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Vuelta a España Stage 17 Roundup
By Podofdonny
Date: 9/22/2004
Vuelta a España Stage 17 Roundup

Stage 17 - Plasencia-Estación de Esquí de La Covatilla (Béjar): 178 kms. Read the live coverage here.

A Magnificent victory for Felix “mountain cat” Cardenas. (c) Unipublic.

Cárdenas, Santi Pérez and Roberto Heras shine on the Covatilla

La Covatilla is a modern addition to La Vuelta, but already it is becoming a legendary climb, providing stages full of tension, passion and emotion. Local lad and the man in Gold today Roberto Heras was first to win here followed by another local resident, Santi Blanco, who won in 2002. However today we saw a Colombian climber soar like an eagle to take a much deserved victory. Félix Cárdenas had been at the head of the race since the third kilometre and his effort in holding off the Liberty Seguros-led peloton and making it to the ski station on his own was a credit to his team, Cafés Baque, his country and himself. Once again cycling fans across the world have been treated to a stunning display from a Colombian rider.

Liberty Seguros worked all day for Roberto Heras. (c) Unipublic.

Sadly for every winner in cycling, there must be more losers. The Covatilla is perfectly suited for Santi Perez and Roberto Heras, the two men realised that they must take advantage of this fact and gave the stage their utmost effort. As this was not Alejandro Valverde's type of stage, his rivals knew how to weaken him and make him lose several seconds which has brought him down in the Overall Standings. The 169.8 kilometres separating Plasencia and Covatilla were very demanding. The rider's weakenesses came out today. It was on the mountain pass of El Piornal that Valverde changed his strategy and got into the group of favourites where he rode surrounded by his teammates. As a consequence, Manolo Sáiz, who is experienced in similar situations, put his team, Liberty Seguros at the head of the peloton and told them to take control.

A blue train in Spain – Liberty Seguros. (c) Unipublic.

The blue riders of Roberto Heras accelerated the pace and although they never caught Félix Cárdenas, they got rid of all those who were already running low on energy. Sáiz ought to have thought that Valverde's move to the tail of the peloton was not tactical but authentic. When the race got into the most dramatic kilometres and riders were falling behind continuously, Valverde lost the fast pace imposed by Roberto Heras and Santi Pérez. The battle between the best climbers of the Vuelta was perfect and although the disciple of Alvaro Pino of Phonak demonstrated that he was the best out of all his rivals, he was only able to get to the second place on the podium and on the Overall Standings. Heras was supported all the way which helped him reach the end. Today was one of the most important mountain stages of the Vuelta 2004 although there are still more battles to be fought. Following today´s stage, the race for the final podium is still wide open: Santi Perez is now 1.13 behind Heras, while Valverde is 3rd, 1 second ahead of Mancebo and 2.15 behind Heras. Isidro Nozal, 5th, now lies 5.55 behind.

Golden boy – Roberto Heras. (c) Unipublic.

Roberto Heras: "I did not expect Valverde to lose so much time"

Roberto Heras maintained the golden jersey in today's stage at La Covatilla. These were his words at the finish line: "I did not expect Valverde to lose so much time on the climb. The team worked very well in exhausting the other teams and pushing forward. I did not see Alejandro having difficulties at the mountain pass of Honduras but i did appreciate the problems he was having in Covatilla. I was not able to follow Santi Pérez who is very strong, and I even had to stop for a moment. Now I have a different rival, Santi Pérez. I insist that there are still very tough stages to come and I will have to take them one at a time."

Felix "mountain cat" Cardenas in the break. (c) Unipublic.

Cardenas in right break after bad break

The delighted Colombian was lucky to be in the race at all. The 31-year-old climber from Bogota fractured his left arm in a race in Colombia last month, but after visiting specialists was able to enter the race at the last minute: "It was a great win because I was injured a fortnight before the Vuelta and I didn't know what my form would be like. To tell the truth, I wasn't prepared for the Vuelta. But with a little bit of sacrifice and enthusiasm, things turn out great. Re-taking the lead (in the King of the Mountains) was an objective, but I wanted to win a stage more," said Cardenas, who also hopes the win would help his Cafes Baque team attract a sponsor and stave off the threat of folding next year.

Santi Perez – a grand day out in the mountains. (c) Unipublic.

Vicente Belda thinks he may have lost the Vuelta

The director of Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, Vicente Belda told the Ser press agency at the end of the stage: " I think we may have lost and we will have to congratulate Heras and Santi Pérez. The heat did away with Alejandro Valverde. We will have to rethink our strategy and go for stage wins. I don´t think we will be able to win the Vuelta."

Valverde and Heras before their epic battle.  (c) Unipublic.

Alejandro Valverde: "I may have lost the Vuelta a España"

The rider of Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme, Alejandro Valverde, has lost his second position in the Overall Standings at the climb of the Covatilla. These were his words when he arrived: "I have had a bad day. I was not well and that´s it. It is possible that I have lost the Vuelta a España".


AG2R Prevoyance find themselves with just one rider left. Spaniard Inigo Chaurreau finds himself leader, road captain and domestique for the team as his last teammate, Eriki Putsep, withdrew from the race today. The team of Gilles Mas has had bad luck during this Vuelta but at least Inigo will not have to worry about getting a good seat on the team bus.

David Zabriskie, winner of stage 11 also retired today. (c) Unipublic.

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