Heras good as gold

Menchov loses 5'17 by day's end

Picking himself up from the hard crash he suffered three days ago, Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) has shown once again he is the king of the Spanish mountains. Crossing the line solo and 5'17 ahead of Denis Menchov (Rabobank), the 31 year-old did more than enough to regain the prestigious golden maillot. Heras now leads the race by exactly 4 minutes and 30 seconds over the Russian on the GC. Arriving in second place was Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), 32 seconds back, with Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) taking third, 46 seconds behind the stage winner.

Heras attacked at the penultimate climb of Alto de la Colladiella and straight away, it was obvious Menchov could not follow the Spaniard's tempo, even on the descent. Little by little, Heras edged away from the Russian, and by the day's end just about everyone else. "The Colladiella is a very difficult mountain and we knew it," he said.

"We took risks when going downhill and in strategic terms, the stage went perfectly. I was conscious that I descended with great risk. But the point is that if you want something, you have to take your chances."

Heras also wanted to highlight the great work his team did, saying, "It was a sensational team work from all of us. I dedicate this victory to my team-mates because it was theirs," making mention of the fact that there's just one week left in the race.

"It was a bad day," admitted Menchov, his face showing signs of both resignation and tiredness.

"I don't know why this happened, maybe it was the cold weather, but there are no excuses," said the Rabobank rider. "That's cycling. The Liberty team has ridden very well, everything went right for them today," he said. With the advantage Heras has over him, Menchov also believed winning the Vuelta is no longer possible, but said he said he is happy with what he has achieved thus far.

How it unfolded

145 riders signed on for today's stage. The attacks were constant from the very beginning, with many moves by riders trying to get in the right breakaway. But that didn't happen until km 60, when 16 riders made their escape, including: mountain maillot Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Angel Vicioso, Joseba Beloki (Liberty Seguros), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

Behind them, six riders were in pursuit of the lead group: Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Benjamin Noval (Discovery Channel), Mauricio Ardila (Davitamon-Lotto) and Giampaolo Caruso (Liberty). Seven kilometers later, both groups joined together, making 22 men leading the race, with the peloton around one minute behind.

Rain, cold and heavy fog were all part of the harsh weather dished out today, totally opposing conditions in the first week with boiling heat and dry days throughout Andalusia and Castilla-La Mancha. At noon in Pajares, the thermometer marked 13°C with a very cloudy sky and chances of rain.

At km 80, Pereiro punctured when the break's lead was around the two minute mark. A big chase group of 14 riders formed roughly 15 kilometers later with Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step), Victor Hugo Peña (Phonak), Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears) and Marcos Serrano (Liberty) among them.

Problems for overnight leader Denis Menchov began soon afterwards, as another Rabobank soldier, Jukka Vastaranta, abandoned the race, leaving just five team members at the 110 kilometre mark. At the summit of the third climb, Joaquin Rodriguez led the first breakaway group, followed by Angel Vicioso, Oscar Pereiro and Francisco Lara (T-Mobile).

At the head of the peloton, Roberto Heras decided not to wait for the last climb of Pajares and attacked when climbing the Alto de la Colladiella (summit at km 137.6). Heras' attack took riders with him: Vuelta leader Denis Menchov, Carlos Sastre (CSC), Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana), Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile), Santos Gonzalez (Phonak), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Ruben Plaza (Comunidad Valenciana) and Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step). At that moment, the break held an advantage of around four minutes. Behind, local knowledge saw Heras gap his group by 40 seconds, which proved decisive by the end of the day.

Soon after, the Liberty leader made contact with the chase group. Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel), Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) and Alexandre Botcharov (Credit Agricole) and Nicki Sorensen (CSC) were still leading the race, but the chasers were now just 20 second behind. This latter group included not only Heras, but also Joseba Beloki, Angel Vicioso, Michele Scarponi and Paolo Bettini.

Little by little, Heras was making inroads into Menchov's lead, and at km 172 (19 km to go), Heras became the virtual race leader.

In fact, Heras' tempo was so good that he soon caught the lead riders, well supported by his team-mate Michele Scarponi and in the company of Francisco Lara (T-Mobile), Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel).

With less than 6km to the finish, Heras attacked his group and found himself on his own. Pedalling with authority, and seemingly oblivious to the terrible conditions, the three-time winner showed he had completely recovered from his crash and was still King of the Spanish mountains.

Stage 16 - September 13: Leon-Valladolid, 162.5 km

The ride from Leon to Valladolid will be a typically flat one. With no climbs in sight and the highest point will be La Mudarra at 860 m. above sea level, it's another occasion for the sprinters' teams to show their qualities, with a breakaway unlikely to succeed. The three intermediate sprints are: Mansilla de las Mulas (km 15.5), Valderas (km 68.9) and La Mudarra (km 131.8). And it goes without saying that it's very unlikely that the top positions on the GC will change.

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