Good afternoon and welcome to the final live ticker of the 2003 Vuelta Espana.
It has been another hugely entertaining and exciting race, and unless we have another drama Roberto Heras should see himself proud owner of the golden jersey in Madrid later on this afternoon.
Yet there is a more poignant side to the story, the race ends the era of both the heavyweight teams in Spain. The ONCE and iBanesto teams will be riding their final Grand tour.
In an emotive pre-race ceremony, the ONCE-Eroski and iBanesto.com riders have exchanged their Jerseys. Both teams wanted to say good-bye to their fans who have followed them all these years. ONCE-Eroski and iBanesto.com leave professional cycling with a trunk full of memories that fans will treasure forever.
The Banesto team is forever associated with the great Miguel Indurain, 5 times Tour winner, double Giro winnner, hour record holder and a true gentleman of the road.
The ONCE have had riders such as Jalabert, Zulle and Olano, who also have palmares which will be remembered forever by cycling fans.
Opposite the Peineta stadium Roberto Heras was the centre of attention today and fans worldwide will have been thrilled by his gallant refusal to give up, and his inspiring ride up "Vulture Hill" yesterday. As the name implies however, for every winner there must be a loser, and Nozal's agony on the cruel slopes certainly pulled at the emotions of cyclists everywhere who know what it is like to suffer on a bicycle.
So, as is correct after such an epic race, emotions are high for both the winners and the losers, and there is still the points jersey to decide.
As expected, Zabel is making a bid to get the jersey and he has won the first intermediate sprint of the day - the result was:
Arganda del Rey Intermediate Sprint: 201 Zabel Erik, 209 Wesemann Steffen, and 98 Valverde Belmonte Alejandro.
Before the race the points situation was: Valverde with 152 points, Zabel with 151, and Petacchi with 135.
So by that work from the Telekom boys, they have managed to get their man Zabel into the lead in the competition once again.
Prior to the sprint, the peloton had set a relaxed pace. The average speed for the first hour has been 30.8 kilometres per hour. No real surpise there, as the riders will all have a feeling of joy and celebration that they have made it to the end of this epic struggle.
It is a beautiful day in Spain, a wedgewood blue sky with cotton wool clouds to frame the colourful peloton.
14.13 GMT. It is US Postal leading the peloton at the moment in a relaxed style, with 108 kilometres to the finish, which will probably end in a massed sprint - with the Telekom team being very alert to the intermediate sprints.
Indeed a wedge of pink led Zabel over the second intermediate sprint to give the german National champion a firmer grip on the spotted jersey.
Once again the peloton goes into relaxed mode - with the blue of Postal riding alongside the pink of Telekom and one Silverteam rider.
So while the peloton enjoys the sunshine and comradeship of the open roads of Spain, let's have a look at who has won what in this great race.
General Classification - Heras did indeed manage to do "a Delgado" and just edge ahead of Nozal after an epic struggle between their respective teams, and eventually the decisive time trial:
1º 11 Heras, Roberto ESP USP 65:40:33
2º 26 Nozal, Isidro ESP ONE a 28
3º 98 Valverde, Alejandro ESP KEL a 2:25
4º 21 Gonzalez Galdeano, Igor ESP ONE a 3:27
5º 85 Mancebo, Francisco ESP BAN a 4:47
Two big surprises in the top three then - Nozal, the "domestique" thrust into the spotlight, who rode a valiant race. As for Valverde, what can you say about this young sensation? Again and again the Kelme team manage to produce sensational riders on a small (sometimes non-existent budget) and it will be interesting to see how both Nozal and Valverde develop over the coming seasons.
Intermediate sprint at Morata de Tajuña Intermediate Sprint - official confirmation of the result there:
201 Zabel Erik
209 Wesemann Steffen
205 Hiekmann Torsten
Valverde does not get involved in the fight for the points. So it seems that the Telekom efforts will ensure that Zabel will win the points jersey. Back to our roundup to the other competitions -
1º 98 Valverde, Alejandro ESP KEL 8
2º 102 Cardenas, Felix COL L2C 13
3º 11 Heras, Roberto ESP USP 14
So Valverde will not only finish on a podium step but will also take home the blue jersey. Born on the 25th of April 1980 in Las Llumbreras, Spain, this young gun has had a sensational season following his debut for the Team of the Paw last season.
He started the season on a winning note, way back in February, when he won the overall in the Challenge Illes Balears 2003.
In April he continued his success, showing that he is also a classic style rider by pipping "serial second place" Rebellin on the third stage of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco 2003. He followed that up by winning the GP Primavera 2003 ahead of another exciting young talent, Sammy Sanchez of Euskatel.
Valverde proved his sprinting ability in the 3rd stage of the Vuelta Ciclista a Aragón 2003, pipping Angel Edo.
He then won two stages of the Troféu Joaquim Agostinho in July and also won the GP Villafranca de Ordizia 2003. So a fantastic season from the youngster.
14.37 GMT. Back to the race for a minute, as the camera picks out Isidro Nozal - back in his ordinary ONCE colours after so many days in gold. He smiles and waves to the camera and enjoys a joke with a Kelme rider. Great sportsmanship from the young gun!
Meanwhile the ONCE surge to the head of the peloton to give Roberto a wake up call - blue train stalwart Joachim moves quickly up - but Nozal is allowed to ride off the front the peloton!
Immediately a wedge of blue shirts come to the front of the peloton to pull him back - I think Nozal may just be going to greet some supporters - who were in the hundreds.
Now Nozal stops riding at the side of the road - maybe he is having a little bit of a joke with the peloton!
Certainly the Postal did not react over quickly; they lead the front of the peloton and order is restored once again.
Just as Isidro Nozal's Cantabrian hometown of Guriezo is out in force today to support their lad, Roberto Heras is also well supported.
The man from Béjar had hundreds of supporters following yesterday, who call themselves "Peña Ciclista Roberto Heras."
Following his sensational victory yesterday, his fans went to the tower of San Gil to let off the traditional victory "fireworks" that accompany the Spanish riders' triumphs.
So as the peloton rides its colourful route under blue sunny skies, time to look at the Mountains Competition.
1º 102 Cardenas, Felix COL L2C 204
2º 86 Osa, Aitor ESP BAN 112
3º 127 Horrach, Joan ESP MIL 101
So the Colombian, Felix "the Cat" Cardenas, brought into the small Labarca-2 Café Baqué team specifically for this race has proved his worth, and has given us all a thrilling display of climbing abilities.
Aitor "The Bear" Osa gave a stirling display for the iBanesto team while Joan Horrach was possibly a bit disappointing in this race, as were the Milaneza-MSS team generally.
15.04 GMT. 83 km to go. And still a very relaxed peloton - very relaxed, in fact, since a couple of the Relax red shirts move up to the front to have their few moments of TV fame.
1º IBanesto.com BAN 197:09:08
2º Once - Eroski ONE a 1:03
3º Kelme - Costa Blanca KEL a 17:07
4º Cofidis, le credit par telephone COF a 30:22
Possibly the hardest blow for the ONCE team to bear - since in Spain the team competition is generally held in more esteem than say Italy. The fact that Nozal lost gold was a bitter pill, but seeing iBanesto take the team prize as well must have left morale very low in the ONCE camp. However, as always in cycling, such disappointments are forgotten and even now the yellow of ONCE and blue of Banesto boys are sharing a joke in the Relax-led peloton.
Naturally, today's Spanish papers were full of headlines concerning Heras and his performance yesterday - "Heras, Amo y Señor" (master and gentleman) said Elmundodeportivo, full of praise for his performance, and the article ends with the comment, "I wonder if Lance Armstrong was watching?"
Most of the Spanish press concentrated on the mixed fortunes of Heras and Nozal - thrilled at Heras' performance but tinted with sadness for Nozal.
15.17 GMT. The average speed for the second hour has been 31.5 kilometres per hour. So still a relaxed pace - while the Telekom boys will be preparing for the intermediate sprint.
Meanwhile, for those fans who want the inside view of the peloton, Bingen Fernandez's daily accounts have been revealing and interesting - they have given our readers an unique perspective on the race and are highly reccommended - as is your chance to win a Cofidis jersey signed by the Vuelta team...
Simply write an article or poem about cycling (and after this year's Vuelta there must be lots to write about) and enter the competition.
15.23 GMT. 71 km to go. Wide roads, and the peloton enjoying the cheers from the roadside fans as they amble along towards Madrid.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cycling headlines in Spain this morning concern the 86th Giro dell'Emilia, which was won by Spanish star 24-year-old Iván Gutiérrez Palacios of iBanesto.com - no need for me to add any more about that other than to refer you to http://www.dailypeloton.com/displayarticle.asp?pk=4931, Where Amo y Señor Fabio has written his usual excellent account.
The team from Madrid, Relax-Fuenlabrada, gets to Fuenlabrada. The Pérez brothers, Máximo, Team Manager and Jose María, Directeur Sportif, arrive in their home land. All these riders have moved to the head of the peloton. The Pérez brothers have been the ones who made cycling popular in this big town in Madrid, and so the boys in red take their turn of the cheers from the crowd.
Euskatel rider Gonzalez Larranaga, number 75, suffered a puncture - but he will be able to rejoin the peloton very easily today.
Now Zabel gets ready for the intermediate sprint...
He takes more points to secure the jersey.
Tauler just pips Zabel - but the two men share a joke together afer the sprint - good humour all round in this afternoon's race.
15.41 GMT. So the peloton heads through Móstoles and makes it way sedately round a roundabout, in good order and relaxed mood.
Typically, in cycling mad Spain, the peloton is heading straight down the motorway towards the centre of Madrid - there are not many countries were the organisers can commandeer such roads for a race.
So the official result comes through for the intermediate sprint - Móstoles Intermediate Sprint:
97 Tauler Antonio
201 Zabel Erik
209 Wesemann Steffen.
So who will win today's stage? Favourite for many will be Petacchi, who has had a great race and a great season. Erik Zabel will also be wanting to add to his points jersey with the stage win, while it would not surprise me to see at least a couple of riders try for the breakaway.
Meanwhile Spanish politician Mariano Rajoy launched a message in favour of cycling during his visit to the race yesterday: “I hope that important Spanish companies finally take the decision to invest in cycling, because this is a very positive form of publicity”.
When asked about the initiative taken by the administration of the Balearic Islands, Rajoy was clear in his response: This is a decision that makes me very happy and a decision that I believe to be very intelligent, above all if they end up signing Ullrich, who would be a fantastic image with regard to German tourism”.
Certainly the Balearic Islands are a popular resort destination for both German cyclists (Zabel has a home there) and German tourists - so economically there would be a lot to gain by courting Ullrich.
15.54 GMT. Postal still lead the peloton which enters the city of Madrid, as it begins its final act of what has been a play of many dramas.
The peloton heads down the Plaza Espana, through the beautiful and historic city, with huge crowds lining the route to cheer their favourites on.
Other Spanish press coverage today - The Spanish paper “Marca” opens with: “Heras strikes gold”. The publication’s cycling specialist, Tour de France winner Pedro Delgado, states: "Things would have turned out the same even if Manolo Sáiz had been present in Nozal’s team car".
“As” opens with: “Champion Heras”. José Antonio González Linares centres on Manolo Sáiz’s strategic errors.
Lastly, Deia: “The Béjar rider strikes gold with his first victory of the year”. David Extebarria comments that the key to Nozal’s defeat lay in the pressure that he was suffering, given that it is not normal for the leader of a three week race to end such a stage in 43rd position.
16.01 GMT. Now the peloton begins to string out as the riders start the finishing circuits - still the "Blue Train" of Postal at the front protecting Golden Boy Roberto Heras, as the speed inevitably begins to increase...
Benoît Joachim, in his national colours, leads the Postal team, who are the first team since Mercatone Uno and Marco Pantani to take two major tours in one year.
Oscar Sevilla suffers a mechanical and is off the back of the peloton - but the pace is not too high now, so he should be able to chase back on.
A rider drops back to help Sevilla, and the two riders from the Team of the Paw pick up a Cofidis rider; the three men chase back on.
16.06 GMT. 7 circuits to the finish - as Postal control the peloton and a lone rider attacks off the front.
It is Garcia Calvo of Labarca 2 - and a few more teams move up to help the Postal at the front.
Garcia Calvo's efforts are over and the peloton easily pull him back - but it is now Telekom and Erik Zabel leading the peloton.
Now the "Silverteam," Fassa Bortolo, move up to help Telekom, as 136 Garcia Golbano tries his luck at a breakaway.
The speed is still not too fast but it is gradually picking up.
Garcia Golbano is about to be swallowed up by the peloton - the peloton regroups as it majestically sweeps around the roundabout at the end of the circuit.
The Gran Via in Madrid and the magnificent La Cibeles Fountain offer a excellent backdrop for the final act in this cycling drama, as the peloton has just 5 laps to go.
Now an attack by Perez (Cofidis) and Masciarelli (Caldirola) - these two men string the peloton out a little- but they too are caught. USA fans will be hoping for a good display today from "Fast Freddy" Rodriguez, who has had a very solid race and has come close on a couple of occasions.
5 laps to go and the peloton one long coloured ribbon streaking along the wide boulevards of Madrid to the cheers of huge crowds...
Another rider goes - the TV motor bikes making sure they keep a correct distance - he is joined by a Banesto rider - but these roundabouts are very tight; indeed, as the race speed picks up they will become more and more dangerous.
16.25 GMT. Now three men off the front together - Bertolini continues while Acosta decides enough is enough and rejoins the peloton. Cardoso (Milaneza) also tries to escape - to no avail - the peloton is back together.
4 laps to go. And another attack by three men.
They have only managed to gain a small advantage and are now pulled back by the peloton, which is controlled by the Fassa team.
Speeding past the La Cibeles Fountain with its chariots and fountains, the "Silverteam" put the pressure on for Petacchi.
3 laps to go and another attack; it is Mondini (Domina) who tries his luck.
So nearly 3,000 kilometres of racing and now just 3 laps of 4 kilometres to go - Roberto Heras in sight of his golden fleece - Heras and his Argonauts have achieved a famous and legendary victory.
For Nozal, disappointment, but the chance for the rainbow jersey in the world championship time trial in October.
The speed picking up with Fassa still contolling the pace, with Telekom also helping out over the small cobbled section. Mondini is pulled back, and a Relax rider decides not to relax and have an attack, which is pulled back as they now have just 2 laps to go.
Telekom and Fassa, who have had a similar fight to ONCE and Postal, but for the sprints, engage in their last great battle in what has been a great race.
The Pink and the Silver lead the peloton around the tight corner at the end of the circuit - they will not want any more escapees after 3 hours 41 minutes of racing...
Down the tree lined boulevards the peloton speeds, the city streets a natural theatre for the greatest of dramas amid the splendid buildings and monuments of Madrid.
Still Telekom and Fassa - Zabel versus Petacchi - but let's not forget that Tom Boonen has also been close in the sprints and the Quickstep boys will be riding for their man.
Now a Telekom rider attacks - a tactic for Zabel surely, as they start the last lap!!!!
Now Canada attacks for Quickstep!
He is pulled back by the peloton which is starting to reach warp factor 9...
Around the tight turn - all riders safe and sound, Fassa in command.
A wedge of silver at the front; they are working for Petacchi and are determined to go out with a win.
Impressive stuff from the Silver Team - they are driving the race along, the peloton still together!
Bianchi move up for Guidi, riders begin to bury themselves for their teammates - Fassa still controlling the race...
It is spectacular. It is fast. IT IS PETACCHI!!!!!!
He held off the sprint of Zabel and Rodriguez. The fast flying Italian makes his usual fingered salute - just as well the season is soon over, or he would have to take off his shoes and use his toes as well!
Roberto Heras and his Argonauts have crossed the line safely and will take the golden Fleece. And a historic victory.
Petacchi, Zabel, Rodriguez are the one, two, three, and Roberto Heras is the Golden boy of Spanish racers.
Thank you for reading our tickers in this race - we hope to catch you when we cover the next round of the World Cup, Paris Tours. Thanks and good afternoon! Full stage results to come right here.
Look for all the final Vuelta classifications in separate articles later today.
Stage 21 Full Results
1º Petacchi, Alessandro Ita Fas 3:51:19
2º Zabel, Erik Ger Tel m.t.
3º Rodriguez, Fred Usa Vin m.t.
4º Usov, Alexandre Blr Pho m.t.
5º Edo, Angel Esp Mil m.t.
6º Martin Perdiguero, Miguel Esp Dve m.t.
7º Calcagni, Patrick Sui Vin m.t.
8º Valverde, Alejandro Esp Kel m.t.
9º Torrent, Carlos Esp Alm m.t.
10º Furlan, Angelo Ita Als m.t.
11º Boonen, Tom Bel Qsd m.t.
12º Isasi, Iñaki Esp Eus m.t.
13º Gutierrez, Francisco Esp L2c m.t.
14º Guidi, Fabrizio Ita Tbi m.t.
15º Righi, Daniele Ita Lam m.t.
16º Sinkewitz, Patrick Ger Qsd m.t.
17º Ferrio, Jorge Esp Alm m.t.
18º Lastras, Pablo Esp Ban m.t.
19º Bruun, Thomas Den Csc m.t.
20º Ivanov, Serguei Rus Fas m.t.
21º Gonzalez, Gorka Esp Eus m.t.
22º Gonzalez, Santos Esp Dve m.t.
23º Hayman, Mathew Aus Rab m.t.
24º Pugaci, Igor Mda Sae m.t.
25º De Jongh, Steven Ned Rab m.t.
26º Piccoli, Mariano Ita Lam m.t.
27º Osa, Unai Esp Ban m.t.
28º Diaz Lobato, Pedro Esp Alm m.t.
29º Jufre, José Esp Crf m.t.
30º Herrero, Ivan Esp L2c m.t.
31º Pepoli, Christian Ita Sae m.t.
32º Perez, Santiago Esp Pho m.t.
33º Rasmussen, Michael Den Rab m.t.
34º Beltran, Manuel Esp Usp m.t.
35º Van Heeswijk, Max Ned Usp m.t.
36º Fofonov, Dmitri Kaz Cof m.t.
37º Silva, Renato Por Mil m.t.
38º Del Olmo, Txema Esp Mil m.t.
39º Garate, Juan Manuel Esp Lam m.t.
40º Golbano, Carlos Esp Alm m.t.
41º Burgos, Nacor Esp Crf m.t.
42º Vicioso, Angel Esp One m.t.
43º Pospyeyev, Kyryl Ukr Dve m.t.
44º Pereiro, Oscar Esp Pho m.t.
45º Garcia Casas, Félix Esp Tbi m.t.
46º Sevilla, Oscar Esp Kel m.t.
47º Etxebarria, Unai Ven Eus m.t.
48º Scarponi, Michele Ita Dve m.t.
49º Perez, Luis Esp Cof m.t.
50º Lopez, David Esp L2c m.t.
51º Tankink, Bram Ned Qsd m.t.
52º Zaballa, Constantino Esp Kel m.t.
53º Masciarelli, Simone Ita Vin m.t.
54º Gutierrez , José Esp Kel m.t.
55º Werner, Christian Ger Tel m.t.
56º Grabsch, Bert Ger Pho m.t.
57º Cardenas, Felix Col L2c m.t.
58º Zucconi, Pietro Sui Vin m.t.
59º Wesemann, Steffan Ger Tel m.t.
60º Sorensen, Nicki Den Csc m.t.
61º Laguna, Oscar Esp Crf m.t.
62º Pradera, Mikel Esp One m.t.
63º Rebollo, Jose Luis Esp Crf m.t.
64º Sironi, Gianluca Ita Vin m.t.
65º Cabello, Francisco Esp Kel m.t.
66º Martinez, Alberto Esp Eus m.t.
67º Latasa, David Esp Kel m.t.
68º Kroon, Karsten Ned Rab m.t.
69º Vila, Francisco Esp Lam m.t.
70º Glez. Galdeano, Igor Esp One m.t.
71º Jaksche, Jörg Ger One m.t.
72º Jeker, Fabian Sui Mil m.t.
73º Cerezo, Francisco Esp L2c m.t.
74º Möller, Klaus Den Mil m.t.
75º Serrano, Marcos Esp One m.t.
76º Cañada, David Esp Qsd m.t.
77º Horrillo, Pedro Esp Qsd m.t.
78º Mancebo, Francisco Esp Ban m.t.
79º Otero, Gustavo Esp L2c m.t.
80º Cardoso, Pedro Por Mil m.t.
81º Arrieta, José Luis Esp Ban m.t.
82º Simeoni, Filippo Ita Dve m.t.
83º Atienza, Daniel Esp Cof m.t.
84º Millar, David Gbr Cof m.t.
85º White, Matthew Aus Usp m.t.
86º Julich, Bobby Usa Tel m.t.
87º Heras, Roberto Esp Usp m.t.
88º Rubiera, José Luis Esp Usp m.t.
89º Barry ,Michael Can Usp m.t.
90º Nozal, Isidro Esp One m.t.
91º Cuesta, Iñigo Esp Cof m.t.
92º Osa, Aitor Esp Ban m.t.
93º Rodriguez, Joaquin Esp One m.t.
94º Bertolini, Alessandro Ita Als m.t.
95º Landis, Floyd Usa Usp m.t.
96º Amorim, Gonçalo Por Mil m.t.
97º Hruska, Jan Cze One m.t.
98º Vinale, Alberto Ita Als m.t.
99º Aerts, Mario Bel Tel m.t.
100º Fernandez, Bingen Esp Cof m.t.
101º Joachim, Benoit Lux Usp m.t.
102º De La Fuente, David Esp Vin m.t.
103º Piepoli, Leonardo Ita Ban m.t.
104º Boven, Jan Ned Rab m.t.
105º Luttenberger, Peter Aut Csc m.t.
106º Mutsaars, Ronald Ned Rab m.t.
107º Mondini, Gianpaolo Ita Dve m.t.
108º Schreck, Stephan Ger Tel m.t.
109º Jimenez, Eladio Esp Ban m.t.
110º Lara, Francisco José Esp Tbi m.t.
111º Calvente, Manuel Esp Csc m.t.
112º Trentin, Guido Ita Cof m.t.
113º Casero, Rafael Esp Alm m.t.
114º Van Goolen, Jurgen Bel Qsd m.t.
115º De Los Angeles, Juan José Esp Fas m.t.
116º Van De Wouwer, Kurt Bel Qsd m.t.
117º Horrach, Joan Esp Mil m.t.
118º Garmendia, Aitor Esp Tbi m.t.
119º Bertoletti, Simone Ita Lam m.t.
120º Tauler, Antonio Esp Kel m.t.
121º Trenti, Guido Usa Fas m.t.
122º Bertogliati, Rubens Sui Lam m.t.
123º Noval, Benjamín Esp Crf m.t.
124º Martinez, José Luis Esp Alm m.t.
125º Bayarri, Gonzalo Esp Pho m.t.
126º Aebersold, Niki Sui Pho m.t.
127º Schweda, Raphael Ger Tbi m.t.
128º Zberg, Beat Sui Rab m.t.
129º Navas, David Esp Crf m.t.
130º Nieto, Germán Esp Crf m.t.
131º Gustov, Volodymir Ukr Fas m.t.
132º Blanco, Santiago Esp Crf m.t.
133º Garcia Quesada, Carlos Esp Kel m.t.
134º Etxebarria, David Esp Eus m.t.
135º Christensen, Bekim Den Csc m.t.
136º Leipheimer, Levy Usa Rab m.t.
137º Sandstod, Michael Den Csc m.t.
138º Lopeboselli, Angelo Ita Cof m.t.
139º Sastre, Carlos Esp Csc m.t.
140º Lunghi, Denis Ita Als m.t.
141º Engels, Addy Ned Rab m.t.
142º Mercado, Juan Miguel Esp Ban m.t.
143º Barroso, Paulo Por Mil m.t.
144º Arrizabalaga, Gorka Esp Eus m.t.
145º Flores, Iker Esp Eus m.t.
146º Cheula, Giampaolo Ita Vin m.t.
147º Laiseka, Roberto Esp Eus m.t.
148º Garcia Calvo, Cesar Esp L2c m.t.
149º Fuentes, Juan Esp Sae m.t.
150º Maestre, José Esp Crf m.t.
151º Garcia Acosta, José Esp Ban m.t.
152º Moreni, Cristian Ita Als m.t.
153º Lombardi, Giovanni Ita Dve a 23
154º Hiekmann, Torsten Ger Tel a 37
155º Casagranda, Stefano Ita Als a 37
156º Lopez, Joaquin Esp Alm a 44
157º Frigo, Dario Ita Fas a 44
158º Tosatto, Matteo Ita Fas a 53
159º Rund, Thorsten Ger Tbi a 1:22