No changes to GC top
Roberto Laiseka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) showed his excellent climbing skills and experience to win the 11th stage of the Vuelta a España in the ski station Aramon Cerler. Carlos Sastre (CSC) was second and Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) third, both 15 seconds behind. Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), race leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank), and Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) finished in the same team, meaning that the top five GC positions stayed exactly the same as yesterday, with the Russian continuing in the golden jersey.
After the early breakaway had been brought back through the efforts of Liberty Seguros, Rabobank and Euskaltel, Laiseka found the best time to attack on the last climb and scored a great victory in the mountains. "I had my moment of crisis, but I recovered myself," said the Basque rider to Spanish TV post-stage. "I gave everything I could. I attacked with 3 kilometres to go. I knew the last kilometre was downhill and I knew I could reach the finish line in first place. It's very important for me and also for my team. It's good for all of us."
Roberto Heras didn't have enough in the tank to gap Menchov on the final climb, and the triple Vuelta winner had to be content with third on the stage, but no bonus seconds. "The team has done a great job today; it was very, very good," said Heras. "We started very fast in the last climb, but Menchov hasn't shown any weakness so far. We tried, but on these roads it was rather difficult to get rid of him. Today, it happened the same as yesterday because these finishes aren't extremely hard, and even though we tried to change the pace, it was very tough to get rid of him.
"I'm still feeling very good, that's true, but as Menchov didn't fail, it seems as if I didn't do anything. Lagos is still left; a crucial day because it's a hard climb and being on a wheel will not count. We will see how Menchov reacts, because fatigue comes to all of us and I'm still having good days. I feel good, and although I wanted to reduce the gap here, I came to the Vuelta to win and I will keep on trying."
Carlos Garcia Quesada told the press post-stage that being among the first on the overall classification stopped him from going for a stage win, because he was very marked. "When you are up front, they don't let you go. I had a bad day in Andorra [yesterday] and in Cerler they watched me, and besides, I didn't go well. I waited for Mancebo at a bad moment and that was good for me to catch the group."
How it unfolded
During yesterday's stage there were 11 riders who abandoned the race: Isidro Nozal (Liberty-Würth), Aitor Osa (Illes Balears), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bouygues Telecom), Angel Casero (Comunidad Valenciana), Eric Leblacher (Credit Agricole), Leif Hoste, Max Van Heeswijk (Discovery Channel), Ruslan Ivanov (Domina Vacanze), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Marcel Strauss (Gerolsteiner) and Jose Antonio Garrido (Quick Step). Although Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole) reached Ordino-Arcalis after crashing during the stage, he didn't take the start today. Therefore, 166 riders began today's stage in Andorra.
The race organization decided to change the parcours because of the danger of a landslide on the Coll de Bretui, the second climb of the day. The stage was thus extended by 6 kilometres, meaning the riders had to travel 192.6 km.
Staf Scheirlinckx (Cofidis) and Bernhard Kohl (T-Mobile) attacked in the first kilometre and were joined by another 11 riders after six kilometres: Thomas Voeckler (Bouygues Telecom), Rene Haselbacher (Gerolsteiner), Rafael Casero (Saunier Duval), Ignacio Gutierrez (Phonak), David Bernabeu (Comunidad Valenciana), Pedro Horrillo (Rabobank), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Xavier Florencio (Relax Fuenlabrada), Frederic Finot (La Française des Jeux), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Giovanni Lombardi (CSC).
But once the break hit the first climb of the day, Port del Canto, after 15 km, it reshaped itself. At km 23, the lead group had "Chente" Garcia Acosta, Bernabeu, Adolfo Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana), Scheirlinckx, Bettini, Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval) and Kohl in it. Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) chased them while the peloton was 34 seconds behind. 12 kilometres later, former race leader Bradley McGee (Française des Jeux) decided to quit the Vuelta, one of eight riders to do so on the road today.
Pereiro was already with the leaders at the summit of the climb at km 40, where Rodriguez took the maximum points and put himself back into the mountains jersey. Victor Peña (Phonak) and Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis) had also joined the break, which was now composed of 10 riders: Peña, Fernandez, Pereiro, Garcia Acosta, Bernabeu, Garcia Quesada, Scheirlinckx, Bettini, Rodriguez and Kohl. Bernabeu was the best placed on GC, sitting in 19th at 12'38 down. Thus, there was no real panic in the peloton.
On the descent of Port del Canto (around km 50) the gap of the break was 2'26. When the breakaways passed the first intermediate sprint in Sort (km 61), the difference increased up to 3 minutes. At km 79, it was almost 4 minutes, the biggest it got. The abandons continued, with Santiago Botero (Phonak), Luis Perez (Cofidis) and points leader Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) all leaving the race.
At km 108 the advantage of the breakaways was around 3'30. Heavy rain started to fall on the descent of the Coll de la Creu de Perves (km 120), which made things a little more interesting. When the break hit the Coll de la Espina (km 143), Bernhard Kohl couldn't keep up and made his way back to the peloton. It seemed as though the last climb would decide the stage destiny, and so it was.
The nine remaining riders persevered, but their gap was being cut. At km 160 (32 km to go) it was just 2'00, as Rabobank and Liberty took control, with Euskaltel's Egoi Martinez also helping out. 10 kilometres later, the gap was 1'30. The breakaway was about to end.
With 15 km to go, the final climb started, and 3 km later, the breakaway was swallowed by the peloton as the road steepened. With 12 km to go, Angel Vicioso (Liberty) made a big surge followed by Michele Scarponi, Marcos Serrano, Roberto Heras (Liberty), Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre, Francisco Mancebo, Tom Danielson and Manuel Beltran (Discovery Channel), among others.
With 8 km to the summit Roberto Laiseka appeared from behind and attacked the leader's group. Carlos Sastre chased him with Heras, Menchov on Heras' wheel as usual, Mancebo and Carlos Garcia Quesada were tailed off, but fought their way back and the group of six came together at 6 km to go.
The stage was poised for an exciting finish: the top five on the general classification together with Laiseka were riding at the front. Mancebo was doing most of the tempo work, more to keep it high enough to prevent the others from attacking. Sastre and Laiseka wanted the stage victory, but only one could get it. The Euskaltel rider attacked again with less than 3 km to go, creating a small gap that he opened up to 15 seconds at the finish.
The other five marked each other and ended up finishing together, with Sastre leading Heras home for second place. Thus, the main positions on GC stayed exactly the same as yesterday, with Menchov on top followed by the main Spanish riders.
September 7: Rest day
The first rest day of the this Vuelta. Time to take some air for the riders after the first half of the race is completed. Denis Menchov will enjoy the day off wearing the golden jersey. Roberto Heras will have to wait to the Asturias mountains in order to try to recover the leader's jersey.