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Vuelta a España Stage 21 and Final Wrapup
By Podofdonny
Date: 9/26/2004
Vuelta a España Stage 21 and Final Wrapup

Madrid-Madrid (C.R.I.) 28,2 kms.

Read the live report and stage results here.
Final results and classifications here.

Roberto Heras, Santi Perez and Mancebo – the podium men (c) Unipublic.

Heras “King of Spain”

After three weeks of intense battles on the roads of Spain, Madrid watched Roberto Heras secure his third victory in the event. Indeed this festval of cycling turned out to be a triumph for Spain with the new heroes of the hour, Santi Pérez, Mancebo and Valverde all giving stirling performances that have thrilled and delighted fans world wide.

Once again Unipublic had organised a race that held the interest of the spectators until the very last kilometres, and the huge crowds who filled the Casa de Campo and streets of Madrid bore witness to this fact. The rider from Salamanca, Roberto Heras, had ridden throughout the race with a maturity and skill that his rivals could not quite match and he was the worthy winner. Indeed, he will enter the record books alongside the great Tony Rominger, as the only other rider to win the Vuelta three times. That said, without Manolo Sáiz´s team of Liberty Seguros, who, after a bad initial start, gave him superb support through out, the race may have been even closer.

Heras on his way to Gold (c) Unipublic.

Roberto Heras is all too aware of the agony of losing THE Vuelta on the last day. Aitor Gonzalez terminated his hopes for Gold in 2002. Last year Heras himself destroyed the dreams of Isidro Nozal when the end was in sight. That experience showed today, and in spite of yet another breathtaking ride by Santi Perez, Heras was never in danger of losing the victory. He never lost more than ten seconds and in the end he was able to enjoy the applause as he rode home in triumph.

Santi Pérez of Phonak has become the new star of Spanish cycling and his supporters with their flags from Asturias filled the streets of Madrid. The Gran Vía recently saw a girl from Asturias become a Princess; this time the flag were being waved for Santi Pérez. He is a well deserved runner-up as he won three stages, including two time-trials.

The fight for the third place on the podium in Madrid was cleared up quickly. Francisco Mancebo of Illes Balears-Banesto started with a lot more strength than Alejandro Valverde, who at no point was close to coming third. Mancebo has ended the most successful season of his career here in Madrid. The route that will be used for the Cycling World Championship of Madrid 2005 has proved to be perfect. The 119 riders who reached Madrid after a spectacular Vuelta will all be rembered as heroes in what has been a demanding, exciting race that has cast a shadow of success over its rivals. The cycling world should rightly salute Roberto Heras as King of Spain.

To the victor, the spoils – Heras on the podium. (c) Unipublic.

“For my team and family”

Roberto Heras was naturally delighted - “I am feeling great and I am very pleased. I dedicate this victory to those people who have helped me win it – my team mates and my family. To win the Vuelta for the third time is a dream come true. The first time I won, it was a surprise I couldn’t really take it in; the second was a beautiful moment like this one.

“But I must say that my team worked very hard for me and it was their efforts which allowed me to win. After my 2002 defeat I was a little apprehensive at the start. But this time I even managed to enjoy the ride during the final 8km when I realised that I had won. Although in the last week the two last kilometers of Navacerrada were hard after the attack of Santi. I had a few difficult moments but that is when experience helps you. Cycling is as much about the head as legs."

Perez wins the final stage. (c) Unipublic.

Looking for a Team

Santi Perez and his manager Tony Rominger will be delighted with his race in the Vuelta. Just at the time when they are looking for a new team, his market value has soared. Teams rumoured to be after the signature of Perez include Liberty Seguros and Discovery. However, today Santi Perez was a gallant runner up – “ It’s been a very hard race. To me, Roberto Heras is the best climber, a great cyclist with a lot of experience. I congratulate him. To find myself in this situation is a dream come true – I hope to build on my success in this race. I tried my best to win the race overall today but it was always going to be too difficult, however I had the satisfaction of winning the stage. I am very pleased with my race, and my performance has opened all sorts of doors. Although the Vuelta is very dear to me, I feel I am more suited to the Tour de France. Now I will look for a team that shares my ambitions…"

Mancebo battled all the way to Madrid and third spot. (c) Unipublic.

Mancebo third in Madrid

The Spanish Champion had fought an enthralling battle for his step on the podium: “This is a beautiful day for everyone. I was confident that at last I would make it to the podium. I hope to be on it again over the next few years," he joked.

Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme led by Vicente Belda and Ignacio Labarca,
winners of the best team of the Vuelta 2004. (c) Unipublic.

Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme best team

Valverde, who put up a great fight for a podium place, can take consolation in that his team were the best overall. They finished ahead of Liberty Seguros and Illes Balears Banesto.

Erik Zabel – Points winner. (c) Unipublic.

Zabel - King of the fishy points jersey

Erik Zabel was for many observers man of the race. He kept going when his team fell sick and is a model professional who rides all season. The T-Mobile website reports: “T-Mobile sprint ace Erik Zabel secured his third blue points jersey in a row at the Vuelta a Espana. Zabel finished the stage in 64th place, but with his main rival for the jersey, Valverde, failing to finish in the top ten, 'Ete' prevailed. "It's been a good tour of Spain for me. I feel in good shape now for the Worlds," said Zabel. "I reckon there is little I could do in the next week to mess up my good form for the World's in Verona."

Zabel's team management was also very pleased after the race. "It was the right payback for all Erik's hard work. In the end he had only two riders there to help him," said T-Mobile directeur sportif Frans van Looy about the evergreen Zabel. "Erik Zabel and Stephan Schreck fought every inch of the way. I think that the two of them will have a lot to offer at the World's. Erik winning the blue jersey is testimony to his never-say-die fighting spirit."

Cardenas - KoM (c) Unipublic.

The Mountain Cat strikes again

Colombian Félix Cárdenas (Cafes Baque) took the climber's jersey for the second year running. His sponsors have announced another year's sponsorship of the Cafes Baque team.

The winner of the Vuelta Junior is Alvaro José Cruz Galán followed in second place
by Carlos Morales López and in third place, Rubén Pelegri Ferrandis. (c) Unipublic.

And another thing...

Roberto Heras has received 21 books, one for each stage of the Vuelta, from the Spanish Publishers Association, which has presented books to the winners of each stage throughout this year´s race.

Heras will return to his home town of Béjar with a small library composed of titles by Federico García Lorca, Luis Landero, María Zambrano, the Marquis de Santillana and San Juan de la Cruz.

"AG1R" rider Inigo Charreau made the finish today – the sole rider left from AG2R has done very well to finish – Chappeau Charreau, Bravo Inigo!

Last of the 119 giants of the road was Matt White - on today's stage Aitor Silloniz caught up with red lantern Matthew White, so they crossed the finish line together laughing and shaking hands. Cycling niceness!

(C) Unipublic.

The FROM Junior Vuelta riders - future fishies... (c) Unipublic.

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