Category: Vuelta a Espana 2003

September 27, 2003

Vuelta Stage 20: Heras!

Heras photo by AFPWow, 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.

The Race:
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.

- Stage 20 Summary
- Stage 20 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 20 Route Profile

September 26, 2003

Vuelta Stage 19, 18

Heras is on a steady diet of mountains and has been nicking in almost a minute on every mountain stage in the last half of the Vuelta. Today he put in a big attack when Nozal was isolated, which made for the most exciting attack of this Vuelta. With Heras steadily putting time on Nozal, ONCE sent back Serrano to try and gently bridge Nozal back into the pack. When Heras reached the topp of the final climb, he was able to link up with Landis, whom Bruyneel wisely sent up ahead with a much earlier breakaway. Landis did some heavy pulling down the mountain to the finish, and Heras gained 1'14" on the day. Although Heras is now solidly in second place, that still leaves nearly two minutes (1'55") for Heras to have to overcome in the short mountain time trial coming up.

In the last bit of news, ONCE team director Manolo Saiz was ejected from the remainder of the Vuelta for aggressively blocking a camera motorcycle while shouting a stream of expletives on race TV, and for ignoring the race officials instructions to chill. Saiz felt that the motorcycle was too close to Heras when attacked, giving him the advantage of a draft.
- Stage 19 Summary
- Stage 19 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 19 Route Profile

Stage 18 was a circuit race that wasn't particularly exciting. I really didn't watch much of it, and the race went to Díaz Lobato who brokeaway by himself at the end.
- Stage 18 Summary
- Stage 18 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 18 Route Profile

September 24, 2003

Vuelta Stage 13-17

One advantage of not having to go to work today and having a TiVo is I got to catch up on a lot of stages from the Vuelta a Espana (unfortunately my TiVo lost stage 12, but the rest were plenty).

Stage 17:
After a disappointing Tour, Millar finally grabbed the stage victory that he's been seeking. He made a well-timed attack
- Millar grabs stage 17 at Vuelta
- Stage 17 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 17 Route Profile

Stage 16:
Cardenas' cherry picking tactics finally paid off, and he has the King of the Mountain jersey clinched as a reward, and a couple more enemies. This time he let Kelme's Sevilla and Valverde do the work for him and attacked in the final kilometer, surging past Mercado at the very end.

Heras and US Postal attack multiple times, but ONCE was able to close each gap with steady tempo work. Heras didn't escape until the final 5km, which didn't give him much road to put a whole lot of time on Nozal (Heras gained 53" on the race leader). He did, however, close the gap to second place Gonzalez de Galdeano, and is now six seconds away from a second place podium finish. Landis and Beltran did a good deal of work for Heras, as Hincapie went home to get ready for the World Championships.
- Cardenas grabs Vuelta win at Sierra Nevada
- Stage 16 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 16 Route Profile

Stage 15:
Today was supposed to be Heras' big day if he wanted to win the Vuelta. Having won the same stage last year by a minute and a half, hopes were up that he would put big time on Nozal. Instead, despite excellent, persistent attacks, Heras was only able to shake Nozal with 4km to go, and only gained 1'11" overall.

The mountain-top finish went to Valverde in a surprise finish. With teammate Sevilla helping him close in, Valverde was able to grab the race victory with less than half a kilometer to go, surprising both Cardenas and Heras who were leading the final attack up La Pandera. Cardenas is certainly becoming the hated man on the tour, as he continues to try and cherry pick a win. He sat on Heras' wheel and refused to do tempo work, despite Heras telling Cardenas that he wasn't interested in the win. If only Cardenas had put in a little bit of effort Valverde most likely wouldn't caught them in the final bend.

The other interesting news of the day was that Zabel was able to grab the points lead back from Petacchi. This will hopefully remain an interesting see-saw battle between the two sprinters.
- Nozal hangs on as Valverde steals a stage
- Stage 15 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 15 Route Profile

Stage 14:
Petacchi helped himself to another Vuelta victory, now bringing his total up to four. After falling back in the sprint to the finish, Hincapie and Lombardi sprinted ahead to try and grab the stage, but Petacchi surged back and took the exciting sprint. In other news, reigning champ Aitor Gonzalez took the easy route to Madrid and dropped out after 90km.
- Vuelta: Another milestone for Petacchi
- Stage 14 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 14 Route Profile

Stage 13:
David Millar had his thunder stolen by Nozal once again, as the rider in the golden jersey turned in his second time trial victory and most likely has sealed up his overall victory with his strong (and surprising) display. Heras had a good day for himself as well, as the climber lost little time overall.
- Nozal takes command at the Vuelta
- Stage 13 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 13 Route Profile

Stage 12:
Petacchi continues to have a fun Vuelta and great year overall, as he brings his Vuelta total to a hat trick. He also grabbed the points jersey from Zabel, as the two continue to trade the jersey back and forth.

US Postal had a great day, as they were able to set a high tempo and fracture the peloton on the open flats with high crosswinds. Fassa Bartolo was caught off guard, and Frigo and Aitor Gonzalez both got hit hard. Both will be hard pressed to have good overall finishes now.
- Petacchi gets No. 3; Postal takes advantage of the wind
- Stage 12 Minute-by-Minute (velonews)
- Stage 12 Route Profile

September 17, 2003

Vuelta Stage 11

Zabel gets his second in a close sprint as the breakaway group was caught in the final 600 meters. For US Postal, it was a bad day (despite attacks by Hincapie and Landis), as Beltran lost a minute in the GC when he was unable to keep up with the chase group.
- Stage 11 Summary (cyclingnews)
- Stage 11 Route Profile

September 15, 2003

Vuelta Stage 10

Another win for Petacchi? Nope. After a fine Tour showing, Erik Zabel was able to beat Petacchi to the line to demonstrate that the German rider still has skills to win the stages. This was unfortunate for Hincapie, who had bridged to a breakaway pack in hopes of his first stage win in awhile. The breakaway was caught in the final half kilometer and Zabel was able to take advantage of the confusion and long sprint to cross the line in first.
- Stage 10 Summary (cyclingnews)

Vuelta Stage 9

Stage 9 was an exciting one as expected with constant attacks on the final climb up Port d'Envalira, but every attack was reeled in by the lead pack. As the riders approached the finish line there were still 13 riders together, but a final sprint by Valverde off the tail of Frigo gave Valverde the stage win for Kelme.

Heras lead several of the attacks on the climb, but was unable to shake the Nozal. who even managed to increase his golden jersey lead. Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano didn't look nearly as good, and it was him and Manuel Beltran that were constantly bridging themselves back to the lead pack, eventually losing half a minute at the end.
- Stage 9 Summary (cyclingnews)
- Stage 10 Route Profile

September 12, 2003

Vuelta Stage 7

All-in-all it wasn't a bad day for US Postal. It looked like Triki was going to follow a breakaway on the second to last climb, but he dropped back and Heras shot ahead instead. My best guest is that US Postal wanted to keep a rider with the rest of the ONCE pack in reserve. Despite a strong climb, Nozal lead ONCE back on the descent and caught Heras.

Rasmussen and Unai Osa broke away right before the final climb and built up a good lead before Beltran and Nozal gave chase. Nozal - who had been doing the brunt of the work all day - couldn't keep up, and Beltran was able to put some time into him for the GC. Heras improved his outlook slightly as well, but he'll have to do better if he's going to get the golden jersey and hold onto it.

The top five in the GC is basically a US Postal-ONCE lovefest:
1 Isidro Nozal (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski 20.08.37
2 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 0.55
3 Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Spa) O.N.C.E.-Eroski 1.21
4 Dario Frigo (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 3.07
5 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 3.18
- Stage 7 Summary
- Stage 7 Route Profile

September 11, 2003

Vuelta Stage 6

It was an ONCE day today, with three of ONCE's riders finishing in the top four. Nozal surprised everyone by crushing the pack with his first place finish 1'20" in front of David Millar. Everyone expected him to pass the jersey to day to his teammate Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano, but instead he padded his lead out to 2'27".

Heras did well enough to not lose much time before the mountains, finishing 18th, and Beltran of US Postal turned in a great 6th place finish.
- presents the 58th Vuelta a Espa�a, 2003.
- Stage 6 Stage Profile

Vuelta Stage 5

Today's race was interesting to watch because the crosswinds were tearing apart the peloton. In many ways it reminds me of the opening chapters of Steven Berlin Johnson's Emergence, in that many of the riders were making individual, localized decisions that resulted in some pretty interesting macro behavior.

The peloton was very large, and the cross-winds were very strong. The front half of the peloton used only half of the road (so less people could ride in the sheltered pocket) so that the back half would be less protected from the wind. In response the riders in the back half of the peloton started forming a diagonal line to deflect the wind from the side. The other riders, seeing this shield form, started peeling off into the pocket being created by it. However, too many people peeled off that a huge gap was created between the back half and the front half, and the peloton split into two distinct groups. Anyway, hard to imagine without having seen it, but it makes the race fun to watch when the race is really flat.

In the end, it was another victory for Petacchi. Lampre's leadout man Alessandro Cortinovis went down in a corner in the final kilometer, which broke up the final sprint, and Petacchi easily cruised to his second Vuelta victory, and 12th grand tour victory.

- Stage 5 Summary (VeloNews)
- Stage 5 Summary (cyclingnews)
- Stage 5 Route Profile

September 9, 2003

Vuelta Stage 4

Team ONCE traded teammates at the top of the GC as Nozal survived in the breakaway group and is now 50" in front of teammate Joaquin Rodriguez. The breakaway group built up a lead of over 2 minutes on the peloton. With 15km to go Unai Etxebarria launched his breakaway unanswered and took the stage win.

The main peloton struggled to keep together today. The peloton was split in two on the plateau, with Petacchi in the back half. Petacchi struggled to get back into the main group, which pretty much killed his hopes of another stage win. The peloton had closed to gap to a minute on the breakaway group, but with Fassa Bortolo busy bringing Petacchi back, no team seemed interested in maintaining the chase.
- Stage 4 Summary
- Stage 4 Route Profile

Vuelta Stage 3

Well, Petacchi has done it - he won today's rain-soaked stage and can now add the Vuelta stage 2 to his six Giro and four Tour victories. He is only the third rider to accomplish the grand tour hat trick, and his eleven stage wins combined puts him at the top of the list. I guess he can hop in the team car and go home now.

Today's stage was ugly weather wise, with a brief respite from the rain being followed by down pour as the riders pulled into Santander for the finish. I was hoping that US Postal would go for a stage win, but in the end they did a good job of protecting Heras. If you want to see how bad the conditions were, check out this photo

- Stage 3 Summary
- Stage 3 Route Profile

Vuelta Stage 2

Well, it didn't take Cipo long to drop out. After much-to-do about guaranteeing his presence so that his Domina squad could keep their invitation, Cipo dropped out after Stage 1. Domina will be allowed to continue racing, but in the future... I guess Petacchi will get to go for the sprinter's glory - he's all record himself in the books by winning a stage in all three of the grand tours... if he can win one (or more) at the Vuelta before he catches mountain sickness and drops out.

As for today's stage, Perez and Sastre broke away on the final big climb. A chase group of four got close but was caught by the peloton. Perez and Sastre held on in the final kilometers with Perez easily outsprinting Sastre for the finish. Heras kept himself close enough and finished with a large pack 15" behind Perez/Sastre, which leaves Heras only 10" behind in the GC. Joaquin Rodriguez of ONCE gets to don the golden jersey, though probably not for long.
- Stage 2 Summary
- Stage Profile

September 6, 2003

Vuelta a Espana Starts

People at work often ask me questions similar to "Why doesn't Lance Armstrong win more races other than the Tour de France?" or "What's in it for the other US Postal riders?" Well, the Vuelta a Espana started today, and leading the US Postal team will be... Roberto Heras. Heras, who has helped Armstrong climb many a mountain in Tour de France stages, will be trying for his second Vuelta win. He wasn't looking so hot in this year's tour, but we'll see how he holds up now that the weather in Europe isn't so freaking hot.

Hincapie and Landis are also on the roster, so it will be interesting to see what the lineup will be at this year's "T-Mobile International" in San Francisco Sept 14 (Hincapie won the race two years ago). Armstrong will be there and possibly Ekimov.

But anyway, this post was supposed to be about today's Vuelta opener. ONCE edged out US Postal by 10 seconds and Galdeano will get to wear the golden jersey for his team. Last year's winner Aitor Gonzalez suffered a flat on the final stretch and lost a minute and a half to the Galdeano.

ONCE edges Postal in Vuelta opener