Hello and welcome to live coverage of Stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana. Commentary today by Jan Janssens.
Please refresh this page (F5) to view the latest information.
Castellón de la Plana - Valencia: 170 km.
We currently have a flight of 7 riders, mostly from smaller Spanish teams...looks like they've been listening to the Spanish papers. We're at some 100 kms from the finish line, climbing the Montamajor (2nd category).
At the foot of the climb we saw Rabobank and Fassa putting down the hammer at the front of the peloton, but the Fassas have kinda disappeared...maybe Petacchi isn't doing too well on this climb.
In Spanish press, Freire said that he believed that Petacchi isn't any better a sprinter than he is, he just has a better team. A bold statement!
With 170 km on today's stage, and the final climb cresting at the 80.2km point, things will likely come back together for the sprinters in the end.
Yes, and the road to the finish is a 800-meter long, straight line, as flat as a pancake. So it won't be just for the strong, silent sprinter types today.
The 7 up front are Putsep (AG2R), Gutierrez (Cafes Baque), Torrent, Calcagni (Vini Caldirola), Miguel Elias (Relax Bodysol), Ivanov (Alessio), Righi (Lampre). They have a 4.20 lead at the moment.
At the summit of the Montemayor the peloton passes with a 3.50 deficit, so they pinched off 30 seconds on that climb.
Carlos Torrent, one of the 7 escapees, was a bronze medal winner in Athens. He won it as part of the Spanish team in the track team pursuit.
15.25 CET. 86 kms to go. The 7 are slowly gaining a bit more of a lead, they're back to a 4.10 advance now.
Earlier, over the cat 3 Coll de Marianet, it was Elias, Gutierrez, Putsep and Calcagni, in that order.
Oh, one of the 7 leaders is disappearing into the fields! He took a wrong turn and rode straight into the field, but he didn't fall; he'll just have to get back on the road and start chasing again. It was the Relax-Bodysol rider Elias.
He has visited the team car now - something about his bike apparently doesn't feel right.
Davitamon-Lotto will ride on the same bikes next year as Relax (Ridley bikes), except for one rider: Axel Merckx. He'll be riding a....Merckx bike. Very nice of the sponsor to allow that, too.
15.41 CET. 75kms to go. 4.27 for the leaders.
Apparently there's a dispute between Kelme DS Vicente Belda and Manolo Saiz of Liberty-Seguros. Because Kelme won't be participating in the Pro Tour, teams are very interested in their top rider Alejandro Valverde. Saiz is said to be fishing after Valverde, and Belda doesn't appreciate it at all. Saiz, from his side, claims that Belda is just "talking nonsense and lying."
On another Pro Tour note: there is only one spot left, and Saeco isn't sure yet it will be a part of it...if they don't make it, it's hard to believe that Cunego, Simoni, Di Luca and Co will stay with them.
There is a new hypothesis on the T-Mobile food poisoning episode: First the meat was thought to be the culprit, then the milk served with the rice...and now they think a fish salad might be at the core of things. As reported in our roundup yesterday, Cadel Evans did not eat the fish salad while the affected riders apparently did - Evan has not been ill.
16.58 CET. We're at the last intermediate sprint of the day in Lliria, at some 55 kms from the finish....the 7 don't sprint for the points, and Calcagni takes it. Let's see how far the peloton is behind now...
Still 3.23 for the 7 leaders....it's very much looking like it's gonna be another mass sprint today! It's Rabobank that is leading the peloton, probably inspired by Freire's win yesterday. The little Spaniard is sneakily getting into shape, and will be a serious candidate to take a third (!) Worlds win.
News from the Phonak team regarding Tyler Hamilton - their website says that Tyler's right wrist is not broken according to the X-rays taken yesterday at the hospital in Castellon.
"Analysis of the images revealed that Tyler has suffered a severe strain to the ligaments along the ulna of his right wrist. This is a lengthy and painful injury. It represents a certain handicap in terms of cycling, especially when changing gears and applying the brakes," stated Phonak team physician Dr. Thomas Klimaschka.
Two braces were constructed to help the Athens Olympic gold medalist tackle the next stage of the Vuelta without any pain. In order to stabilize the wrist, there is a nighttime brace and another one for racing. "The racing wristband was made in such a way that it interferes as little as possible with Tyler's grip on the handlebar yet still stabilizes the wrist," Klimaschka added.
We get a nice close-up of Tyler's banded wrist now...looks sturdy enough. It was on Stage 4 that he was involved in a crash.
We have an abandonment of Josu Silloniz...not very surprising, because he came in at a great deficit yesterday. A Euskaltel rider...a team that hasn't shown anything yet in this Vuelta, but gets to ride the Pro Tour anyway.
Silloniz had a good season start, though in this race he has been sitting near or at the very end of the general classification. The 26 year old placed 3rd at the Trofeo Luis Puig in February and was 15th at Milan San Remo in March.
Getting back to Oscar Freire's Worlds chances, if he were to manage to take his third Worlds win this year, he'd put himself next to the likes of Alfredo Binda, Rik Van Steenbergen and Eddy Merckx...now that's some good company.
Cofidis working at the front of the peloton now - Stuey O'Grady must be looking to try for another sprint.
16.20 CET. 40 km to go. 2.35 for the 7 leaders! The final intermediate sprint point has been passed now - it was Calcagni through first, followed by Putsep and Ivanov.
Some anecdotes being told about Freire after his win yesterday - he is apparently quite a character. Cases in point: He came to the stage winner celebration yesterday wearing slippers. He apparently lost two mobile phones at Mapei, and he sometimes ask "How far is it?" in the final kilometer of the race! While others are warming up for a TT, he's sitting on the hood of the team car...
At the World Cup in Lisbon, a few days before the race the Spanish team was scouting the course, and they're in front of a red light...Freire is dreaming in the back, and when he 'wakes up' he sees that everyone is gone. He realizes he has totally lost his orientation and stops a taxi driver. He says he must go back to the hotel, and the taxi driver asks him which one. He answers..."I don't know."
So, they drove around for an hour and a half and eventually find his hotel...
2.20 for the 7 leaders! The parcours now are slightly downhill all the way to the finish, spelling a long ride out front for the leaders, but probably not any lasting glory for the day.
More on the Saiz-Belda dispute: Belda says that his team has not been selected for the Pro Tour because of the friendship between Verbruggen and Saiz, who according to him, go out to dinner together quite often. At which Saiz answered that Belda goes out too much and drinks alot, making him "loco."
In the peloton we see a coalition of Cofidis, Rabobank and Fassa chasing. And up front, Elias changes front wheels. This is certainly fallout from his visit to the field a bit earlier.
16.35 CET. 27 kms to go. 1.30 for the leaders now! The lead is very steadily dropping, everything going very smoothly for the sprinter teams. We see Vino fetching water bottles for Zabel and Evans at the team car. Very classy that he doesn't feel too "important" for that duty now that his chances have gone.
1.17 the lead. It must be strange to be up front as one the 7 leaders...they know that they're not going to make it, but still they ride hard.
The Cofidis and Rabobank boys will have seen that Petacchi was beatable in Zaragoza...that's why they are doing all the work now, and Fassa will probably only really start taking over in the coming kilometers.
49 seconds, Cofidis is doing a great job chasing, with Matthew White now.
The 7 leaders have now just passed the 20 km to go banner, and we start counting down...34 seconds deficit. Still Cofidis and Rabobank with the occasional Fassa man at the front of the pack. Cofidis' Cuesta had some medical consultation earlier in the race and we can't tell if he is one of the riders up front. We see Saeco men coming to the front now...
17 kms to go. 22 seconds the gap of the leaders after their very long breakaway today. They have been away from about 16 km into the race. The seven realize it's over now on this broad road, and stop riding hard...a great ride by them, but it won't be their day today.
Now the Rabo-led peloton thunders over them...16 kms is still a long way to go and there might be some breaks, but it could be that everyone is resigned to the inevitable final sprint.
The pace is rising now in the peloton, still Cofidis leading...we also see USPS riders moving...maybe Van Heeswijk thinks of make a sprinting move after all?
Oh, a rider crashed in a turn there, in the peloton...a Cafés Baqué rider. The peloton is streaming along one half of a divided highway. We see Valverde now up front, and suddenly a Phonak train is taking over and setting a monstrous pace...they must be thinking of getting Hamilton out of danger. Or maybe Tyler discovered his sprint boomed with that wrist package.
10kms to go, everything together and the peloton is going FAST. Barry has taken control of the peloton, with Beltran in his wheel. Now Liberty Seguros and Kelme are there too - wicked. The riders are rushing along the coastline now.
The peloton is going an astonishing 55km/h now, at 9 kms to go. We see Pedro Horillo moving to the front...he has a daily column in the Spanish newspaper El Paìs. Today's was about the "religious feeling of the last kilometer", of yesterday's sprint...
7kms to go. The riders are riding along the seaside now, but they'll be sheltered from the wind by the hotels, in a moment. And we see a handsling in the back of the peloton! Naughty, naughty!
The peloton flies under an overpass lined with spectators. It's Vini Calderoli at the front now, for Garzelli or Zanotti. Petacchi might be a bit insecure about his sprint by now...he wasn't very happy with the "small" sprint wins he had so far.
And an attack, by a brave Paternina rider! It's David Fernandez. The Fassas waiting a long time again...5 kms to go.
Here they come! The difference between the shoulders of the Fassa riders and the Cofidis guys is remarkable...they're twice as broad. David Fernandez is taken back, and 4 kms to go.
Freire, Horillo, O'Grady, Petacchi, Zabel, Valverde...they're all up front.
3 kms to go... The Fassa's are waiting for the last Rabo and Cofidis riders before them to bonk, and to fire up the train.
There's also a T-Mobile rider making pace, who would that be? Evans? Vino?
Freire has Petacchi's wheel, and Zabel is coming up to push him out of it. 2 kms to go. An attack!! A Lampre rider.
Last km, the Fassas take over and blow away the Lampre man!! Around 60km/h now. Petacchi has 2 men left, and Zabel pushed Freire out of Petacchi's wheel!
There goes Petacchi!! From far away, and now Zabel comes and Freire next to him, but it's PETACCHI who wins!!
Zabel 2nd, Freire 3rd...where have we seen that before? The fourth 2nd place for Zabel...Zabel only gains 20 cms on Petacchi during the sprint. Must be depressing.
4) O'Grady, 5) Paolini, 6) Horillo, 7) Bonomi, 8)Flickinger, 9) Moreni, 10) Perdiguero. And, the average speed of the sprint: 71 km/h!!!
Also, Petacchi takes his 20th victory of the season, slowly getting away from Boonen in the international victory rankings. If he keeps going like this, he might equal his stage wins of last year here...5. 2 more to go!
And what a mighty, mighty display of the Fassa train again. I've seen a lot of cycling in my life, and I can't think of 3 "trains" that are as impressive. The Saeco train of Cipo...and Van Looy's "Red Guard," maybe.
But nine stages in the Giro, 0 in the Tour, 3 in the Vuelta so far. And in Paris-Tours he wants to take revenge on Zabel for his defeat next year...
No changes in the top of the GC, that will be reserved for tomorrow, in the Individual Time Trial. Spanish national champ Mancebo still in the mountains classification, and the "Ete" takes his natural place in the points ranking; first! He will be wearing the fish jersey tomorrow in the ITT. Menchov leads the combined ranking.
The ITT tomorrow is a good 40 kilomters long, and mostly flat...should be good for the guys with big TT engines! Maybe Peña, or Aitor Gonzalez and Hamilton, of course.
1 Alessandro Petacchi ITA FAS 3:53:04
2 Erik Zabel ALE TMO mt.
3 Oscar Freire ESP RAB mt.
4 Stuart O'Grady AUS COF mt.
5 Luca Paolini ITA QSD mt.
6 Pedro Horrillo ESP QSD mt.
7 Giosue Bonomi ITA SAE mt.
8 Andy Flickinger FRA A2R mt.
9 Cristian Moreni ITA ALS mt.
10 M.A. Martin Perdiguero ESP SDV mt.
11 Marco Zanotti ITA VIN mt.
12 Antonio Cruz USA USP mt.
13 Nicolas Inaudi FRA A2R mt.
In other news, Magnus "Maggie" Backstedt is moving his big self to the Pro Tour team Liquigas, for next season. I must say, the Pro Tour does make for star-studded teams...not surprisngly really, because basicaly all the top riders band together in a much smaller number of teams.
This concludes our live coverage of the day's action. Thanks very much for reading, and please join us again tomorrow for live commentary of Stage 8, the Individual Time Trial. Full results and classifications to come, right here.