McCartney muscles his way to Villacarrillo

American solos clear of 11-man escape for impressive win

Discovery Channel's Jason McCartney put on an impressive show by launching a solo attack to win the Vuelta a España stage 14. The 34 year-old American was initially part of the 11-man escape group, but blasted free under 10 kilometres remaining as the group's harmony disintegrated. The solo chase by Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux) proved unsuccessful, as he finished second ahead of the escape remnants, led by Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner).

McCartney has gone winless since 2004, but his talents as a strong supporting player are not doubted in the gruppo. However, the rider, who finished third overall in the demanding Tour of California, needed a big win to put him in the spotlight as contract negations are being made for 2008. The Discovery Channel team is ending at the end of this year, and the 2004 Olympic participant is currently looking for a new team.

The Villanueva del Arzobispo paved the way for the selection of the 11-man group and the subsequent success of McCartney. Being clear since kilometre 66, the camaraderie of the escapees was wearing thin after a demanding day. José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne) went free after the group topped the category three climb (15 kilometres to go). He revved his big engine on the descent in an attempt for the stage win but the group had not yet given up.

McCartney followed the juncture of Spaniard Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick.Step - Innergetic), and soon after was solo. He put full energy into his move and to ensure that he stayed clear for the remainder of the journey. The riders behind were left looking at one another to take up the chase. Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) proved extremely strong in covering moves by Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), but the German could never move free to close on McCartney. McCartney's compatriot, Christian Vande Velde (Team CSC), was seemingly blown from earlier digs.

Only Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux) had a chance. However, the 23 year-old Swede could not catch McCartney, who had a 27" advantage as the race reached the final two technical kilometres. The solo leader had been pumping along the Spanish roads with determination. He kept switching between his forearms on the bar tops and his hands on the brake hoods, his glasses were locked into the top of his helmet, showing his eyes that had no glimmer of defeat. Once reaching the sun-baked city centre of Villacarrillo, crowds gave him a huge winner's welcome.

One clear sign today was that Schumacher is going to be a monster on home roads when the World Championships are contested on September 30. The rider who lives only 20 kilometre away from the Stuttgart course showed his strength today – a strength that will be better suited for a circuit parcours like on the one that will determine the winner of the rainbow jersey. The 26 year-old Amstel Gold Champion looks ready to lead team Germany.

Rabobank powered the peloton over the hilly terrain from Puerto Lumbreras to Villacarrillo, ensuring its captain, Denis Menchov, stayed safe. The boys in orange did not once seemed worried about the breaks advantage, that at one point approached nine minutes. Tomorrow is a critical day for the Russian, and he will seek to defend his lead over Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne), second, and Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), third.

How it unfolded

The Vuelta has never visited Villacarrillo (Jaén), the town by Cazorla, Segura y las Villas natural park. Jaén province is famous because of its high quality olive oil.

Denmark's Michael Blaudzun (Team CSC) and Spain's Carlos Castaño (Karpin Galicia) didn't start today's stage. Both fell down yesterday and decided not to continue.

Early on there were many attacks but none of them could succeed until kilometre 66. At that point, the break was built by 11 men: Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Christian Vande Velde (CSC), Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux), Juan Manuel Gárate (Quickstep), David Garcia (Karpin Galicia), Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Philip Deignan (Ag2r Prévoyance), Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne) and José Vicente Garcia (Caisse d'Epargne).

Meanwhile, the long up-and-down stage forced many riders to quit in the first half of the day. Pietro Caucchioli and Angelo Furlan (Crédit Agricole), Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom), Josep Jufré (Predictor-Lotto) and Serafín Martinez (Karpin Galicia) all left during the demanding stage.

The leading group had good cooperation and stretched the gap to 5'30" at kilometre 92. On the second climb of the day in Puerto del Pinar (kilometre 96), the men in the escape led by six minutes over the peloton. The big group wasn't riding fast, so the advantage grew: 7'15" at kilometre 123.

Later on, Jesús Hernández (Relax-GAM) had a hard crash while descending that led to a broken collarbone. He abandoned the race inside an ambulance. Meanwhile, Rabobank was the only team that pulled as the sprinters' teams see a point in such a difficult day. The 11 men led by 7'37" with 44 kilometres (kilometre 163) to go.

There were many attacks amongst the leaders at the last climb of Alto Villanueva del Arzobispo (Cat. 3 - 20 kilometres to go) made by Vande Velde, McCartney and Deignan. None of them prevailed. "Chente" José Vicente Garcia also made his move, but after the summit, with 15 kilometres remaining.

Juan Manuel Gárate and Jason McCartney joined the Caisse d'Epargne rider. The man born in Honolulu found the right moment to attack Gárate while José Vicente Garcia faded. The Discovery Channel rider pushed at maximum effort to maintain his little gap with his former mates. With five kilometres to go, the American led by 41 seconds over the others while Thomas Lövkvist was chasing solo between.

McCartney struggled to remain the race leader while riding through the streets of Villacarrillo. Finally, he concluded his hard work on the long and demanding day by winning the 207-kilometre stage. Lövkvist finished second solo 28 seconds back, while Stefan Schumacher ended up third 50 seconds later, just centimetres ahead of Gárate. The peloton arrived 10 minutes and five seconds later.

Stage 15 - September 16: Villacarrillo - Granada, 201.4km

Another leg-buster of a stage greets the riders before they can enjoy rest day number two. The 201 kilometres from Villacarrillo and to Granada will present two category three climbs and the final alto, the category 1 Alto de Monachil. Even though it is not a mountain-top finish day the GC guns will likely be firing as the complexity ranks high.

The legs will be weakened over the first two smaller climbs and the decent of the Monachil is tricky and dangerous. Alejandro Valverde lost the race lead in 2006 in this spot. The first kilometres down from Monachil comes "with a very long and dangerous slope" down to Granada, noted Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to Cyclingnews.

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