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Vuelta a Espańa Stage 18 Roundup
By Podofdonny
Date: 9/23/2004
Vuelta a Espańa Stage 18 Roundup

Béjar - Ávila: 196,6 kms. Read the live coverage here.

Number four for the CV-Kelme – Javier Pascual Rodriguez storms the castle walls. (c) Unipublic.

High Drama Leaves the Leaders Shaken, not Stirred

As Tyler Hamilton also wants to prove, sometimes just looking at the results is not enough. A brief glance at the results of today’s stage would give the impression that the breakaway had been allowed a free hand while the leaders passively followed one other in the best Tour de France tradition.

However, La Vuelta is a race that is far from over, and the leading men are prepared to do battle until the very last day. Today we saw race leader Roberto Heras receive a tremendous ovation from his home town fans in Bejar, but a resident of Avila, Francisco Mancebo, had plans to take a podium place in his home town by the end of the day.

The Illes Balears-Banesto, led by Eusebio Unzúe and José Miguel Echávarri, had clearly planned their tactics in advance, in their effort to oust Alejandro Valverde from the third position in the Overall Standings. Francisco Mancebo and the “Banestos” had reunited in Salamanca on Wednesday night to plan the multiple attacks they would launch on Valverde. In phase one they got two riders into the early break of ten men; Chente García Acosta and Joan Horrach were sent down the road to provide stepping stones for Mancebo as the race progressed. With help from team mate Osa, Mancebo attacked on the climb of the Serranillos.

Mancebo in rampant mood on the “ramps” of Serranillos. (c) Unipublic.

His attack was brought back on the descent but the IB-Banesto boys were in fighting mood. On the slopes of Navalmoral, Mancebo put in a huge effort but suddenly the hunter became the hunted. Santi Pérez countered his attack and only Valverde and Heras could respond, leaving Mancebo the man in danger of losing out in the stage. Fortunately for him, earlier plans bore fruit, but not in the way that had been expected. Horrach and Chente García Acosta, who had been in the breakaway all day, came to their Captain's aid, though not as had been planned - to escort him to triumph into Avila - but rather to work hard on the descent into the town to bring him back up to the leaders.

Meanwhile two riders had survived from the original break the rider from León, Javier Pascual Rodríguez and the Colombian Iván Parra. The two men had fought hard on the final climb of Navalmoral , but had then decided that they should work together to hold off the peloton. Into the walled city of Avila the advantage was always going to be with Javier Pascual Rodríguez on the tough cobbled climb. The two men, both tired from their stage long effort, stayed together until a 50 metre sprint from the finish but little Iván Parra another Colombian from the Cafés Baque team was unable to give the race another surprise.

So another marvellous day of excitement and passion and once again the small teams of CV Kelme and Cafés Baque adding the icing to a cake richly baked by Heras, Perez , Valverde and Mancebo. How scandalous that these smaller teams, that contribute so much to the spectacle of cycle racing, are being swept aside by the UCI and its monstrous “Pro Tour”.

Roberto Heras gets a huge send off from his home fans in Béjar. (c) Unipublic.

Heras Cool under Pressure

Salamanca rider Roberto Heras arrived in Ávila at the end of the 18th stage with the same lead in the General Classification that he had enjoyed at the start in Béjar.

Heras currently has 1.13 over Santi Perez, 2.15 over Alejandro Valverde and 2.16 over Paco Mancebo. These are the four riders that have consistently shown themselves to be the strongest throughout the race so far, with today being no exception: Isidro Nozal, Carlos Sastre and the rest of the riders that make up the top ten all lost time to the favourites during the climb of Navalmoral, although they were able to re-enter the leading group on the descent.

Despite the attacks today, Race leader Roberto Heras and his team looked very confident today: “I wasn't worried about Mancebo and Perez's attacks, we had them under control. I'm defending the lead day by day, not looking any further ahead," Heras said.

Stage winner Javier Pascual Rodríguez leads the break. (c) Unipublic.

Win Number 4 for CV-Kelme

Tactics sometimes work in the opposite way to how they were planned. Rodriguez has been sent up the road early on to help Valverde if he managed to break away, but as attack and counter attack raged behind him he found himself in a stage winning position.

“Over the last two kilometres I knew that I would be faster than Parra, so I wasn't too worried about him. I was surprised that he didn't try to attack on the climb into Avila, but he was clearly tired. The plan was to me to go up the road in case Valverde was feeling strong and I could wait for him, but it's important to try to win the stage as well and after we didn't do so well as a squad yesterday, today was an opportunity we couldn't miss." the Kelme rider said.

IB Banesto attacked all day. Here we see Mikel Pradera (89)
and Cedric Vasseur (58) try to make contact with the ten-man break. (c) Unipublic.

Mancebo: “I will fight to the end”

As Francisco Mancebo, the rider of Iles Balears-Banesto got to the finish line, he said that he attacked with the intention of cutting the time differences but it had not worked out. "It is my home town and I had to try. There are three very intensive days left and we will continue to fight until the end. The stage ending in Villalba is another tough mountain one with climbs and descents all day, and we will try to attack.”

The Liberty Blue train lead the peloton over the Peńa Negra. (c) Unipublic.

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