Heras increases advantage over the rest
Max Van Heeswijk (Discovery Channel) added another victory to his team's great collection this year, winning the seventh stage of the Vuelta in a bunch sprint in Vinaros. The Dutch beat Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and Alberto Ongarato (Fassa Bortolo) in a time of 5:21:21. Meanwhile, the race leader Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) increased his advantage over his nearest rival Denis Menchov (Rabobank) by 6 seconds. The Spaniard has a gap of 12 seconds over the Russian.
"I love Spanish roads," said Van Heeswijk post-stage. "Because they are wide and you can ride with ease." He said so even though the last kilometres were ridden over narrow roads. The Dutchman commented that he had learned from his former team leader Lance Armstrong that you should never give up, and that it is necessary to always have motivation.
"I don't know how I found myself with nobody in front at 500 meters to go," added Van Heeswijk. "So, I pushed hard and I won." He told the press that he thinks that his win was based on the bad organization of the sprint had, which had enabled him to be in good position in the final metres.
How it unfolded
Yesterday's stage was really demanding for all the riders. Nine of them abandoned the race: Floyd Landis (Phonak), Luca Solari, Simone Cadamuro (Domina Vacanze), Ludovic Auger, Bernhard Eisel (La Française des Jeux), Torsten Schmidt (Gerolsteiner), Giosue Bonomi (Lampre), Jan Boven (Rabobank) and Franck Renier (Bouygues Telecom). Renier had reached Valdelinares, but he had finished outside the race deadline. So, 181 riders took the start at Teruel today.
Early on in the stage (km 7), five riders made a breakaway: Rik Verbrugghe (Quick Step), Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana), Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mauricio Ardila (Davitamon-Lotto). A few kilometres later, Ardila and Botcharov couldn't keep the pace of the other three, and they were caught by the peloton.
At km 20, Iñigo Cuesta and Joaquin Rodríguez (Saunier Duval) began chasing the three breakaways and caught them later on. On the climb of Puerto de Cabigordo (km 24), Cuesta led the break ahead of Verbrugghe, Jimenez and Martinez. The gap was of four minutes at km 34 while two riders, Ignacio Gutierrez (Phonak) and Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole), chased the leaders. The couple were 33 seconds behind at this point.
Gutierrez and Poilvet reached the four leaders (Rodriguez dropped off) at km 43 and the group had a gap of 4'05 to the peloton. The break now contained Poilvet, Cuesta, Verbrugghe, Jimenez, Egoi Martinez and Ignacio Gutierrez, and at km 81 the difference was 2'43. 10 kilometres later, at the Cantavieja intermediate sprint Cuesta won ahead of Martinez and Poilvet. At that point, Sebastian Joly (Credit Agricole) has already abandoned the race.
Liberty Seguros-Würth and Fassa Bortolo knew how to control the breakaways. At km 112, Heras and Petacchi's teams led the peloton and controlled the gap that was around 3'30. They reduced the difference by more than a minute at km 125 to 2'17. The breakaway didn't have much chance as the peloton was eating up its advantage kilometre after kilometre, and at km 145, the difference was 1'55. Sooner or later, the breakaway would fade.
The tempo was slower than yesterday; it seemed that the tremendous stage that finished in Valdelinares was hurting most of the riders. Fassa Bortolo and other teams inside the peloton worked hard and got the most of the downhill roads, catching the six breakaways at km 23.5 km to go. The 182km long break was over and a new race started at this point.
The big group rode together until Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) attacked on a small climb at 9km to go. The Italian went solo for more than four kilometres until the peloton caught him. The road was very narrow and with dangerous corners all the way down, but fortunately, there were no crashes.
From then on, T-Mobile led the peloton with Credit Agricole ready to lead out Thor Hushovd for another stage win. Meanwhile, sprint favourite Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) had a puncture and couldn't regain the front of the race. That was the end of Fassa Bortolo's chances.
The bunch sprint was very fast with Tom Steels (Davitamon) leading out. But from the right came Max Van Heeswijk, with Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) coming past on the left. Van Heeswijk was strongest and rode a long sprint to win the stage, leaving Zabel with another second place.
Stage 8 - September 3: Tarragona-Lloret de Mar, 189 km
The eighth stage will be ridden very close to the Catalonian coast. From Tarragona to Lloret de Mar, the riders will pass very near Barcelona and its surrounds. The stage has three intermediate sprints: La Gornal (km 32.9), El Ordal (km 62.9) and the city of Sabadell on the surroundings of Barcelona (km 101.2). There is just one climb: Category 3 Puerto del Ordal (490 m). It is another stage marked on the sprinters' calendar. Their teams should control the many breakaways that the peloton will certainly produce. Roberto Heras should have another rather easy stage before the big time trial on Sunday.