Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 19, September 15th,
Ciudad Real, 195.3 km
With every stage of this Vuelta we have taken a brief look at the incredible variety of terrain, history and culture of Spain. Visiting this wonderful country in person is a truly captivating and memorable experience. While steeped in history it is also a tremendously vibrant country pulsating with the excitement of the 21st Century. Yet there are enduring images that the rest of the world immediately associates with Spain. Flamenco, the Spanish guitar, bull fighting and ancient architecture such as the Alhambra that the race visited a couple of days ago.
Santa Catalina Castle in Jaen
Interestingly one of the most famous of all things typically Spanish is a fictional character, Don Quixote. Last year the world celebrated the 400th anniversary of the first publication of Miguel de Cervantes's novel Don Quixote, The Man From La Mancha, which is regarded as the very first and still the most popular novel ever written. Today the race passes through the province of Jaén which is very much Quixote country.
It has been 32 years since the Vuelta visited Ciudad Real which is unusual considering that this is the third largest town in Spain. Originally known as La Mancha, the town was renamed in 1833. This year the Vuelta finish is part of a year long celebration with Ciudad Real recognizing its 750th anniversary.
At 195.3 kms this is a long stage and Vinokourov and Valverde in particular would prefer a quiet day before tomorrow's all important TT which will give Valverde his last chance at taking the Vuelta crown. Every time the race traverses this area we are treated to one of the great spectacles of cycle racing as the bunch is torn apart by the wind and a series of bordures (echelons in the peloton) which form right across the width of the road. Adding to the difficulties today is the fact that this is not a flat stage. There is one Category 2 climb and two Category 3 climbs with plenty of rolling country throughout the entire stage.
An hour into the race an eight man break managed to ride clear after several earlier attempts. Lars Bak (Team CSC) was the best placed rider on GC over 40 minutes down. The situation suited the bunch and after 112km of racing they were almost 10 minutes ahead of the docile peloton. By this time the break had negotiated both the Category 2 Alto del Parque Natural de Andujar and the Category 3 Alto de Sierra Madrona. Back in the bunch Egoi Martinez (Discovery) smiled happily to himself because his rival Caucchioli was not in the break and therefore the Mountains Jersey was becoming his for keeps. In fact the final categorized climb of this year's Vuelta was just up the road and now all Martinez need do is finish in Madrid to claim his prize.
8 rider breakaway on the Alto del Parque Natural de Andujar ( Image © Unipublic )
Over the third and final climb of the day, the Category 3 Alto del Tamaral , the race had covered 117kms and the bunch had reduced their deficit slightly to 9:15 minutes. On the descent the break pulled away again as a relatively flat and windy road stretched out ahead of them.
A totally relaxed bunch was now cruising along as the break took things somewhat more seriously and was intent on fighting for the day's spoils alone. 61kms to go and the gap was 11:00 minutes, and growing. At the second and final intermediate sprint in Puertollano, with 45kms to go, the bunch was now lagging 11:16 minutes back. The entire race was about 30 minutes behind the slowest estimated race schedule but who could criticize the peloton after almost three weeks of incredibly aggressive racing.
A totally relaxed bunch cruising along ( Image © Unipublic )
Suddenly at 22kms to go CSC hit the front of the bunch using the crosswinds to split the bunch up. This is a tactic that we have seen CSC use in this part of Spain before. Surely at this point in the stage they are not expecting to distance Sastre from Vinokourov, Valverde and Kasheschkin! Whatever their motivation their activity awoke the slumbering bunch and all sorts of little attacks started to spit off the front of the peloton.
But all of this activity was of little interest to the break which still had an 11:00 minute advantage. Instead all eight of them were now individually calculating how they could win the stage as a distinct air of nervousness was beginning to permeate the little group.
Inside 13kms and the break was still one cohesive unit. After its sudden flourish of action the bunch had once more settled down under the control of the leaders teams who wanted to avoid crash inducing situations.
With nerves starting to tension and 11kms to go, José Vincent Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) was the first rider in the break to make an attempted lone dash for home. The others were quickly on him and then one by one other attempts ignited the pace which now was in excess of 65kmph.
At 8kms to go Lars Bak made a powerful effort and created a gap. A glance back and he sees that the others are not cooperating in the chase. 4kms left and Bak has his head down giving it everything. 2kms to go and Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R Prevoyance) and David Loosli (Lampre-Fondital) reconnect with Bak. On the line Arrieta takes it from Fofonov, Loosli, and Bak.
Stage winner Jose Luis Arrieta ( Image © Unipublic )
The bunch rolled in 11:15 minutes later. The Vuelta will be decided tomorrow and Valverde has his work cut out to salvage 53 seconds from Vinokourov over the 28km individual time trial.
In contrast to todays relaxed pace, the riders experienced an evening trip on Spain 's High Speed train to the outskirts of Madrid for the final acts of the Vuelta. For the employees of the race entourage as well as the huge phalanx of media hounds following the race, the blazingly slow speed of today's race forced everyone to work overtime!
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