a 24:34

Overall Points After Stage 18
1. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL 168
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS 141
3. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL 106
4. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 85
5. GLOMSER, Gerrit AUT SAE 80
6. DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE 77
7. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL 76
8. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN 71
9. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE 64
10. PEREZ, Luis ESP COA 64

Climber Overall After Stage 18
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 99
2. FLECHA, J.Antonio ESP BAN 90
3. BLANCO, Santiago ESP BAN 78
4. OSA, Aitor ESP BAN 78
5. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE 76
6. GARCIA CASAS, Félix ESP BIG 67
7. PEREIRO, Oscar ESP PHO 62
8. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL 51
9. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE 49
10. MAYO, Iban ESP EUS 49

Team Standings After Stage 18
1. Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL 200:49:30
2. Team Coast COA a 56
3. Milaneza - MSS MIL a 26:22
4. Once - Eroski ONE a 29:36
5. Euskaltel - Euskadi EUS a 52:12
6. Cofidis, le credit par telephone COF a 1:04:59
7. Saeco - Longoni Sport SAE a 1:12:24
8. IBanesto.com BAN a 1:15:45
9. Fassa Bortolo FAS a 1:16:31
10. Jazztel - Costa Almeria JAZ a 1:42:16
11. US Postal Service USP a 1:58:38
12. Lampre - Daikin LAM a 2:29:46
13. Phonak Hearing Systems PHO a 2:51:18
14. Relax - Fuenlabrada REL a 3:12:30
15. Bigmat Auber 93 BIG a 3:38:12
16. Team Telekom TEL a 3:39:53
17. DOMO - Farm Frites DFF a 3:43:23
18. Tacconi - Sport TAC a 3:57:26
19. AG2R Prevoyance A2R a 4:42:25
20. Mapei-Quick Step MAP a 4:46:53
21. Acqua & Sapone - Cantina Tollo ACQ a 4:49:06

That's a wrap on our live (and almost live) coverage of the Covatillo. Tomorrow is not a stage to be discounted - there is one Cat one climb and one Cat two climb, but we can surely look for some speed, and as we have seen today, this Vuelta is not over. Thanks for joining us today, and again, apologies for our coverage interruption. Hope you will join us tomorrow!

 
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