Experience beat out youth, as 31 year-old Andreas Klier of T-Mobile responded to the late attack of 22 year-old Tom Stamsnijder (Gerolsteiner) and overpowered him on the finish straight. The two had left their breakaway partner Jérémy Roy (Française Des Jeux) in the dust as the attacks started coming in the final phase of the race. There were no changes in the overall leaders.
"That was a very important win for me after a very long time," said Klier, whose last win was Gent-Wevelgem in 2003, "but it doesn't change the fact that this has been a hard year for me. A crash destroyed my chances in the Spring Classics, which are always my biggest goals. But now I have new motivation for 2008." At the end of March Klier collided with a tractor while training, and came away with a broken cheekbone and a severe concussion.
As expected, a breakaway group established itself early and got away, building up a lead of around 10 minutes. But against expectations, the group was able to stay away until the end, foiling the plans of the sprinters' teams for a mass sprint finish. Klier, Stamsnijder and Roy broke away 20 kilometres into the race and were able to maintain the break.
The peloton finished about four minutes behind them, in a stage also notable for heavy rains and hail. Daniele Bennati of Lampre beat out Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) by a whisker to take the sprint of the field.
T-Mobile had come into the Vuelta with minimal expectations, and has now won two stagess. Bert Grabsch won the time trial on Saturday.
"Andreas rode very strongly and intelligently in the finale," said T-Mobile Directeur Sportif Brian Holm on teh team's website, t-mobile-team.com. "He held on to his nerves and attacked at the right moment. But even if he hadn't won, I would have been happy with this super performance."
The weather played a major role in the stage. The forecast was for partly cloudy with only a chance of showers, but much of the stage ended up being ridden in a heavy to torrential rain, with a little hail thrown in. The rain and wet roads caused a number of crashes and mechanical problems.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse D'Epargne), a native of the region, told TVE, "I have never seen so much rain here. There were rivers of water; it was impressive. We were lucky because we didn't have to be sorry for any crash."
"There were unusual circumstances. The shower that fell down; here in Torre Pacheco the wind used to blow a bit more than today. We tried for the overall [classification] for [Vladimir] Efimkin. It's a shame things didn't go as we wanted go."
Ezequiel Mosquera of Karpin Galicia put it, "The problem here is that it rains and the road is full of water and it's very dangerous. It doesn't rain much here, and when it does, the road is truly an ice field. There were moments when it was nearly impossible to stay standing on the bike."
As to the race itself, he told TVE, "After the rivers we crossed, the falls, the hail, the road that was an ice field, when it seemed peace would come, Caisse D'Epargne started attacking. With three [kilometers] left I had a puncture. They told me to stop because with three to go I can not lose time. I took Eduard Vorganov's bike and the seat was too low for me; I couldn't pedal."
How it unfolded
Torre Pacheco is a little town in the province of Murcia. The famous Spanish white windmills that Miguel de Cervantes described in El Quijote can be seen here. This is the first time the Vuelta arrived in Torre Pacheco.
Belgium's Tom Boonen (Quickstep), Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) and Italy's Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) didn't take the start today. Boonen is suffering from an injury sustained in a crash in Zaragoza, while Rebellin will probably compete in the World Championships in Stuttgart and may do some specific training for this competition. Florencio did not sign-in in Hellin, either. Therefore, there were 166 riders who were still racing the tour.
After some fruitless attempts the right breakaway was established by Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), Tom Stamsnijder (Gerolsteiner) and Jeremy Roy (Française des Jeux) at kilometre 20. It was raining hard when the trio was able to stretch the gap up to seven and a half minutes at kilometre 50. They were able to lead by ten minutes over the peloton at kilometre 63.
The breakaway went up the only categorized climb, the category 3 Puerto Espuña, in heavy rains. As they climbed up the hill water came pouring down the street, making it look like a cyclo-cross race. The motorbikes ahead were able to scout out for dangerous holes or objects obscured by the massive amount of water that filled the streets. It was Stamsnijder ahead of Klier and Roy over the top, with Van Goolen getting the remaining points as the top man of the peloton.
The brave riders went on with the escape and had a command of 9'20" at kilometre 109. At that point it started hailing heavily, with conditions getting treacherous. The peloton was taking it easy because they didn't want to get into another mass pile-up, leaving a chance that a break could succeed for the first time in the 2007 Vuelta. With 50 kilometres to go the three riders were around nine minutes ahead of the peloton.
The rain was a key factor during the day. It had slowed the peloton and meant that the usual reduction that happens at this point in the race did not happen. And while it stopped raining with 45 kilometres to the end, it was too late. The peloton was trying to warm up and recover from yet another crash that involved Erik Zabel, among others. With 33 kilometres to go, the trio had eight minutes and 51 seconds.
Just when all were content to ride to the finish calmly, the whole Caisse D'Epargne team attacked in the front of the peloton to split it in three groups with 25 kilometres remaining. Caisse wanted to move the race along and not let the overall leader get away with an arm-chair ride to the finish. But Denis Menchov was attentive and stayed in the front group together with Carlos Sastre (CSC), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Paolo Bettini (Quickstep), among others. This big push quickly reduced to half of what the trio had before the attacking, but the gap was still more than five minutes with 10 kilometres to go.
A flat of Stamsnijder briefly interrupted things at the front, but the Dutchman was quickly back and taking his turns. But taking turns was not was Andreas Klier had in mind with five kilometres to go, as he attacked his breakaway partners. But the other two quickly caught him, with an immediate counterattack by Stamsnijder. Klier set on Roy's wheel and let the Frenchman bring him back to the Gerolsteiner rider. Then he made another move. The initial gap was closed down by Stamsnijder, but Roy was unable to follow that attack.
Stamsnijder then tried to surprise Klier with less than two kilometres to the line, but the German was attentive, and while it took him a while to get onto the Dutchman's wheel, he then had the perfect position to win the two-up sprint.
The main field came in four minutes later and while Petacchi had a good lead-out from Zabel, it was Bennati who got fourth and the precious points.
Stage 14: Puerto Lumbreras - Villacarrillo (Parque Natural Sierra de Cazorla)
Tomorrow's stage is the Vuelta's longest, 207 km, from Puerto Lumbreras to Villacarrillo, in the Sierra de Cazorla National Park. The riders will be going up and down all day, although there are only four ranked climbs, all Cat. 3.