Stage Report by Osvaldo Menéndez
Only cyclists know what an echelon is, how they have to react when this
happens and where exactly in Spain it happens. They know that if they are left
behind in the second or third echelon this could mean the loss of precious time.
There is nothing more dangerous than a stage with echelons. In spite of the fact
that all the riders taking part in today´s stage, between Cuenca and Albacete,
were fully aware of the possibility of the echelons, more than one favourite
rider was careless and now they are regretting their mistake.
The most curious thing is that the two best sprinters of the race, Alessandro
Petacchi and Eric Zabel, did not lose concentration and they both managed to
fight, after 168.8 kilometres, the home sprint. Petacchi had won in Santander
and Zaragoza and Zabel in Sabadell and Cuenca. The Italian has now one more
stage win than the German rider.
But there are two different stories to be told about this twelfth stage.
Martín Perdiguero, Constantino Zaballa, Pedro Díaz Lobato and Paulo Barroso were
the protagonists of the first part. At the third kilometre of the route, they
managed to leave the whole peloton behind; they never got more than six minutes
of advantage and even though they worked very well as a team, the riders behind
were really interested in catching up with them and they finally they achieved
Roberto Heras´ US Postal was expecting the strong wind of Albacete and
therefore they always controlled the situation. When the cross-wind started to
blow from the right, the riders started to ride in one line, the yellow team
took advantage of the situation and riders such as Aitor González, Darío Frigo
and Alejandro Valverde, among others, were relegated to the third echelon.
Despite the great effort made by Fassa Bortolo and Kelme, they could do
nothing to reduce the advantage of those ahead.
Before the beginning of the stage on the paved streets of Cuenca and in front
of the Hanging Houses, the Team Managers had already told their riders that
brilliant cyclists such as Tony Rominger or Fernando Escartin had lost the
Vuelta a España 1996 in this land and due to the feared echelons. Despite the
warning, they committed mistakes or did not have enough strength.
Anyway, it was amazing to see the beautiful performance offered by the riders
today; the effort of those ahead to open the echelon and the one of those behind
to close it. Once again, Isidro Nozal and his team mates were the most favoured
ones along with the American riders who confirmed their positions overall.
Manuel Beltrán achieved third overall. Aitor González lost some precious time.
From the Peloton
Alessandro Petacchi, Fassa Bortolo: This stage "has been
the most difficult of all because I did not have companions to prepare the
sprint." I am contented with the victory but it has not been a good day for the
team since my companions lost time before the time trial. When I saw that they
been cut off after the maneuver of US Postal, I knew that they would have a
"In the last 50 kms. Postal went hard, but I was doing well and
knew that Zabel followed my wheel. I attacked early because I did not want to
lose again. I am contented, but I disliked what happened to my companions Aitor
Oscar Sevilla, Kelme Costa-Blanca: These past
days, "Why does the platoon seem to tremble, with so many nerves that you end up
more tired than in the mountains? Although at the end nothing has happened, but
you have you gone through the whole stage in tension, fearing to cut yourself,
to fall... When you arrive at the hotel why do you have an enormous pain in the
neck and the back?"
Frans van Looy, Team Telekom, on Zabel: "Erik has
delivered a great race again. But he still has the points jersey, and he doesn't
want to give it up quickly, even if Petacchi, without his team, appearded so
strong today at the finish."
Isidro Nozal, race leader, ONCE-Eroski: "Yesterday
it was Beltran, today Aitor and Frigo. It has been a complete day. The balance
is buenísimo [very good], to remove time is the ideal thing. I believe
that if we stop doing that to Aitor and Frigo it won't be a good day. Now we
have to continue this way."
"Being well means that nothing hurts; after Zaragoza we will see
if Igor and I can distance the rivals a little more and calmly confront the
Michele Scarponi, Domina Vacanze: "The wind
massacred our legs."
Frans Maassen, Rabobank: "It was most important
that Rasmussen did not lose time. It was a very important day for us. We knew
exactly what Postal would do. And we had Rabobankers out in front and those boys
did well. The team deserves a compliment. They are very attentive riders. They
knew exactly where it would become very dangerous. Fortunately they were not
surprised as a result. The riders have fought hard, but it was worth it."
As for tomorrow's time trial, Maassen says that it will not be
good for Rasmussen, and it is clear he will lose time. However, Rasmussen gained
a minute on Frigo on today's stage and that is good. As for Leipheimer, Maasen
feels he will do well.
Maassen's opinion on Nozal is that Nozal has done very well, and
of course in the first time trial he was did well. So Nozal is Maassen's
favourite for the final. "But you can never tell. He must still go ten days. One
bad day, and that's it. But that also applies to Rasmussen. But he feels good,
and today has made a good impression."
Joseba Beloki, ONCE Eroski: "Isidro is doing very
well. And Igor has gone through the Pyrenees better than assumed after the
Zaragoza time trial. Either could very well win the Vuelta."
For Beloki, the time trial Thursday in Albacete will have the
wind as an animator, and it could in great measure determine the race. "If
Isidro and Igor have a good time trial they will be able to secure their
position regarding Heras and other riders. It is not enough to eliminate one of
the two there."
Beloki dismisses that there is trouble in the team with Nozal
being race leader instead of Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano. "If there is a team
where everyone knows his job, it is ONCE. In another team perhaps the leader can
be in doubt, but here we work as a team. Isidro is very strong and the maximum
favorite. If everything goes well and the team plays its tricks well they can be
first and second."
Beloki says of himself that his recuperation has gone
marvelously, and that last Saturday he trained for the first time. He plans to
participate in a criterium in November and has been given the okay to go to
From ONCE-Eroski: Jose Azevedo has abandoned the
Vuelta due to a quadricep muscle tear that has been bothering him for several
days. The Portuguese rider, one of the main bastions of Manolo Saiz in the
mountain, has had to put his feet down and he will not be able to help to Nozal
and Igor in the Pandera and Sierra Nevada stages. We wish him a speedy recovery.
Tomorrow the Time Trial...
Weather: A perfect sunny day for the riders again tomorrow, 27ºC
to 28ºC, though it was quite warm today.
Winds: Light wind during the Time Trial, blowing southeasterly - it
will be head and right sidewind before Motilleja, a head and left side wind from
there to the finish line.
The time trial tomorrow is just about flat, but it is 53
kilometers. As Locutus states in his Museo de Jamon report
gained time on the strong time-triallist Frigo today, and also got an easier
ride in today's stage, thanks in part to US Postal. The Postal team worked hard
today, as did many others - who will have the enough in their legs tomorrow? And
even though Millar is well down on GC, he might want to redeem himself after
being the man to beat in the first time trial - until Isidro Nozal took the
Thanks to Team Telekom, Rabobank, Todociclismo, AS.com,