Good day and welcome to live coverage of Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espaņa!
Stage 18: Avila - Avila, 197.5 km
Today the riders face 197.5 km from Avila to, um, well, Avila. They do a big loop through the mountains. They have already covered the Cat 3 and Cat 1 climbs for the day, and are now working up the first of three Cat 2s.
Five men didn't start today: Paolo Bettini, Santos Gonzalez, Guido Trenti, Matteo Tosatto and Anthony Geslin. That brings the number of racers left in this
Vuelta to 133.
There is a breakaway of 11 men. The first four over the climb are Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana), Pablo Lasras (Illes Balears), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), and Moises Duenas (Relax-Fuenlabrada).
The other men in the break are Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), David Blanco and Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana), Nicki Sorensen (CSC), Gorka Gonzalez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), and Jose Vincente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears). Oh, and Danielle Nardello (T-Mobile).
Their lead over the peloton was about 7', but that has started to come down a bit.
1556 CEST - 56 km left. The eleven men in the break are flying down the descent now, twisting through some pretty scrubby landscape and a narrow but well-paved road. The gap is down to 3' 14".
The gap came down quite a bit on that last climb. After what happened yesterday, I wouldn't be surprised to see the men in the top 15 spots on GC start attacking soon. The highest placed rider in the break now is Pereiro, but he's only in 30th.
The riders just completed two back-to-back Cat 2 climbs, and are on the long descent headed into the final climb, the Puerto de Navalmoral.
Gilberto Simoni (Lampre-Caffita) went on the attack early in the stage. He was in the first break today, but they got reeled in. Still, good to see the former Giro winner so aggressive in the race still.
1601 CEST - 52 km go. So now the riders in the break are hitting the inclines that signal the final climb is approaching. Garcia Acosta has attacked and left the rest of the break in his wake.
Liberty Seguros leads the peloton. there five Liberty Seguros men in front of Heras, who wears the leader's Gold Jersey. His team has been extremely strong this year, and very united. It seems that Manolo Saiz has finally learned from the U.S. Postal/Discovery Channel strategy that has beaten him so many times over the years. His team remained united around Heras, was patient, took the lead with aggressive riding in the mountains, and now is using their overwhelming strength to control the race.
Garcia Acosta has quickly gained 36" over the other men in the break. The peloton is still over 3' 30" back. The peloton won't care about these men off the front. Now Joan Horrach (Illes Balears) jumps off the front of the peloton on the early slopes of the climb. Perhaps he is setting up something for Mancebo?
Andrea Peron (CSC) has jumped up to Horrach's wheel. Interesting, this. A Credit Agricole rider has also joined them. It's Alexandre Botcharov.
1610 CEST - So the race situation with 50 km left: Vincente Garcia Acosta is alone off the front. He has about 40" on a fracturing group of ten men. Then about 3' behind, Horrach, Peron, and Botcharov are now counter attacking from the peloton. The peloton is at about 3' 20".
Correction, the peloton is at 4' 34" now. They've lost ground. That puts the Horrach/Peron/Botcharov group at about 4' 10".
Garcia Acosta has really accelerated. There is still a long, long way to go to the finish, but he's looking good right now.
The ten men chasing Garcia Acosta are actually together and working hard right now. Nardello pulls through and takes his turn on the front. They haven't actually hit that final Cat 2 climb yet... they are still on some sharp up and down sections that precede it. Garcia Acosta has pushed his advantage up to 1' 10" over his chasers. Impressive, but can he hold it?
Igor "Yes, Master" Gonzalez de Galdeano and Dariusz "Mad Baron" Baranowski set the pace for Liberty Seguros in the peloton. So far nobody who is even remotely threatening to Heras is off the front... they are keeping an eye out, though. On the final climb, you can bet some big names will attack.
Garcia Acosta's lead is down a few seconds to 1' 07". Wait, there are now some counter attacks from that chasing group. Gorka Gonzalez is trying to bridge up to five men... Aerts, Nardello, and a few others have gone up the road.
There is not a moto-camera with that group... they only have helicopter shots, so it's hard to sort out what's going on in the chase group. The cameras are at the front with Garcia Acosta, and back with the Peron/Horrach chase group and the peloton.
Well, that chase group of ten men has regrouped, and then fractured a bit. They are attacking the heck out of each other now, trying to get up to Garcia Acosta. There are six men together trying to catch Sorensen, it looks like. Now Aerts attacks again.
Gorka Gonzalez and Aerts now have a gap on six chasers.
Now other men are bridging up to Gonzalez, who is only 50" behind Garcia Acosta now. The peloton is 5' 12" back.
In the peloton, Menchov is surrounded by his few remaining teammates and looking a bit uncomfortable, actually. Could he be nursing a bad day, or is it just gas giving him a bad expression?
1631 CEST - 31 km left. Garcia Acosta goes through the final sprint point and heads into the final climb. Only 39" back now is the group with Aerts, Sorensen, Gorka Gonzalez, and Javier Rodriguez. These four men look to have settled down into a serious chase, and aren't attacking each other. Yet.
Heras, meanwhile, still sits behind his boys in the peloton and could give a rat's bum. Oscar "Elf" Sevilla (T-Mobile) and Carlos "Sassy" Sastre (CSC) are nearby, waiting for their chance to attack.
Geez, the race is going through the armpit of Spain. A couple of days ago it was a long slog through miles and miles of what looked like dirt farms. Now it's a mountainous landscape that looks like the coyote will be trying to drop a boulder on the roadrunner somewhere nearby. But not as picturesque as that.
The peloton is now 6' 04" behind Garcia Acosta. They are really just cruising along. The break will succeed, it looks like, but just who will win in that break is far from certain.
Another man has bridged up to the chase group, so now five men are chasing Garcia Acosta at about 30".
So the Horrach/Peron counter attack got swallowed up a while back. Now Horrach launches again.
Well, Pereiro and Nardello now bridge up to the chase group, so there are seven men once again in pursuit of Garcia Acosta.
Horrach is joined by Christian Vandevelde (CSC) and a Liquigas rider.
So the race situation recap: Vicente Garcia Acosta is alone off the front of the race still. He is pursued by a group of seven men who are at about 30". Then six minutes back, three men have just attacked the peloton (Horrach, Vandevelde, and Patrice Calcagni).
Garcia Acosta's lead is back up to 46" over his chasers. The peloton is now only 5' back. Vandevelde is now alone in his counter-attack.
Javier Pascual Rodriguez has now attacked the chase group in pursuit of Garcia Acosta. He's looking good on this climb. Not sure what Vandevelde's doing... he has a lot of time to try to make up. Maybe he's setting up an attack by Sastre?
1646 CEST - 25 km left. Garcia Acosta of Illes Balears has about 25" on Pascual Rodriguez of Comunidad Valenciana. These are the kinds of riders and teams you expect to see on the attack in the mountains of the Vuelta, eh?
A group of six men is chasing Pascual Rodriguez. 5' behind, Vandevelde continues his attack from the peloton.
Wow, Pascual Rodriguez just caught and then passed Garcia Acosta! He got out of the saddle and accelerated so that Garcia Acosta couldn't grab his wheel. So now it is Pascual Rodriguez alone off the front. That's still a long way to go to the finish alone.
Sorensen has now caught up to Garcia Acosta, and they are working together.
In the peloton, the big attacks have come! Sastre, Mancebo, and Menchov all have a dig. Liberty Seguros has countered effectively so far.
1650 CEST - 23 km left. Javier Pascual Rodriguez crests the final climb. 25" back is Sorensen, followed by Garcia Acosta.
In the peloton, Francisco "Neckbrace" Mancebo (Illes Balears) has attacked again. The peloton has blown to hell. And only about fifteen men are still together in the Gold Jersey group. Danielson and Devolder are still in there. So are all the big GC men.
Now Sorensen is closing on Pascual Rodriguez on the descent. He's only 8' back. Garcia Acosta isn't far away either.
Heras is now at the front of the peloton. Mancebo attacks again! He is trying to launch away, and there is a mad scramble for his wheel as the peloton comes over the top 5' 09" back.
1656 CEST - Sorensen now catches Pascual Rodriguez on the descent. These two are together at the front of the race.
1658 CEST - 15 km left. The current situation: Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez are off the front of the race, flying downhill through a dessicated landscape full of sparse scrub and rock lizards. There are a number of men chasing behind them, but Garcia Acosta is still the closest. The peloton is all together about 5' back.
Gonzalez, Nardello, Pereiro, Aerts, and Lastras are in a group behind Garcia Acosta. Not sure how far back they are.
1701 CEST - 12 km to go. Pascual Rodriguez and Sorensen take turns, working together on a flatter section of course to try to stay away from the chasers.
Garcia Acosta looks like he's about to get caught by the five men including Nardello and Pereiro. They are 1' 10" behind Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez! That's a big gap with only 10 km left.
Well, Garcia Acosta is only 30" back, but that other chase group is over 1' back now.
The Danes are starting to get a bit excited... they haven't had a grand tour stage win since Piil's victory in a stage of the Tour de France a while back.
1705 CEST - Garcia Acosta has closed his gap to the two leaders... he's only 25" back with 9 km left.
Looks like Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez are starting to look at each other a bit, though they are still taking their turns pulling through. 7 km left.
The finish looks a bit bumpy on paper. Hard to tell if these two can stay away from their chasers. They'll likely start to attack each other in the last 5 km.
1708 CEST - 6 km left. Well, Garcia Acosta is closing down rapidly now... he's only 17" behind!
So Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez better get it in gear if they want to hold off Garcia Acosta. The rest of the chasers are out of it... they are over 1' 15" back.
The legs do funny things in the third week of a grand tour, especially after 190 kilometers with some big climbs. It's all about what they have left in the tank at this point.
1711 CEST - 4 km left. Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez still have a good gap on Garcia Acosta, and now they are winding through the streets of Avila.
3 km left. Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez only have 8" on Garcia Acosta. This is going to be a close finish.
2 km left. Sorensen looks over his shoulder. The riders roll around the ancient castle-like fortification around the city. Very cool. Garcia Acosta has caught them. This will be a three-up sprint. They are on a bit of an uphill now, but the three leaders are still together.
Garcia Acosta now attacks! Sorensen takes up the chase. Final kilometer.
The three are back together. Who will go next? Sorensen has attacked! He has a gap!
Pascual Rodriguez trying to close the gap. Sorensen is flying! The Danes are losing it. but Pascual Rodriguez has him in his sights. Garcia Acosta is gone.
Now Sorensen looks over, leading out the sprint up the left barriers. Sorensen goes... he's got it! He wins the sprint! Denmark goes crazy! Sorensen holds off Pascual Rodriguez for the victory!
The Danish commentators reach for some fresh undies, as Nicki Sorensen pulls off a great win with a mixture of very powerful riding and good tactics. It looked like Pascual Rodriguez had him, as Sorensen was leading that sprint out. But Pascual Rodriguez clearly spent too much trying to catch up to Sorensen, and the Dane easily held him off for the victory.
Now the peloton is rolling onto the cobbles in the final kilometers. Is this Mancebo attacking again?
An Illes Balears rider has attacked, and it is Mancebo! He is clear of the peloton, trying to pick up some seconds on his rivals! He's going to do it...Mancebo comes at 3' 56", and takes only about 3" on Sastre and the others. Danielson comes in at 4' 17".
Pascual Rodriguez saw he couldn't come around Sorensen, and sat up before the finish.
1. Sorensen (CSC)
2. Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) m.t.
3. Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears) @ 22"
4. Nardello (T-Mobile) @ 1' 06"
5. Pereiro (Phonak) m.t.
6. Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 1' 10"
7. Lastras (Illes Balears) m.t.
8. Gonzalez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) @ 1' 25"
9. Duenas (Relax-Fuenlabrada) @ 2' 32"
10. Mancebo (Illes Balears) @ 3' 55"
11. Ruben Plaza (Comunidad Valenciana) @ 3' 58"
12. Heras (Liberty Seguros) @ 3' 58"
13. Sastre (CSC) @ 3' 58"
14. Menchov (Rabobank) @ 3' 58"
15. Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) @ 3' 58"
16. Sevilla (T-Mobile) @ 3' 58"
17. Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) @ 3' 58"
18. Mauricio Ardilla (Davitamon-Lotto) @ 3' 58"
19. Galcagni (Liquigas) @ 4' 07"
20. Mercado (Quick Step) @ 4' 07"
21. Danielson (Discovery Channel) @ 4' 09".
So Danielson gave up anothe 11" to Ardilla, not good for the American. He'll hold onto 10th in the GC, but Ardilla is closing.
2. Menchov @ 4' 30"
3. Sastre @ 4' 50"
4. Mancebo @ 5' 48"
5. Garcia Quesada @ 6' 22"
6. Sevilla @ 11' 13"
7. Plaza @ 11' 36"
8. Mercado @ 15' 28"
9. Danielson @ 15' 50"
10. Ardilla @ 15' 53"
With Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) not taking the start today, Mercado, Danielson, and Ardilla all moved up a spot in the GC. Now all look like good bets to finish in the top ten. Danielson is a good time trialist, so he could climb over Mercado in the GC this weekend.
Santos Gonzalez was retired from the race by his team today, after his body chemical values (the team does not state which one/s) tested out higher than those allowed by the team.
Bingen "F-Bomb" Fernandez (Cofidis) had a decent day... he finished in a group that came across at 4' 16"... 44th on the stage for Bingen. That put Bingen up into 41st provisionally... he's only 1h 26' 06" behind Heras on GC now. Unfortunately, Bingen says that he isn't great at time trialing, so it is doubtful he will make up that 1h 26' 06" in the final time trial.
Tomorrow is a short 143 km jaunt from San Martin de Valdeiglesias to Alcobendas. There are a couple of climbs in the middle of the stage - a Cat 2 and a Cat 3 - but this could come down to a bunch sprint. The rolling terrain will likely suit a breakaway better, but tomorrow is the kind of day that a man like Zabel could win if he gets half a chance.
In Poland, Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Caffeta) won a bunch sprint ahead of race leader Luca Paolini (Quick Step) in 2nd and Angelo Furlan (Domina Vacanze) in 3rd.
Iker Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was in the big break of the day along with Marco Serpellini (Gerolsteiner), but they were brought back near the end. Still, it's great to see Iker back on the attack after a rather timid Tour de France this year.
Iker was the Lanterne Rouge in the Tour this year, just like his brother Igor was a few years back. So Iker is back to mixing it in the front of the race again... you go, Iker!
Iker Flores catches the "Lanterne Rouge virus" from Locutus
at the 2004 Tour. Egoi Martinez left, and Iker Flores on the right.
Brief Tour de Pologne Results:
1. Daniele Bennati - 5h 22:52
2. Luca Paolini
3. Angelo Furlan
4. Baden Cooke
5. Uros Murn
6. Sebastien Hinault
7. Filippo Pozzato
8. Luciano Pagliarini
9. Eric Baumann
10. Jarosław Zarębskiv
1. Luca Paolini - 20h 16:37
2. Daniele Bennati - 0:04
3. Robert Forster - 0:10
4. Baden Cooke - 0:12
5. Jaan Kirsipuu - 0:14
6. Francesco Chicchi - 0:16
7. Piotr Chmielewski - 0:18
8. Angelo Furlan - 0:20
9. Max van Heeswijk - 0:20
10. Luciano Pagliarini - 0:21
Thanks for joining us for a great stage today, and we hope to see you tomorrow for Stage 19!