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Vuelta a España Stage 15 Roundup
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 9/19/2004
Vuelta a España Stage 15 Roundup

Stage 15 - Granada-Sierra Nevada (C.R.I.) 29 kms - see the live coverage and results here.

The first intermediate checkpoint, at 13.5 km. (c) Unipublic.

Santi's race of truth - "This victory is also for Vanesa, because all my victories will always be for her"

In the big sky country of the Sierra Nevada, the Vuelta riders rode the broad and steep highway up to the finish line of today's time trial, at an altitude of 2100 meters, which is 6900 feet or 1.3 miles high.  Blue skies, bright sun and billowy clouds graced the day, though it is doubtful that any of the riders noticed.

Against this backdrop, Santiago Pérez of Phonak gave the ride of his life today, after having done the very same thing yesterday. He flew up the route and never lost his pace. Up to the point that Perez took the course, T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov had ruled the intermediate check points with a very fine best time.

At the first intermediate check point, the roads were a sea of fans who parted for the riders, many of them honored to have given their favorite rider a push. In this steepest part of the time trial, powerhouses like Nozal were almost at a standstill, despite their most serious pedalling efforts.

From the Phonak director's car it was "Santi you win," over and over from director Alvaro Pino, who knew that his team's rider for the past two years was made for big challenges.

Santiago Pérez. (c) Unipublic.

"Pérez has given a true recital and he has forced us to punish again in the general classification. I told him that we had to think of the podium and that we should not give up anything," a happy Pino said. Pérez agrees: "I was going for stages, but after this I include myself among the favorites."

"I said it at the beginning, my objective here was to help Sevilla and Hamilton, but starting from now we will see the options that we have to be able to fight for the podium, and we will act accordingly," the Asturian rider said. Pérez believes that things would be different had the team done better in the first week: "It was an authentic pain to lose four minutes in the first days because who knows for what we would be fighting now."

"If I continue along this line I will fight in the stages of the Covatilla and Navacerrada, but now they will watch over me. I am at a good level and I believe that I will be able to do well in the time trial of Madrid, although I am a climber."

"It is not comparable, what I have suffered with what I am living with, but it is for me and for my family a great happiness, the same for the family of my girfriend who died in an accident. I have many thanks to all those that have supported me in the difficult moments."

Perez's girlfriend Vanesa, who was 25 years old, died two years ago, while returning to her home after the wedding of the director of the Saunier Duval team, Josean Machin.

More on the day

The Spanish Minister of Culture, Maria Jesus Sansegundo, had a bird's eye view of today's race of truth, standing with other other guests in an official's car up the mountainside. She was interviewed on the fly, as it were, by one of TVE's correspondents while on her ride. She had earlier toured around the start area and seemed to enjoy herself.

In the meantime, Alejandro Valverde demonstrated that he can shine on all types of land. He gave it his best in the first half of the route and then lacked pace at the end, though it was not for lack of his novia in the team car shouting him words of encouragement. The rider from Murcia did not achieve the golden jersey which was within his reach by five seconds.

Alejandro Valverde.  (c) Unipublic.

Riders like Mancebo and Nozal, who were among the best riders on the mountain today, looked back at their times after crossing the finish line, and gave little shakes of their heads - no, not good enough. It is amazing to see such determination.

Speaking of determination, luck was not with Roberto Heras today. A puncture in the first few kilometres of the route forced him to get off the bike, change it and start again. That change, which seems insignificant, clearly influenced his times as he had to adapt to the race again. He lost too many seconds in the first half of the route and it cost him a lot to recover. In spite of this, he finished third behind Perez and Valverde, and he defends the golden jersey another day.

El hombre de oro, Roberto Heras.  (c) Unipublic.

"Alexander Vinokourov gets stronger by the day. Finishing such a tough mountain time trial in fourth proves that you can count on him at the World Championships, too," said T-Mobile directeur sportif Frans van Looy. "His rank is also a good omen for the team, which wants to attack once more in the last week of the Vuelta."

Fassa Bortolo's Alessandro Petacchi did not take the start today, after winning four stages in this edition of the Vuelta. Citing tendonitis, the rider chose not to take his last option on Tuesday's stage, from Olivenza to Cáceres. With Petacchi and O'Grady both gone (the Australian retired yesterday), Tuesday may see other riders in a sprint finish, though the decision is understandable - with the exception of Tuesday and the final time trial next Sunday, the final week of the Vuelta is nothing but climbing. You can have a look at the remaining stages in our Vuelta Quick Reference.

So the Vuelta is open going into the last week. Monday is the final rest day for the riders, who resume the race on Tuesday.

Alexandre Vinokourov. Not done yet...  (c) Unipublic.

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