No changes to top GC positions
Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) beat bunch sprint favourite Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) to win the 16th stage of the Vuelta a España in Valladolid in a time of 3 hours, 40 minutes and 56 seconds. Petacchi was second, while Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak) third. Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) retained the leader's jersey in a seemingly tranquil stage.
"I knew how the last kilometre went," said Bettini post-stage. "The finale was suited to me, for my characteristics. The peloton was very nervous during the whole stage. I started my sprint with 300 meters to the finish line and I really wanted to win. Today things went well for me." He also commented that this kind of course was a good test for the World Championships in Madrid.
Angel Vicioso (Liberty) spent the day protecting the Vuelta leader Roberto Heras. "Although the route was very good for me, the most important thing today was to protect Heras," said Vicioso post-stage. "That Heras doesn't lose time because of echelons or something." Referring to the World's he said "I feel very good. If the national coach [Spain's Francisco Antequera] doesn't name me, he will make a mistake."
How it unfolded
The Vuelta resumed after the second rest day in Leon with 140 riders. Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis), Julian Dean (Credit Agricole), Matthias Russ (Gerolsteiner) and Jukka Vastaranta (Rabobank) abandoned on Sunday, and Francisco Lara (T-Mobile) didn't start in Leon due to gastroenteritis.
The first serious breakaway was made by Thorwald Veneberg (Rabobank), Sebastien Chavanel (Bouygues Telecom), Arnaud Coyot (Cofidis), Bart Dockx (Davitamon-Lotto), Andre Korff (T-Mobile), Marcus Ljungqvist (Liquigas-Bianchi), Jorge Garcia (Relax Fuenlabrada) and Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo) at km 17. The peloton didn't allow this break to go, and at km 53 the gap was just 20 seconds. The eight riders on the break became 10 with Francisco Perez (Illes Balears) and Leon Van Bon (Davitamon-Lotto) joining a few kilometres later.
The peloton swallowed the breakaways at km 71. The hard Sunday stage should have been tough for most of the riders, and after the rest day, it seemed the cyclists wanted not to struggle too much.
Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval) and Nacor Burgos (Relax Fuenlabrada) broke the monotony and dared to attack with 40 km to go at km 122. At first, their advantage was just a few meters ahead of the peloton. 10 kilometres later, the gap with to the main group was around 1 minute. With less than 15 km to the end, the duo was caught. Soon after that, another Saunier Duval rider tried: Rafael Casero. But his lone effort wasn't enough and his adventure lasted 2 kilometres or so.
The Fassa Bortolo team started working with around 5 kilometres to go to the finish. But an uphill part in the last kilometre complicated Alessandro Petacchi's chances. The sprint was very long and without a certain winner until the last meter. Paolo Bettini coming from the right made a final big surge, and prevailed over Ale Jet. The third place was for Miguel Martin Perdiguero.
Stage 17 - September 14: El Espinar-La Granja de San Ildefonso, 165.6 km
This will be a stage with a number of mountains in its course as the peloton goes through the Sierra de Guadarrama. There are three climbs: Alto de los Angeles de San Rafael (Category 3, 1280m, km 12), Puerto de Navacerrada, that will be passed twice (Cat. 1, 1880m, km 55.2 and km 143.2) and Puerto de la Morcuera (Cat. 2, 1798m, km 93.3). These mountains are not as hard as the ones in northern Spain, but will certainly bring emotion to the race.