Stage 18: Avila - Avila
Mancebo tries to gain more time
Denmark's Nicki Sorensen (CSC) gave his team its first Vuelta a España stage win today in the historical walled city of Avila, beating Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) on a two-man sprint. Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), who fought for the victory with the duo, ended third. Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) kept the leader's golden jersey for another day.
"I had a good day," said Nicki Sorensen at the press conference post-stage. "From the start I felt good and I was able to get in the breakaway, and then to catch Javier Pascual and to resist at the end the attacks from Garcia Acosta and Pascual."
Sorensen added that in the beginning, he got into the leader's group just in case Carlos Sastre needed help, but then he realized he could win in Avila. "I didn't know Avila's pavé was so hard in a very hard and complicated finale. This is my first victory in my career in a race like the Vuelta that I've always liked. I feel happy."
Javier Pascual Rodriguez wasn't very content after the sprint. "The stage was very similar to the one we raced last year here," said Pascual post-stage. "It had almost 200 kilometres, many climbs and it was very hot on the road. I didn't have much strength at the end. We were all tired, me, Chente [Garcia Acosta], Sorensen, everyone." Referring to his Vuelta, he said, "I start working for my teammates thinking of the overall classification. But as days go by, I marked two stages: Pajares [stage 15] and here. I wanted to dedicate this stage to a rider who left a great memory: 'Chava' Jimenez."
"We all like to win in Avila," explained third placed Garcia Acosta. "In order to win here, for a rider like me, I had to attack early in the stage, but I was very tired when we arrived on the pavé. I had very little strength at the last meters."
How it unfolded
The city of Avila is a classic place for the Vuelta a España. Like the Pyrenees or the mountainous stages in Cantabria and Asturias, Avila is always among the cities where the Spanish tour passes. The big absence today was Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) who quit the race, but also Santos Gonzalez (Phonak) who finished third yesterday but was pulled out by his team after an internal health control, Guido Trenti (Quick Step), Matteo Tosatto (Fassa Bortolo) and Anthony Geslin (Bouygues Telecom) also abandoned the Vuelta. Therefore, there were 133 survivors of the 197 who began in Granada in stage 1.
The attacks didn't take long and at km 12, 16 men broke clear of the peloton. Among them: Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), mountains leader Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana) and Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak). The breakaway went quickly and at the second intermediate sprint in Navaluenga (km 41) the gap was more than seven minutes to the peloton. The breakaways' advantage kept growing and at km 55 it was 10'03.
The peloton increased the tempo and at km 100, the gap was reduced up to 6'02. 13 kilometres later, three riders attacked the break: Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears), Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana) and Gorka Gonzalez (Euskaltel). The trio led the race for some kilometres until the rest of the breakaways caught them.
It seemed to be very hard to stay in front group. At km 121, the leaders were down to 11: Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears), David Blanco (Comunidad Valenciana), Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana), Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana), Mario Aerts (Davitamon-Lotto), Gorka Gonzalez (Euskaltel), Moises Dueñas (Relax Fuenlabrada), Nicki Sorensen (CSC) and Daniele Nardello (T-Mobile). Meanwhile, the competition lost a fighting rider in Miguel Martin Perdiguero, who got off his bike at km 128. "Perdi" might be thinking of the World's that he will race in ten days in Madrid.
On the Puerto de Serranillos (km 135) there were many attacks. Roberto Heras and the top riders on GC: Denis Menchov (Rabobank), Carlos Sastre (CSC), Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) and others separated from the peloton and reduced the advantage the 11 breakaways had (more than 3 minutes). Meanwhile, "Chente" Garcia Acosta attacked the break alone and get a little gap over the others.
The chasers of Garcia Acosta at km 165 (32.5 km to go) were seven, as the other four couldn't keep up: Pascual Rodriguez, Pereiro, Nardello, Aerts, Lastras, Sorensen and Gorka Gonzalez. The Comunidad Valenciana rider led by almost a minute over his chasers and four minutes over the favourites' group. Some kilometres later, the seven became just four as Pascual Rodriguez, Sorensen, Aerts and Gorka Gonzalez got rid of Pereiro, Nardello and Lastras. The last challenge for Garcia Acosta was to climb the last mountain, Puerto de Navalmoral, with its summit at 23 km to go, at a good speed. Javier Pascual Rodriguez (Comunidad Valenciana) found the perfect occasion to go after "Chente" in Navalmoral. Pascual passed Garcia Acosta easily while Nicki Sorensen (CSC) was third. Behind, Francisco Mancebo wanted to win in his native province, and tried to get rid of Heras, Menchov, Sastre and Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana), without success.
The stage was very aggressive right until the end. In the last kilometres, Sorensen was able to catch Pascual Rodriguez, and both led with 10 km to go. Behind them followed a combative Garcia Acosta, who didn't give up. With 7 km to go, Pascual and the CSC rider led by 18 seconds over "Chente" and 1'17 ahead of the survivors from the original breakaway.
Surprises kept coming as Garcia Acosta caught Sorensen and Pascual Rodriguez with less than 2 km to the end. The three kept together for some meters until "Chente" attacked, but his surge wasn't good enough as the Danish rider was faster, and won the sprint in Avila ahead of Pascual Rodriguez. In the end, after an emotional sprint, Nicki Sorensen laughed at last and achieved the stage win.
In the favourites' group, Paco Mancebo managed to attack on the pavé in the final kilometres to take a handful of seconds out of Heras, Menchov, Sastre, and Garcia Quesada, but not enough to make any major difference on GC.
Stage 19 - September 16: San Martin de Valdeiglesias-Alcobendas, 142.9 km
This is a short stage that certainly won't change the positions in the final standings. It will be an opportunity for some brave rider to go for glory. The stage has two climbs: Alto de Santa Maria (Category 2, 1450 m, km 51.7) and Alto de Robledondo (Cat. 3, 1400 m, km 62). The three intermediate sprints will be located in: El Hoyo de Pinares (km 13.8), Las Navas del Marques (km 41.3) and Colmenar Viejo (km 114.7).
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