Contador keeps grip on gold top
Belgian Tom Boonen, 27, of Team Quick Step, won ahead of Italian Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) and German Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner) in the Vuelta a España's stage 16 to Zamora, a stage marked by low speeds as the riders took a rolling rest day. Spaniard Alberto Contador, 25, easily kept the leader's maillot oro. He leads the race by 1:17 over Team Astana teammate Levi Leipheimer with five days remaining.
"To start with victory on the second day and now, one day before I go home shows that the condition has not decreased, but increased," Boonen said after his win. "I was feeling really, really strong, even in the mountains. It's the third week and everybody is tired and just waiting for Madrid. If you still can win that shows you have a clear head and strong legs."
Quick end to a slow day
The slow speed that marked majority of the warm 186.4-kilometre southerly run in northwest Spain finally climbed when the riders entered the final 20 kilometres of the day, one hour behind schedule. The group caught the escape of the day, Spaniards Jesús Rosendo of Team Andalucía-Cajasur and Walter Pedraza of Team Tinkoff Credit Systems, with seven kilometres remaining.
Boonen's Quick Step team controlled the finale, with World Champion Paolo Bettini leading the train for 2,000 metres. The Italian, training for his third World title, pulled off with 1,800 metres remaining. The other lead-out men kept the pace rolling as their captain kept an eye on his rivals.
Italian Filippo Pozzato sat on Boonen's rear wheel and looked to be the biggest threat. He made his intentions clear when he sent one of his men to mark a late surge by Spain's Juan Antonio Flecha of Team Rabobank in the final four kilometres. He surly wanted to wash the bitterness left in his mouth after yesterday's announcement that Franco Ballerini did not select him to represent Italy in the Worlds.
"Pippo" Pozzato started his move as Boonen's last man, Wouter Weylandt, moved of the front. The 2005 World Champion maintained his sprint on the right side barriers and successfully held off Pozzato on his left.
"I don't understand the decision [to not select him]," Boonen said of his nearest rival not going to the World Championships. "In Italy, the team is selected around one leader. In Belgium we just select the strongest guys."
Haussler, a stage winner in 2005, aimed for his second win of the season. He ended with third over France's Mickaël Delage and Lithuania's Tomas Vaitkus.
Spaniards lead slow train to Zamora
The 16th stage of the Vuelta a España started off with a bang in the form of the category one Alto del Acebo. Almost immediately after starting in Ponferrada, the riders faced the 14.2-kilometre climb. The peloton, sans Damiano Cunego (Lampre) who did not start today, made it over the climb mostly intact. However, it was already evident in that first hour of racing that the day could turn out to be a long one.
The Acebo, topped by France's David Moncoutié of Team Cofidis on his way to winning the mountain's classification, gave way for the downhill and mostly flat run to Zamora. Spaniard Jesús Rosendo of Team Andalucía-Cajasur, who figured in stage two's escape, made a solo bid at kilometre 24. Tinkoff's Spaniard, Walter Pedraza, followed him towards freedom.
Their gap went all the way up to 8:38 at kilometre 53 before the chasing group woke up. It was specifically the work of Bettini that helped get the time to a manageable limit. He had it down under five minutes by kilometre 70.
The gap stayed between four and three minutes for most of the day as the group decide to have an active rest day. It was not until kilometre 125 that it dipped below three minutes. The peloton was determined to have a slow day; 15 kilometres covered in the first hour, 28.3 kilometres in the second and 31.3 kilometres in the third was the speed of cyclo-tourists.
The gap fell down to two minutes in the fourth hour of racing, but the pace was still very slow with Milram and Silence-Lotto at the front of the gruppo. The racing finally looked series with the split at 55 seconds in the final 15 kilometres. The riders covered 33.1 kilometres in the fourth hour and 34 in the fifth.
The duo's lead was cracked; it has 15 seconds under the 10-kilometre banner. The sprinters' men were going near 70 kilometres an hour to put their men into position. Quick Step's worked paid off, but Milram and Silence-Lotto fell short. Milram's Erik Zabel had no men left in the final hustle and finished 11th. Silence-Lotto's Greg Van Avermaet, winner of stage nine, finished 15th.
"The break was really hard," said Pedraza. "It was pretty flat all day. I knew the break wouldn't succeed, but I like to be a protagonist.
"There was a lot of wind. Considering that, we did good work. That may have made the difference. ... The [sprinters'] teams controlled the race very well. The other rider, Jesús Rosendo, and I worked very well together."
"The break was really hard with the headwind," Rosendo added. "We tried to keep the possibilities alive until the end of the stage. It was a difficult stage with a road that went on straight forever."
Contador enjoyed a comfortable, but long day only 24 hours after taking a light spill. Providing he keeps upright, the Vuelta's golden top looks his to keep in Madrid on Sunday. He only needs to manage internal affairs on Saturday's time trial with Leipheimer at 1:17. CSC-Saxo Bank's Carlos Sastre looks too far off at 3:41.
Stage 17 - September 17: Zamora - Valladolid, 148.2km
After 148.2 kilometres stage 17 will finish in Valladolid, which is famous for being the first ever stage finish in the Vuelta. In 1935, the first stage of the first Vuelta went from Madrid to Valladolid. Some past winners include Julián Berrendero, Miguel Poblet (first Spaniard to wear yellow in the Tour), Jean Stablinski, Raymond Poulidor, Sean Kelly, Bernard Hinault, Charly Mottet, Tony Rominger, Erik Zabel and Paolo Bettini. It will be the 34th time that a stage finishes in Valladolid. The town hosts a museum of Christopher Columbus, who died here in 1506.