Good Afternoon and welcome to the live report of the penultimate stage - please hit the F5 button to refresh the page.
The penultimate stage of the Vuelta (141.2 km., Avila-Warner Bros. Park), is the third shortest of this year's edition and the last opportunity for the sprinters to obtain a stage victory.
No great changes are expected as a result of the stage, with those riders fighting for a place in the General Classification saving their energies for tomorrow's decisive time trial. However, attempts at lone breaks are expected from those riders still in form after the punishment received during this fast, difficult edition of the Spanish race.
Signing-in: from 12.45 to 13.30.
Intermediate sprints: El Tiemblo (km. 41.6), San Martín de Valdeiglesias (km. 53) and Fuenlabrada (km. 115.5).
Mountain points: Alto de La Paramera (3rd cat., km. 15.2) and Alto Navas del Rey (3rd cat., km. 66.5).
Last kilometre: sharp, 200-metre curve and 800 m. flat finish.
Finish: Warner Bros. Park.
The first rider to sign his name today has been 174 (DOMINGUEZ DOMINGUEZ Juan Carlos), from Phonak; after him the Relax-Fuenlabrada riders have signed their names.
Stage 20 should see another long breakaway on the 141.2 km between Avila and Warner Brothers Park. The riders face the Cat 3 Alto de la Paramera right out of the gates, and this should serve as a launch pad for a pack of opportunists who are well down on the GC. The Alto de la Paramera crests at 15 km, and then is followed by a long descent heading into the climb of the Cat 3 Alto Navas del Rey at 66 km. The remaining 75.2 km is pretty much flat as a table-top; as this is the last chance for the sprinters to have any glory, their teams should come to the front and haul back the breakaways. But with this many miles in the legs, anything can happen. Meanwhile, the GC men will just be looking to stay upright and out of trouble heading into the final individual time trial.
Today, the 20th stage of Vuelta a España 2002 will cover the way between Ávila and the Warner Bros. Park, located in San Martín de la Vega. The weather will be sunny all day. There will be a light and tail wind blowing during the first part of the day and during the second part, the wind will come from the left. The temperature will be light as well, between 17 and 27 degrees.
Only 132 riders are still left in this race which has been as fascinating as it has been exciting. The main talking point across Europe in the last couple of days has been the actions of the US Postal team and Acqua e Sapone-Cantina Tollo. Some see it as a natural part of racing - others see it as completely against the spirit of the race and think the Organisers should step in to ensure fair play. It will be interesting to see how the two teams react today.
KM 03 - After a quiet start, 184 (LAGUNA GARCIA Oscar), has attacked on the peloton and now leads by 15 seconds on the group.
KM 05 - The rider ahead leads by 1:30 on the group now. Laguna, the Relax rider is lying in 64th place and is no threat to the GC.
KM 11 - Laguna increases his lead to 3.00'' - Born in Barcelona on 28/02/1978, he has been a pro since 2001. His biggest success so far a stage victory in the 2001 Volta Catalunya - he finished 42nd in the Vuelta a Espana last year.
KM 16 - The lead keeps increasing it is now up to 4:18''.
KM 22 - Over the Alto de la Paramera - Laguna has a 4:45 lead over the peloton - 136 Piccoli, 88 Velo and 191 Simoni are the first men over the top from the chasing peloton.
KM 26 - A chasing group has split away from the main peloton ("grupo perseguidor"). The riders involved are - 136 (PICCOLI Mariano), 205 (FERRARI Diego), 88 (VELO Marco), 143 (BRAMATI Davide), 198 (SACCHI Fabio), 83 (LODA Nicola), and 186 (NIETO FERNANDEZ German). They have some chasing to do though - Laguna has a 4:30 advantage over the chasers.
KM 36 - The chasing group has been brought back in by the peloton - still Laguna leads but his advantage is dropping quite rapidly - now at 3.30''.
KM 41 - Laguna in his red and white kit under a cloudless blue sky has increased his lead up to 4.30'' - the peloton behind is being led by the race leader's team, US Postal.
KM 46 - The US Postal team still lead the peloton at a relaxed pace - Laguna's lead has increased again to 5:09''. The speed for the first hour's racing was 45.5 km/h.
KM 53 - Sprint Intermedio of San Martín de Valdeiglesias: The first sprint of the day was naturally won by the escapee 184 (LAGUNA GARCIA Oscar), who crossed it 5:45 before the peloton. 211 (ZABEL Erik), and 84 (PETACCHI Alessandro) were the next two men across the line - so Zabel keeps a firm grip on his jersey.
KM 54 - The entire US Postal team is at the front of the peloton - tucked in behind the Gold jersey are the green shirts of MSS - who must be desperate for a stage victory today - meanwhile, further on down the road Laguna presses on...
KM 56 - The Saeco rider Gerrit Glomser drifts off the front of the peloton on a descent - it is not an attack - he seems to be enjoying the sunshine and the open roads of Spain - Postal are riding three abreast at the head of affairs while Laguna presses on.
Intermediate Sprint - Zabel peels of the front of the peloton in the delightful village of San Martin de Valdeiglesias to take maximum points remaining, while Laguna has extended his lead to nearly 10 minutes on the peloton.
US Postal still at the head of affairs - it is still a relaxed atmosphere in the peloton. Postal riders remaining are: 221. Roberto Heras, 222. Jose Luis Rubiera, 225. Antonio Cruz, 228. Christian Vandevelde, 229. Matthew White. With the obvious exception of Heras, the undoubted man of the race for Postal has been Vande velde, who has been a revelation on the climbs.
KM 63 - Laguna is at the start of the last climb of the entire race, the third cat Alto Navas del Rey - Banesto fans have been out in force this morning. The names of the Banesto team are chalked onto the road.
KM 68 - It is only a short climb and Laguna crosses its summit - the next 70 kilometres are basically, flat all the way to Warner Brothers Park.
The peloton is stringing out on the climb as a number of teams send men to the front to control affairs - the gap is still hovering around the 10 minute mark to the red-clad Laguna, who is descending towards the feed zone.
Phonak riders lead the peloton up the slopes of the Alto Navas del Rey, joined now by Fassa and Lampre.
Just to remind ourselves of the leaders - the G.C. after stage 19:
1. HERAS, Roberto (SPA/USP) 71h 24:42
2. GONZALEZ, Aitor (SPA/KEL) at 1:08
3. SEVILLA, Oscar (SPA/KEL) at 1:45
4. BELOKI, Joseba (SPA/ONE) at 2:09
5. MAYO, Iban (SPA/EUS) at 4:15
Tomorrow's final day looks likely to be one of high excitement and drama.
Alto Navas del Rey: The peloton is over the last climb of the race - Simoni and Osa were the first men in the peloton to reach the top.
KM 70 - Phonak still lead the peloton, helped by Lampre and Fassa. Good US Postal tactics today - they have allowed Laguna to gain a lead so that the sprinters' teams will be forced to chase down and do all the work.
King of the Mountains - with the climbs over, it is Number 99, Aitor Osa, who has won the title of King of the Mountains - so Banesto, as well as stage jerseys, have won a jersey too.
This success has been good news for Banesto - the four stage wins obtained so far in this year's Vuelta may be just what Spanish team iBanesto.com needs to successfully negotiate the extension of its sponsorship contract to 2005. The team's current contract expires in 2003.
The future of the José Miguel Echavarri-directed team was uncertain before the start of the Vuelta, leading the iBanesto.com to renounce all commitments with its riders beyond the established contract expiry date. It seems, however, that Banesto Chairperson Ana Patrica Botín may well be reconsidering the situation.
It now seems that the team will be assured of sponsorship until 2005 - so well done, Banesto boys, on a great race!
KM 83 - The lead of escapee Laguna has dropped to 7:27 as the peloton picks up pace.
KM 87 - The lead is still dropping. It is now down to 6:02 as a mixed peloton chase down Laguna.
The peloton pass through the feed station - fortunately without incident. It is always a dangerous place for crashes and accidents...and riders who attack at this point are never very popular - the lead drops to 5.50''.
The peloton is making its way across a huge open Spanish plain on a very well surfaced and maintained dual carriageway - this will give a definite advantage to the peloton and the lead of Laguna will start to tumble rapidly now. Blue skies, yellow fields and the multi-coloured peloton is a beautiful sight - however the riders will be tired and must pay attention - just one touch of wheels could bring down thirty or forty riders.
KM 97 - Indeed the lead of Laguna has now dropped to 4:19.
KM 98 - The lead is down to 4 minutes - still Phonak, Saeco, Alessio and Fassa drive the peloton onwards...
Big crowds out in the little town of Mostoles are giving the brave Laguna a warm cheer as he speeds through the tree-lined town - the roundabouts may be a danger to the peloton when it comes through, but for the moment Laguna must be enjoying his hero's reception.
KM 105 - The lead is reduced down to 3:27.
A lovely sight to see in Mostoles; families out in the sunshine enjoying the racing and the atmosphere, and cheering on these giants of the road.
KM 110 - The gap closing all the time 2:57''. The long dual carriageways have been the death knell for Laguna - but he battles bravely on. The interest will mount when the peloton close to within one minute. Will the peloton hold back then or will one team decide to push on and launch a surprise attack as they catch Laguna?
KM 112 - Gap down to 2:34.
KM 114 - The pace of the peloton moves up another gear as they approach the intermediate sprint at Fuenlabrada - gap down to 2.00''.
KM 115 - The Relax Fuenlabrada team will be delighted that their man has made it into the team's home town - the PEREZ MONTERO brothers will be delighted with the publicity Laguna has given them today - and there are absolutely huge crowds to greet him. As Laguna crosses the sprint line he throws his cap to the crowd in triumph.
178 (SCHNIDER Daniel) and 31 (CAUCCHIOLI Pietro) were second and third in the intermediate sprint. The gap has dropped to 1:40.
Zabel is looking good for the points competition - the standings this morning were:
1. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL 168
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS 141
3. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL 126
4. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 97
KM 120 - The peloton have Laguna in sight - but at least he managed to gain a great deal of TV exposure for his sponsor and enter the team's home town in triumph so his efforts have not been wasted. Will anyone try the classic counter attack as they catch Laguna?
KM 121 - The peloton all together now - and the speed has dropped slightly, as it turns from one long string to a wide bunch.
No sooner do I say that than two Saeco men attack and the peloton reverts to a long ribbon - Telekom make their first appearance at the front of the peloton.
The speed is up to 61 kph as the peloton goes under the 7km to go kite.
6 km to go, the peloton is a soup of tactical positioning and intrigue as the various teams jockey to get their man in the best position.
5km to go - Telekom lead the peloton...
Now Phonak lead as we go under the 4km kite.
3km to go as the peloton goes round a huge roundabout - one long string of riders now as the pace picks up...
Under the Flamme Rouge!
A sweeping bend along the tree-lined streets - 500m Fassa take the lead.
200m to go, Alessio on the outside!
It's Angelo Furlan!!!
Another victory for Italy as the Alessio boys' work throughout the stage pays off.
He is a rider who has just been getting better and better as this race has continued - and today he made it look quite easy - he timed his charge on the left hand side on the bunch to perfection - and had more than enough time to raise his arms in triumph.
There will be no change in the overall standings - so it will be a nailbiting finish to this great race.
Unofficial Stage Results
1º 34 ITA Angelo Furlan ALS 3:00:08
'' 84 ITA Alessandro Petacchi FAS mt.
'' 211 ALE Erik Zabel TEL mt.
'' 179 ALE Sven Teutenberg PHO mt.
'' 138 CZE Jan Svorada LAM mt.
So in almost exactly three hours of racing, once again the Italian lads prove to be the boy racers of the peloton.
Official Stage Results
1. FURLAN, Angelo ITA ALS 3:00:08
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS m.t.
3. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL m.t.
4. TEUTENBERG, Sven GER PHO m.t.
5. SVORADA, Jan CZE LAM m.t.
6. GLOMSER, Gerrit AUT SAE m.t.
7. SIVAKOV, Alexei RUS BIG m.t.
8. HAUPTMAN, Andrej SLO TAC m.t.
9. EDO, Angel ESP MIL m.t.
10. GUILLAMON, Juan ESP JAZ m.t.
11. SASSONE, Robert FRA COF m.t.
12. CRUZ, Antonio USA USP m.t.
13. GUERRA, Alessandro ITA INA m.t.
14. SACCHI, Fabio ITA SAE m.t.
15. SMETANINE, Serguei RUS JAZ m.t.
16. CALCAGNI, Patrick SUI TAC m.t.
17. BOSSONI, Paolo ITA TAC m.t.
18. ARTETXE, Mikel ESP EUS m.t.
19. VINALE, Alberto ITA ALS m.t.
20. TORRENT, Carlos ESP JAZ m.t.
25. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL m.t.
32. MÖLLER, Klaus DEN MIL m.t.
57. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE m.t.
59. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP m.t.
63. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL m.t.
Overall after Stage 20
1. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 74:24:50
2. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 1:08
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 4:43
7. CASAGRANDE, Francesco ITA FAS a 4:48
8. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE a 6:12
9. CASERO, Angel ESP COA a 6:18
10. BELTRAN, Manuel ESP COA a 7:08
11. ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS a 7:33
12. MÖLLER, Klaus DEN MIL a 8:00
13. JEKER, Fabian SUI MIL a 8:22
14. PLAZA, David ESP COA a 11:13
15. TRENTIN, Guido ITA COF a 12:29
16. SOUSA, Rui Miguel POR MIL a 12:45
17. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN a 15:04
18. VALJAVEC, Tadej SLO FAS a 18:52
19. GARCIA, Carlos ESP KEL a 19:12
20. DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE a 24:42
Points Overall after Stage 20
1. ZABEL, Erik GER TEL 188
2. PETACCHI, Alessandro ITA FAS 163
3. GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL 126
4. FURLAN, Angelo ITA ALS 102
5. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 97
6. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL 90
7. GLOMSER, Gerrit AUT SAE 90
8. DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE 77
9. BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE 74
10. LASTRAS, Pablo ESP BAN 71
Climber Overall after Stage 20
1. OSA, Aitor ESP BAN 107
2. HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 99
3. FLECHA, J.Antonio ESP BAN 90
4. SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE 81
5. BLANCO, Santiago ESP BAN 79
6. GARCIA CASAS, Félix ESP BIG 67
7. PEREIRO, Oscar ESP PHO 62
8. MARTIN PERDIGUERO, M.A. ESP ACQ 54
9. CAUCCHIOLI, Pietro ITA ALS 54
10. SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL 51
Overall Team Standings after Stage 20
1. Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL 223:09:37
2. Team Coast COA a 1:08
3. Milaneza - MSS MIL a 26:34
4. Once - Eroski ONE a 30:24
5. Euskaltel - Euskadi EUS a 52:24
Tomorrow will prove to be a day of high drama and excitement as the race concludes with a 41 km time trial into the magnificent Bernabeu Stadium.
Could a writer have written a better script for this race? We have had a marvellous race so far and tomorrow will not be one for people with weak nerves... If you can stand the excitment, please join me tomorrow for the final dramatic stage - only tomorrow will we discover which rider has struck Gold.
Thanks for reading and see you all tomorrow!