Wow, this was the greatest finish to a grand tour I've ever seen. Granted, I've only been able to watch the finish of about five or so, but I can't imagine that it could get much better than this. Heras, who lost the golden jersey in the final time trial of last year's Vuelta, found himself the pursuer this year with a long shot at the golden jersey. Before we get to the race, lets look at Heras' steady climb back after losing time in Stage 13's time trial:
Stage 13: 5'13" back (loses 1'45")
Stage 14: 5'13" back
Stage 15: 4'02" back (gains 1'11")
Stage 16: 3'09" back (gains 53")
Stage 17: 3'09" back
Stage 18: 3'09" back
Stage 19: 1'55" back (gains 1'14")
Whenever a mountain stage presented itself, Heras used it to claw back another minute off of the 5 minute gap, but even most people at the Vuelta (possibly including US Postal itself), thought that with the final time trial remaining it wasn't enough.
Roberto Heras, starting the day at 1'55" back of Nozal, started off great and stuck with the fastest time of the day through the first time checks. Half way, though, it still didn't seem to be enough as he had only put 51" in the harder/steeper part of the course, and the time splits seemed to show that Nozal was keeping the 50 second gap steady during the 6-7km portion of the course:
3km: 30 seconds
5km: 47 seconds
6km: 51 seconds
The moment of truth came in the second half, as Heras caught up to Nozal's teammate, Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, with 2km to go. IGG managed to stick to the back of Heras' wheel for a couple hundred meters, but this only seemed to inspire Heras, who kicked the cranks and put big distance between him and IGG. Heras gave a quick glance back to IGG, and from there on out he danced all the way to the top. Nozal, on the other hand, seemed to have already given everything left in the tank. His transitions between standing and sitting seemed labored and shaky, and his progress seemed to be getting worse and worse.
8km: 60 seconds
10km: 100 seconds
Finish (11.2km): 143 seconds!
So instead of getting the monumental 1'55" back, Heras took some extra seconds for the bank and crushed Nozal by 2'23" and got a stage win on top of that.