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Vuelta a España Stage 9 Roundup
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 9/12/2004
Vuelta a España Stage 9 Roundup

Stage 9: Xátiva - Alto de Aitana (Alicante) 170 kms - live report and results here.

Leonardo Piepoli's grand victory. (c) Unipublic.

Piepoli achieves a Grand Tour victory in Aitana.

Leonardo Piepoli, who left his home town in the south of Italy to live in the North and become a cyclist, is one of those sportsmen who adapts perfectly to the land he rides on and the team he belongs to. Ever since he moved to Spain, he has always been among the best. On numerous ocasions he has demonstrated that he is a great climber. He always gets lucky on the small tours and his record is full of victories, but Piepoli has, up to now, been denied a victory in one of the big tours. On this ocasion, luck and personal determination helped him reach Aitana and with the help of Roberto Heras, he achieved his first big victory.

Perseverance and circumstance form part of the world of cycling. The ninth stage was not easy. Seven mountain passes after a day of time trials makes one a lot more tired. But, as anything is possible in the Vuelta, the race from Xativa to Aitana offered high quality racing. There were a lot of tricks going on throughout and the strategies influenced the final result. Some, like Alvaro Pino, had to sacrifice everything to maintain Hamilton and Sevilla´s dream. Vicente Belda´s riders worked on all the lands.

Breakaway. (c) Unipublic.

All day long, Cafés Baqué dreamt about the final victory of the Colombian Félix Cárdenas and the US Postal Service maintained a strong enough front to keep the gold jersey within the team, worn by Floyd Landis.

In the end, the rider who pushed the hardest was the winner of the last edition of the Vuelta a España. Liberty Seguros wanted Isidro Nozal to play the role of domestique for Roberto Heras. The Cantabrian rider did this to perfection and it was largely thanks to him that Heras was able to be a candidate for the victory. The rider from Béjar took Leonardo Piepoli to the podium and got close to achieving honourable positions such as the ones maintained by Manolo Beltrán and Landis.

Heras and Piepoli, dirt spotted and looking for the line.
Click for larger image. (c) Unipublic.

The recuperation of Valverde was prestigious. Francisco Mancebo recovered well and Jorge Ferrio climbed the mountain to Aitana very well. This was the first mountain test and although some like Joseba Beloki, Hamilton, Sevilla and Evans suffered a bit more than normal, these are the trials and tribulations that one has to endure in a sport such as cycling.

Fallout and Gains

Fourteen riders bowed out of the Vuelta today, including T-Mobile's Tomas Konecny, the fifth T-Mobile rider to succumb from the effects of illness.  "Thomas abandoned after a few kilometres. He had nothing left in the tank. The food poisoning has sapped all his energy and it is difficult for a rider to keep going under those circumstances. That is why Alexander Vinokourov has astounded me. He keeps on plugging away and wants to be at this best form for the World Championships", said Frans van Looy, directeur sportif for the T-Mobile Team. With another mountain stage Monday, van Looy says, "With just three riders left to help Cadel Evans, it is not going to be easy for us out there. But they will continue to work hard hard and let's see how it goes." Evans lost 5.19 in today's stage.

Nearly half the AG2R-Prevoyance team took leave of the race today as well - Stéphane Berges, Andy Flickinger, Nicolas Inaudi and Julien Laidoun. As well, Cofidis lost the loyal Inigo Cuesta, of whom Bingen Fernandez so often writes in his Vuelta journals, and a Postal casualty as well in Max van Heeswijk.

But it was in the final kilometers of the day that the deadly duo of Heras and Nozal laid waste to the peloton - Nozal set a blistering pace and took Heras toward a hoped for victory.

Several riders commented on Nozal's work, such as Illes Balears-Banesto's Francisco Mancebo, who finished 4th: "I was surprised very much by the rhythm that Nozal put into the race in the last six kilometers. He was able to eliminate many rivals and he harmed me a lot, but at the end I got my rhythm and, little by little, I recovered seconds."

Alejandro Valverde of CV Kelme, who finished sixth, echoed Mancebo: "I have been very well physically and I have not noticed any deficit from yesterday's time trial, but when Nozal has begun to pull I had to regulate my energies because he nailed me, though at the end he picked me up - but at the end I was climbing to the limit."

For his part, Nozal said, "At six kilometers [to go], Roberto asked me to eliminate all the rivals I could so I gathered all my strength. Also, at to 4 kilometers to go, Hera told me that he would attack and then he left me."

The Liberty train of gritted teeth. Click for larger image. (c) Unipublic.

It should be noted that Nozal, along with Juan Antonio Flecha, was chosen today as part of the Spanish team for the Worlds Championships in Verona next month.

Piepoli: "I have taken advantage of the work of Nozal and Heras"

Leonardo Piepoli is very satisfied to have won a stage in "one of the big ones" today, and his win shows the redirection of the team after yesterday - Manager Matxin said yesterday: “After the loss of time of Joseba Beloki in the time trial of Valencia, it is necessary to reconsider the objectives in this Turn to Spain.”

This apparently fit in well with Piepoli's plans: "I am 32 years old and I believed that I wouldn't achieve [a stage win], so it is a fantastic victory. At my age it is much more important to get a stage victory in the Vuelta than to end up 7th or 8th overall. So during the whole week I have reserved myself a little to be able to have strength now that the mountain stages arrive.”

“I have looked for victory during the whole season but I lacked a point of force and, mainly, a tiny piece of luck. It was good in a way but I have always been on the threshold. This has been a year in which I have gotten many secondary positions. Fortunately, today everything went well and I have been able to get a great victory here in the Vuelta, that was one of the important objectives of the season.”

"I am a climber and I can win stages and short races and I am good help to the leader, but in the time trial I lose too much time; for that reason my objectives should be different."

He said that today was "a hard stage, it stunk,"  to the point that he was unable "at any time to observe the landscape."

“I am a rider that usually keeps cool every time that I am disputing a stage victory. But I didn't know how Roberto Heras was going in those last meters. Nozal has done exceptional work in the whole ascent and to be incognito on the energy he had. I controlled myself to hold back til the last meters and that play has come out well for me.”

Uphill feed zone. (c) Unipublic.

Piepoli's 2004

1st Subida a Urkiola
2nd, 3rd stage Tour of Romandy
3rd Vuelta a Aragon
3rd Vuelta a Romandia
3rd Subida al Naranco
3rd Vuelta a Burgos
3rd, stage 3 Vuelta a Burgos
3rd, stage 5 Euskal Bizikleta
3rd, stage 4 Vuelta Ciclista Asturias
3rd, stage 1 Vuelta Ciclista a Aragon
3rd, stage 4 Communidad Valenciana
4th Vuelta Comunidad Valenciana
4th Vuelta a Asturias 
10th Setmana Catalana 
10th Euskal Bizikleta
12th Vuelta a Murcia

The breakaway today - Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears-Banesto), Tadej Valjavec (Phonak), Felix The Cat Cardenas (Cafes Baque). (c) Unipublic.

(Courtesy Unipublic, Saunier Duval-Prodir, Marca and Todociclismo)

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