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Vuelta a España: Museo del Jamon Report - Stage 15
 
By Locutus
Date: 9/19/2004
Vuelta a España: Museo del Jamon Report - Stage 15
 
Golden Hams of the Day.
  • Santiago "Santi Claus" Perez (Phonak). Well Santi reached into his big sack of gifts and pulled out another can whupass today to take his second consecutive stage victory in this Vuelta. He smoked the field by an impressive 1' 07" in the time trial up the Sierra Nevada, increasing his lead at every check along the way. After yesterday's stage, I still didn't think he had a shot at the podium despite his obviously stellar form, but today Perez made a believer out of me. He now sits in 3rd on GC at 1' 45", with four more mountains and a time trial on tap for next week. This Vuelta is still wide open, and Perez has seemed to be getting stronger as the race has gotten longer. The Golden Jersey is now a realistic possibility, and the podium is looking increasingly likely for this talented man in his breakthrough grand tour.
  • Alejandro "Prince Valiant" Valverde (Comunidad Valenciana – Kelme). He was 2nd on the stage at 1' 07", but he was flying up that hill today. He passed the highly regarded Nozal and was out of the saddle hammering up much of the final section of the climb. He wasn't able to match Perez, and he fell just short of the Golden Jersey by a mere 5". Still, this was an outstanding performance that has made Valverde seem a lock for the podium and a likely winner of the race in Madrid. The dual between Valverde and Heras over the next week is shaping up to be one for the ages, and I can't wait to see what happens next.
  • Roberto "Spanish Fly" Heras (Liberty Seguros). Heras isn't much for the time trialing, but as he showed last year, when the time trial involves a climb he can really put in a good performance. Sure, he only came in 3rd on today's stage at 1' 51", but he was able to dig deep and fight off Valverde by 5" to hold onto his Golden Jersey. Heras does well on climbs like this, but his real strength is when he is able to attack and accelerate away from his rivals during a regular road stage. There are two more road stages that end in uphill finishes, and I would be surprised if Heras didn't win both of them. Whether he puts enough time into his rivals on those climbs to take the Golden Jersey in Madrid remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Heras did the Golden Jersey proud today, and kept himself in a solid position to defend his title.
  • "Pretty Boy" Floyd Landis and Manual "Blue Meanie" Beltran (United States Postal Service presented by Berry Floor). If you just look at the stage results, then it looks like these two had a bad day. Landis came in 23rd at 5' 53", and Beltran was 24th at 5' 55". However, if you look at the GC, you'll see that these two managed to hold onto their positions in the GC: Landis is still in 7th at 8' 21", and Beltran is still in 8th at 8' 44". Sure, the guys in front of them are farther away now, and the guys behind them are closer, but these two gutsy men continue to claw their way through this race to good results after leaving most of their legs on the roads of France.
  • Alexandre "Wineman" Vinokourov (T-Mobile). He was struck down by TDD, but he has stayed in the race and is now refinding his form. Vino had the best time for most of the day, and by the end of the day his time was good enough for 4th at 3' 06". You know what this means, don't you? Vinokourov is a hard man, and he is absolutely attack crazy in the mountains. With his huge deficit on GC (61st at 1h 11' 04"), he will not be chased by the men fighting over the podium spots. That means that we can expect the Wineman to be off the front storming all next week, trying to steal stage wins and a bit of the thunder from the men leading the race.
Ham-Gazers of the Day.
  • Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears – Banesto). Mancebo didn't really have that bad of a day. He started the day in 2nd on GC at 35", and rode a strong time trial to come in 5th at 3' 18". The reason he's getting this award is that he fell from 2nd to 4th on GC, where he now faces a deficit of 2' 02" to the Gold Jersey. He's still in the middle of the scrum for the podium, and he's still got an outside shot at overall victory. However, the men in front of him looked much stronger today, and Mancebo might just have to settle for the top five in Madrid.
  • Isidro Nozal (Liberty Seguros). Like Mancebo, Nozal didn't really have a bad day. He came in as a favorite to win this stage, but he clearly spent a lot of energy this past week working for Heras and just didn't have that extra pop in his legs. He finished the stage in 9th at 4' 24", was passed on the road by Valverde, and fell one spot on GC to 5th at 3' 45". This won't bother Nozal, however, as he is just a crazy strong rider who loves his support role. The kid is tough and hard working, so look for him to stay at the front putting the wood to Roberto Heras' rivals all next week.
  • Erik Zabel (T-Mobile). The "Big E-Z" came in 58th today at 9' 11", not bad for a sprinter actually. More importantly, however, his main competition for the flat stage on Tuesday, Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo), didn't start today's stage. That means the Zabel is clearly the best sprinter left in this race, and an absolute shoo-in for the Fishy Shirt in the points competition come Madrid. His problem: he only has three teammates left, and on Tuesday's stage, none of the other teams will want to help chase down breaks. Why? Because they know if they bring it to a sprint finish, Zabel will likely win. So Zabel will be facing a situation where it will likely be more difficult for him to win than if Petacchi had stayed in the race and used his Fassa men to chase down the breaks. Unless some other team gets a wild hair about their sprinter and helps T-Mobile with the chasing on Tuesday, it looks like Zabel will have to finish this Vuelta with no stage wins.
 
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