Petacchi getting better

Nasty crash for Heras

Routine. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) won his fourth stage win in the Vuelta a España in a bunch sprint in Burgos to no-one's surprise. Petacchi's victory, which looked to be his strongest yet, came at the expense of Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) and Marco Zanotti (Liquigas-Bianchi). But the big news of the day was the crash at km 95 that injured Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth), who is second on the overall classification and Jakob Piil (CSC) who abandoned the race. Meanwhile, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) retained the golden jersey.

Heras suffered a cut on his left knee because of the crash, and as soon as he ended the stage, he went with his team staff to receive medical attention. Piil abandoned the Vuelta in an ambulance, suffering concussion, his terrible 2005 continuing.

Petacchi was also inside the group of riders who went down in the crash, which occurred near the front of the peloton. "I was able to come back and we got back to work," said the Italian. "I had a problem with my brakes, but I went behind the peloton for the mechanics to fix it and then I continued again."

About the finale, Petacchi commented, "I looked back in the sprint to see who was racing behind me. I felt good, even though I didn't take the last corner correctly. I was able to do a long sprint and win."

Race leader Denis Menchov definitely didn't try to take any advantage from Heras' crash. "I agreed with slowing the pace when Heras crashed, of course", he said. "Everyone waited for Roberto and for all the fallen riders. I was in the front, but I was lucky. That's cycling. I hope Heras recovers from this. I've also experienced these kinds of crashes."

Saturday's stage will still be very difficult for the Russian: "Lagos [de Covadonga] is a very important stage. We'll see what happens," he concluded. Luis Pasamontes (Relax Fuenlabrada) made the breakaway of the day. But, as usual, the peloton snuffed it out. "It was tough to finish the breakaway because it was one of Petacchi's last options," said Pasamontes to Spanish radio. "Certainly the sprinters will quit the race to prepare themselves well for the World's. The race circumstances like the crash could have given me some bonus seconds. The riders got nervous because of Heras' crash and they decided to push harder. So, with ten kilometres to the finish line, my adventure was over."

How it unfolded

On Tuesday, nine riders abandoned the race: Bradley McGee, Frederic Guesdon (La Française des Jeux), Santiago Botero (Phonak), Thor Hushovd, Benoît Poilvet (Credit Agricole), Christophe Edaleine, Luis Perez (Cofidis), Markel Irizar (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Mathew Hayman (Rabobank). Today, Gerrit Glomser (Lampre-Caffita) decided not to start in Logroño, which meant 157 riders were left in the Vuelta. Due to technical reasons, the stage was shortened by approximately 15 kilometres. Therefore, the riders raced 133 kilometres instead of 148. Luis Pasamontes (Relax Fuenlabrada) was the brave rider who dared to make a lone breakaway. At km 8 the Spanish was 30 seconds ahead of the peloton and at km 56 the gap was 4'23. The peloton didn't want Pasamontes to escape on such a short stage. A four minute break would be more easily controlled than a larger gap.

At the second intermediate sprint in Pradoluengo, the lone leader was followed by Julian Sanchez Pimienta (Fassa Bortolo) and Rolf Aldag (T-Mobile), who were setting the tempo for the chase. The gap was 4'40 at this point, and did not get any bigger.

A big crash at the head of the peloton happened at km 95 involving around 15 riders. Jakob Piil (CSC) and Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros-Würth) had the worst of it, and the Dane was stretchered into an ambulance while Heras received help from the race doctors while coming back to the peloton. The Spaniard had a cut in his left knee and needed some stitches. But the bruising may affect him more in the coming days.

The peloton slowed the pace in order to wait for Heras. Alessandro Petacchi (Fassa Bortolo) was also behind the main group and after a few kilometres he joined the peloton again. T-Mobile, Quick Step and Fassa Bortolo teams upped the tempo and caught Pasamontes at km 121 (12 km to go). Benjamin Noval (Discovery Channel) countered immediately, but the peloton was determined to end it in a bunch sprint, and Noval was sucked back in.

The Fassa Bortolo train started working with 3 km to go, despite being challenged by Liquigas (for Zanotti) and Davitamon-Lotto (for Steels). It was the latter who secured the prize position of Petacchi's wheel, but lost it to Zabel on the last corner with just over half a kilometre to go. Marco Velo performed a short lead out to get Petacchi up to speed, as Steels tried to come from behind to challenge for the win. But Ale-Jet didn't panic and started his sprint from around 200 metres out with Erik Zabel once again having no answer to the Italian's speed. Alessandro raised his arms once again, this time with his forefingers pointing the sky in recognition of his fourth victory at this race, and his grandfather, who passed away three years ago to this day.

Stage 13 - September 9: Burgos-Ampuero, 196 km

This will be a long stage with some mountainous difficulties. The stage has four climbs: Puerto de la Sia (Category 1, 1240m above sea level, km 121), Alto Cruz Usaño (Category 3, 360m, km 149.4), Alto Fuente Las Varas (Category 3, 450 m, km 159.3) and Santuario de la Bien Aparecida (Category 3, 270 m, stage finish). It may be a day for the breakaway riders to succeed, and the Puerto de la Sia will be crucial here. The big question tomorrow will be how Heras feels. If Heras is in good condition, he will fight for a stage win in Lagos de Covadonga and Pajares. If not, Menchov could start tasting the glory of winning the Vuelta.

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