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McGee descends to take gold

Superb tactical win by Bertagnolli

Italy's Leonardo Bertagnolli (Cofidis) won the second stage of the Vuelta a España (Granada-Cordoba) in a strange sprint, beating Bradley McGee (La Française des Jeux), who became the new leader. Both clocked a time of 4:52:27. Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo) ended third with the same time, just in front of other four chasing riders.

"This is my first great joy after having many health problems during the season," said Bertagnolli, who won the Trofeo dell'Etna, Coppa Agostoni and Coppa Placci last year, but hasn't been able to get going this season. "I hadn't felt good [during the last few days], even though I saw myself better after achieving a stage victory in the Tour de Limousin. My condition was a real surprise to me".

"After testing myself on the climb, I cooperated with McGee who wanted the leadership and I was able to beat him at the finish". His goal was to win one day in Spain, and he didn't want to waste the chance that appeared when climbing San Jeronimo. "Now we'll see how the race goes up to Lloret de Mar, and then we'll see."

The Cat. 2 Alto de San Jeronimo, which had its summit at 12 km to go, broke the race completely. Early breakaway David De la Fuente (Saunier Duval) lost his advantage in double quick time at start of this climb, the only one of the stage, when another eight riders including Bertagnolli and McGee counter-attacked. McGee was the best placed on GC in the group, and he was able to secure the gold jersey with a second place at the finish.

"I'm absolutely delighted to get this jersey," said the Australian, who couldn't stand up at the finish. "This completes my collection because I have leaders jerseys from the Giro and the Tour. I now have the leadership of the Tour of Spain and I came to this race to do that." With it, he becomes the first Australian to have worn all three Grand Tour leader's jerseys.

"The climb was very hard, especially in the last two kilometres. I'm glad that I didn't know the climb because I wouldn't have gone as early as I did. I had very bad cramps during the last two kilometres and couldn't really work at the end," McGee finished.

How it unfolded

All the 197 riders who started the race yesterday signed on today for the second stage. At the first intermediate sprint, Bernhard Eisel (La Française des Jeux) was first, Rik Verbrugghe (Quick Step) second and Tom Boonen (Quick Step) third. The bonus gave Verbrugghe the virtual lead over Denis Menchov. The race tempo was slow and allowed a couple of riders to make a breakaway, the first of the 2005 Vuelta. David de la Fuente (Saunier Duval) together with Herve Duclos-Lassalle (Cofidis) began their escape at km 24. The gap grew very fast as the peloton let them go. The maximum difference was 10 minutes and 58 seconds at km 57.

The first rider who abandoned the race was Giuliano Figueras (Lampre-Caffita). He put his feet to earth at km 67. Gradually, the big peloton started reducing the gap with the Quick Step-Innergetic team at the head. The Belgian team was interested in helping its star Tom Boonen, but more importantly, it wanted to take Rik Verbrugghe to the overall leadership, considering his bonus seconds in the first sprint.

At km 112, the gap between De la Fuente and Duclos-Lassalle to the rest was greatly reduced to 6'17. The heat was a factor for all the cyclists throughout the day with temperatures around 39° C. At the second intermediate sprint in Espejo (km 120) De la Fuente passed first and Duclos-Lassalle second, 2'25 behind. The peloton caught the exhausted Cofidis rider few kilometres later (km 130 with 59.3 to go).

The Cat. 2 Alto de San Jeronimo which started at 25 km to go looked like it would be decisive and it proved to be right. David De la Fuente were caught by the peloton at the bottom of the climb. and soon after, the attacks started. Aitor Osa (Illes Balears) together with Gorka Gonzalez (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Bernhard Kohl (T-Mobile) took the lead at the beginning of the climb. But Bertagnolli, Unai Yus (Bouygues Telecom), Pablo Lastras (Illes Balears), Bradley McGee, Francisco Vila (Lampre-Caffita), Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Angel Vicioso (Liberty), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) and Luis Perez (Cofidis) began the chase.

The chasers caught the leaders and then the only Italian in the group took the lead with a few kilometres from the summit. Bertagnolli crossed the top with a 20 second gap to Lastras, with the rest of the chasers just behind and the peloton at 40 seconds. But Lastras wasn't going to repeat his win of 2002, as he crashed on the tricky descent and wound up at the wrong end of the group. McGee, who like Bertagnolli, didn't know the descent, dropped like a stone to catch the Italian with 6 km to go. The pair had a 10 second lead on Vila, Flecha, Rodriguez, Vicioso and Yus, which they extended to 13 seconds in the closing kilometres.

The cat and mouse tactics began in the final kilometre, and McGee had no choice but to lead out the sprint and take as much time as possible. Bertagnolli knew this and executed a well timed jump to win the stage comfortably from McGee and a fast finishing Flecha, who brought the chasing five back. The peloton sprint for 11th was won by Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) ahead of Erik Zabel (T-Mobile).

The day wasn't so good for Jose Azevedo (Discovery), Andreas Klier (T-Mobile), and Jose Enrique Gutierrez (Phonak), who were all caught up in a crash on one of the flatter parts of the climb and lost considerable time to the leaders. Oscar Pereiro and Iban Mayo also lost time to the rest of the GC riders.

Stage 3 - August 29: Cordoba-Puertollano, 153.3 km

The third day is another one for the sprinters to shine. It has a category 3 climb, Alto de la Sierra de Cardeña, at km 61.5 and three intermediate sprints: Fuencaliente, Puerto del Pulido (no points) and Almodovar del Campo. The finish is flat in Puertollano (690 meters above the sea). After today's results Quick Step, Fassa Bortolo and other teams with good sprinters will go for revenge.

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