Gutsy ride by Spaniard gains time on maillot oro Menchov
Samuel Sánchez of Euskaltel-Euskadi took Vuelta a España stage 15 by the reigns for his second career win in his home tour, in the process, putting important time on his general classification rivals. An attack on the slopes of the Alto de Monachil enabled the 29 year-old to bridge to Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas) on the downhill run into Granada. Beltrán could not match his compatriot's speedy legs in the two-up sprint. Carlos Barredo (Quick.Step - Innergetic) finished third, ahead of Sanchez's team-mate Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) at 24 seconds.
The maillot oro group of Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) finished 41 seconds back, while Sánchez moved up one position to fifth ahead of Spaniard Ezequiel Mosquera (Karpin Galicia), who at one point was reported as an abandonment in the day's stage by race officials.
"I think they are spectacular finishes, going up or going down," 'Samu' commented on the stage's profile. "I attacked very near the summit [in the last climb Monachil]; I didn't ride at full strength because I knew I had to preserve my strength to go down, because you can fade there. Last year we saw it with Alejandro [Valverde] who couldn't follow [Alexander] Vinokourov. I saved my energy. On the downhill, I rode risking so much, and I was able to catch Beltrán, and we pulled together the best we could to arrive alone.
"This descent could be more complicated if it turned in the middle, to reach Pinos Genil. Then there would be more turns and it could be more dangerous, but... If you save your strength on the Alto de Monachil to do a good fast descent, you can get an advantage."
Beltrán set up the finale when he attacked the group of favourites to close on the once 20-strong escape group. Only Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Fondital) remained from the move that formed at kilometre 47. The Italian was not able to crest the 1510-metre Alto de Monachil solo, as Beltrán was closing fast behind.
Antón paved the way for Sánchez to unleash his attack in the final kilometre of the 8.4-kilometre long Alto de Monachil. Once over the top, he blasted at 75 km/h on the way down to Granada to pick up Beltrán and Cunego. The Lampre rider's legs were blown, but the Spanish duo worked successfully in holding off the chase at 30 seconds.
Sánchez, on his way to a stage win and a trip up a few rungs on the overall classification, did the majority of the pace-making leading into Granada. While Beltrán held on and saved himself for the sprint, Sánchez still was able to launch a powerful jump down the right side of the fan-lined road with 200 metres remaining. Beltrán was unable to respond, and was denied his first career Vuelta stage win, while Sánchez bagged his second, one year after his win in Cuenca.
"We saw Cunego couldn't follow me when I passed him, even though the road was downhill all the way. This shows it is a descent for strong riders," Sánchez remarked on the downhill run.
Cunego was the longest surviving member of the day's escape group, and the 25 year-old sent a clear sign to the Italian National Directeur Sportif Franco Ballerini that he is coming on form for the World Championships on September 30. The rider from Verona was tied up in a crash on the opening day of the Vuelta that proved to be a setback.
Carlos Sastre lived up to his promises by attacking on the day's final climb. He threatened Menchov twice, but Russian's did not concede. Briefly, Sastre and Menchov went free of the other classification favourites, and just like in the first stages of the Vuelta they are proving to be the strongest.
"I can not complain," said Menchov of the classification standings. "The situation is pretty good for us. As we talked about in the Vuelta presentation last year, we all knew the Vuelta was not as hard as other years. It was tougher at the beginning than at the end. But what can we do? We knew that from the very beginning. We also knew when we prepared ourselves for the Vuelta where it was tougher and where it was less tough.
"The race is not over yet. So far things haven't go wrong. We were lucky with the break-always; we could control the race pretty easily. There is still one week left when we have to work hard."
It is likely that the next classification shuffle will come in five days, with the 133-kilometre romp to Alto de Abantos. Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne) and Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), second and third overall, will be worried about the aggressive riding of Sastre.
"I think it is the most important stage from the remaining ones," Menchov continued. I will have to answer back to the [others'] attacks."
How it unfolded
157 riders left Villacarillo, with Mickaël Delage (Française Des Jeux) leaving the race before today's start, to head towards Granada, which is known worldwide for its great beauty. While the tourists come to see the Alhambra - a symbolic building built in the Middle Ages by the Arabs that lived in this area for centuries - the racers would have no time for sightseeing on this demanding stage.
The first action came in the form of a breakaway which was formed by 20 riders just 50 kilometres into the stage. On the loose were Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel), David López García (Caisse d'Epargne), Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne), Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas), Iñigo Cuesta (CSC), Andrea Tonti (Quickstep), Chris Sorensen (CSC), Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), Ludovic Turpin (AG2R), Mario Aerts (Predictor-Lotto), Johannes Fröhlinger (Gerolsteiner), Koos Moerenhout (Rabobank), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Angel Gomez (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step - Innergetic), Marco Marzano, Sylvester Szmyd, Damiano Cunego and Daniele Bennati (Lampre-Fondital) and Laszlo Bodrogi (Crédit Agricole). The large escape group worked well, and it reached a 4'15" gap by kilometre 77.
The second climb of the day (Puerto de los Blancares - category 3 - kilometre 139) helped the field eat into the break's advantage, and the leaders held three minutes over the top as the GC favourites sent their teams to the front to set up a dynamic finale. Meanwhile, stage 13 winner Andreas Klier (T-Mobile) and Aurélien Clerc (Bouygues Telecom) abandoned the race.
Euskaltel-Euskadi, together with other teams, made a hard surge to crop distance to the escapees. The break was 1'50" ahead of the gruppo maillot oro at kilometre 170. On the slopes of Monachil, the escapees and a select group of favourites came together. David López García and Damiano Cunego led the race (kilometre 176) while the peloton picked up the remnants of the day's move. The Italian pulled solo while Beltrán launched a chase from behind.
Carlos Sastre, Denis Menchov, Cadel Evans, Vladimir Efimkin and Samuel Sánchez were the favourites that rose to the front of the peloton. The Russian was kept busy marking the attacks by CSC's captain. At the summit of Monachil (kilometre 181.4 - 20 kilometres to go), 'Triki' Beltrán led by 12 seconds over the Lampre rider with Sánchez in third place, while Sastre, Menchov and Evans crossed 42 seconds behind.
Samuel Sánchez is a versatile rider who knows well how to descend fast. The rider from Asturias caught Cunego while Beltrán held his lead with 10 kilometres to go. Sánchez ditched Cunego, and caught Beltrán with seven kilometres remaining.
Sánchez and Beltrán arrived together in Granada's centre. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider was the favourite to win over the 36 year-old. Sánchez launched the two-man sprint, and logically prevailed over the climber. It was a big win for one of Spain's best riders.
Stage 16 - September 18: Jaen- Puertollano, 161.5km
Rest day two is over and the riders face up to six days of racing until the 62nd edition of the Vuelta a España concludes in Madrid. Stage 16 and 17 will present two transitional stages before the GC men will slug it out for the final maillot oro. Stage 16, starting in Jaén and finishing in Puertollano, will be a 'short' but demanding stage of 161.5 kilometres.
The climbs will mix it up and likely allow an escape to survive. On tap for the day are the category 2 climb at Andujar Natural Park (km 76), category 3 ascent of Sierra Madrona (km 102) and the category 2 climb at Rehoyos (km 118).