No change in GC in advance of time trial
On a day when maillot oro Alexandre Vinokourov and closest challenger Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) declared an unofficial truce, AG2R Prévoyance rider José Luis Arrieta proved quickest of a long distance breakaway group to take his best career result. The 35 year old Spaniard previously won the opening leg of the Vuelta Asturias back in 2002 and has also placed third and fourth on stages of the Tour of Spain.
"This day is very special for me," he said. "But this year I have really enjoyed every time I have been on the bike, it is a pleasure to be a professional.
"I was away today with my friend José Vicente Garcia Acosta, who I train with. He is very good person to be with in a break. This week I kept a bit of energy to get into a move, saying to myself that Friday was the only chance to do it. It has worked out very well."
Arrieta went clear as part of an eight man escape 48 kilometres into the undulating stage, being joined by Vladimir Gusev (Discovery Channel), Aketza Peña (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne), Lars Bak (Team CSC), Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), David Loosli (Lampre-Fondital) and Pieter Mertens (Davitamon-Lotto). They built a maximum lead of 12'04 and still had over 11 minutes of this by the time they fought it out for the win in Ciudad Real.
Bak was the most aggressive in the final ten kilometres, attacking first at eight kilometres to go and then after his recapture, going again after the kite. But he was caught and Arrieta then beat Fofonov and Loosli in the gallop.
"There were many attacks in the final run into the line," he stated. "I stayed on the wheels and then went for it with 200 metres to go."
His friend Garcia Acosta was disappointed but philosophical after the finish. "Maybe I attacked too early, but I had to try," he said. "I must acknowledge that after all the work done for the team since the beginning of the Vuelta, I missed some strength in the final part of the stage. Today was the last opportunity to go with a breakaway and try to win. Getting the victory was not possible, but my personal balance, like that of all the team, is positive.
"I am very satisfied with how we rode the Vuelta because we always gave the best, every day, and at the end, even if we do not finish in Madrid with the yellow jersey, there is nothing to reproach us for. This one is my tenth Vuelta and I hope that others will follow!"
The top end of the general classification remained unchanged after the stage, with Vinokourov maintaining his 53 second lead over Valverde. Fellow Astana rider Andrey Kashechkin is third, 2'06 back, while CSC's Carlos Sastre has 45 seconds to make up if he is to nab a podium place. José Angel Marchante (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) round out the top six and may swap placings if the American has his best TT legs on.
How it unfolded
Ciudad Real was founded in 1255 by the king Alfonso X el Sabio. It was called originally Villa Real, which means royal village. In 1420, the king Juan II gave the village the title of city and now the town started being called Ciudad Real. It is the capital of the region of Castilla La Mancha, and it was the first time the Vuelta visited here in 32 years.
The 135 riders who finished yesterday in La Pandera took the start today in Jaén. It was a fairly steady start, with 37.5 km covered in the first hour. Shortly afterwards, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) got involved in an eight man break but that was chased down. Then, after 48 km, eight riders succeeded in opening a gap at km 48: Lars Bak (CSC), Vladimir Gusev (Discovery), Dmitriy Fofonov (Credit Agricole), Jose Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Aketza Peña (Euskaltel), David Loosli (Lampre), Pieter Mertens (Davitamon) and Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne-Illes Balears).
With Bak the best placed on GC at over 40 minutes down, this break was given permission to go by the peloton. Astana didn't have to work, and neither did Credit Agricole nor Caisse d'Epargne. On the Alto del Parque Natural de Andújar (Cat. 2, km 75), Loosli crossed the summit first ahead of Arrieta and Bak and the break already had 3'03 lead. On the Alto de Sierra Madrona (km 103), the lead had increased to 9'38, and Mertens, Peña and Loosli crossed the summit in that order.
On the Alto del Tamaral (km 117), the final climb of the day - and in the Vuelta, in fact - it was again Mertens ahead of Fofonov and Peña. That meant that Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel) had effectively secured the mountains jersey, provided he finishes in Madrid. On the descent, the leaders increased their gap up to 11 minutes.
Later on, the peloton started to reduced the distance, but the breakaway was still 9’32 ahead of the peloton at km 136 and looking to stay clear. Many of the sprinters like Alessandro Petacchi (Milram) or Robbie McEwen (Davitamon) were out of the race, and no-one else had the firepower to chase. The gap went up to as much as 12'04 as a result.
At the second intermediate sprint in Puertollano (km 161.2 – 44 km to go), Fofonov got the maximum bonus seconds ahead of Gusev and Bak. The eight leaders rode 10’51 ahead of the bunch at that point.
The kilometres passed and the leaders stayed together, with no-one willing to be the first to attack. Eventually, the strong Garcia Acosta went with 11 km to go, and the endgame started in the break. Lars Bak attacked several times, getting clear at 8 km to go, with Fofonov, Arrieta and Loosli in pursuit. The Dane looked good for a while, but started to blow at 4 km out and was caught at 2.5 km to go.
These four riders fought it out with each other for the win in the last 2,000 metres. Bak attacked inside the final kilometre, but didn't quite have the gas for a winning move, and Loosli, Arrieta and Fofonov clawed their way back on. Finally, Arrieta launched his sprint and was able to hold off the rest to win his first grand tour stage ever and only his second pro win after 14 seasons.
Stage 20 – September 16: Rivas Futura-Rivas Vaciamadrid, individual time trial, 27.5 km
Stage 20 will be an individual time trial near the capital city of Madrid. It’s a 27.5 km long test over quite a difficult parcours, with winding roads, bends and roundabouts. Alexandre Vinokourov shouldn't have problems maintaining his gap over Valverde and the others. The Spaniard will have to give it all if he wants to recover the leader's jersey. It could be another opportunity for David Millar to win a stage, but the tall Scot might be saving himself for the World Championship next week.
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