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Heras good as gold

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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros)

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) (Image credit: AFP)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank)

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) (Image credit: AFP)
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The peloton

The peloton (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras' face

Roberto Heras' face (Image credit: AFP)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC)

Carlos Sastre (CSC) (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) claims victory in Valgrande Pajares.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) claims victory in Valgrande Pajares. (Image credit: AFP)
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The peloton started out in fair conditions, but the weather soon turned nasty.

The peloton started out in fair conditions, but the weather soon turned nasty. (Image credit: AFP)
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The peloton led by men from T-Mobile and Liberty Seguros.

The peloton led by men from T-Mobile and Liberty Seguros. (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras' face says it all. Menchov's face says nothing.

Roberto Heras' face says it all. Menchov's face says nothing. (Image credit: AFP)
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Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) forces the rhythm at the head of affairs.

Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) forces the rhythm at the head of affairs. (Image credit: AFP)
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Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros, L) has been Roberto Heras' ever-faithful team-mate in the mountains.

Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros, L) has been Roberto Heras' ever-faithful team-mate in the mountains. (Image credit: AFP)
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Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Liberty Seguros) sets a cracking pace for his leader Roberto Heras.

Igor Gonzalez De Galdeano (Liberty Seguros) sets a cracking pace for his leader Roberto Heras. (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) sets a cracking pace of his own, soloing to victory atop Pajares.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) sets a cracking pace of his own, soloing to victory atop Pajares. (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) gets the tongue-action happening.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) gets the tongue-action happening. (Image credit: AFP)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looks concerned at Roberto Heras leaves his group behind.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looks concerned at Roberto Heras leaves his group behind. (Image credit: AFP)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) held onto his third place overall.

Carlos Sastre (CSC) held onto his third place overall. (Image credit: AFP)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) attempts to limit his losses, but lost too much by the day's end.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) attempts to limit his losses, but lost too much by the day's end. (Image credit: AFP)
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Denis Menchov's team was just five-strong by the end of the day.

Denis Menchov's team was just five-strong by the end of the day. (Image credit: AFP)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looks like a beaten man.

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) looks like a beaten man. (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) claims victory in Valgrande Pajares.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) claims victory in Valgrande Pajares. (Image credit: AFP)
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Number 4 in the bag? Roberto Heras thinks so.

Number 4 in the bag? Roberto Heras thinks so. (Image credit: AFP)
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There's even time for fun and games at the end of the day for Roberto Heras.

There's even time for fun and games at the end of the day for Roberto Heras. (Image credit: AFP)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) flies up the climb of Pajares.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) flies up the climb of Pajares. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov's time in gold came to a bleak and bitter end today.

Denis Menchov's time in gold came to a bleak and bitter end today. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) showed today it's never over till it's over.

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) showed today it's never over till it's over. (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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The new race leader - Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros).

The new race leader - Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros). (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) does it again

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) does it again (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) almost there

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) almost there (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) wants it to end

Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) wants it to end (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros) battles his way up the climb

Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros) battles his way up the climb (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) finishes well for fourth

Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) finishes well for fourth (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Mauricio Ardila (Davitamon-Lotto) was the fifth rider on the road

Mauricio Ardila (Davitamon-Lotto) was the fifth rider on the road (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto) digging a bit deeper

Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto) digging a bit deeper (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Carlos Sastre (CSC) struggles with Pereiro

Carlos Sastre (CSC) struggles with Pereiro (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) rode well for a top 10

Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) rode well for a top 10 (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile) en route to 12th

Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile) en route to 12th (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) limiting his losses

Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) limiting his losses (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Daniel Atienza (Cofidis) in the hurt box

Daniel Atienza (Cofidis) in the hurt box (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) rides ahead of Adolfo Garcia Quesada

Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) rides ahead of Adolfo Garcia Quesada (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Juan Miguel Mercado and Oscar Sevilla ride clear of Denis Menchov

Juan Miguel Mercado and Oscar Sevilla ride clear of Denis Menchov (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Denis Menchov (Rabobank) really in pain

Denis Menchov (Rabobank) really in pain (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval) suffers in the wet

Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval) suffers in the wet (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) wins the stage in Pajares

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) wins the stage in Pajares (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) a strong second

Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) a strong second (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) comes home for a solid third place

Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) comes home for a solid third place (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros) finishes on the Pajares

Michele Scarponi (Liberty Seguros) finishes on the Pajares (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Ardila finishes the stage

Ardila finishes the stage (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) finishes ahead of Sastre

Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) finishes ahead of Sastre (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) tries the jersey on for size

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) tries the jersey on for size (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Heras likes it

Heras likes it (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) back in gold

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) back in gold (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) returns to the podium

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) returns to the podium (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) leads the points classification

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) leads the points classification (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) is the best rider in the combination classification too

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) is the best rider in the combination classification too (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)
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Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) salutes as the combination jersey wearer

Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) salutes as the combination jersey wearer (Image credit: Fotoreporter Sirotti)

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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