Colombian Duque out-powers escape companions

18-man move freed in southern Spain as Menchov passes another day in the race leadership

Leonardo Duque out-foxed the remnants of an 18-man move that survived the 165-kilometre Vuelta a España stage 16 to Puertollano. The 27 year-old Colombian fought for freedom with Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC) and Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne), and then was able to hold off the Russian/Spanish duo in the sprint over the final 200 metres.

"With three kilometres remaining, they [the other two escapees] kept looking at each other, and I attacked to see what it would do," explained Duque. "With 500 metres to go, I saw the chasing group was getting closer so we started to speed up, and I topped the sprint. Thank God I have good speed, and I could get the most of that."

Colombians have a history of dominating the mountains in the Grand Tours, but aren't quite as famous for sprint victories. Duque remarked of this year's performance of his countrymen: "This year Mauricio Soler showed in the Tour de France that he was the best climber. The point is that we [the Colombians] also have riders who can sprint well. This time it was my turn to show that; thank God we are ratifying that here in the Vuelta a España."

Duque entered the breakaway prepared to fight for victory. When the 18 escapees turned on one another and the move splintered, the Cofidis man was there. He made the decisive move not once, but twice - first when he joined with David Herrero (Karpin Galicia), Duque, Horrach and Kolobnev. The four men were chased by four others, José Ruiz (Andalucía-Cajasur), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Jean-Marc Marino (Crédit Agricole) and Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas), but the two groups came back together with 10 kilometres to go.

Horrach then hammered off solo, but Duque and Kolobnev knew the Spaniard's strength, and they quickly bridged to form a new group of three that would go on to fight for the stage win. Over the closing kilometres the trio's gap grew to approximately 35 seconds, plenty of room to play games of cat-n-mouse in the final metres.

Duque was the first to take a swipe at his partners. The rider who packs a mean sprint decided to attack at three kilometres out. 26 year-old Kolobnev was forced to pull him back with Horrach in tow. The cagey 33 year-old of Caisse d'Epargne kept his position at the back of the small group over the final metres, lying in wait to pounce.

As it turned out Horrach never had a chance to surprise the group, and Duque opened up the sprint down the right side of the dusty finishing straight with under 300 metres remaining. Kolobnev powered up to the left of Duque, and the two went head-to-head for a chance at their first win of the 2007 season. Duque kept his gears rolling over to hold off his rival, while Horrach passed through in third.

Horrach took the placing in stride. "When one of us [Caisse d'Epargne team] arrives last in an escape we laugh and play jokes. Tonight at dinner I will have to hear my team-mates' jokes," noted Horrach in humour.

"Each one attacks where he can. I was riding together with two riders whom I didn't like at all. They are very much faster than me. I knew that if I arrived with them I had two choices: stay quiet, doing nothing and then try to surprise them or finish third. I was already defeated [in the finale]. I couldn't make it, and I'm happy with the third place. My places to attack were the short uphills. I tried it in every short uphill, and I was the one who made the cut."

The 18-man move marked the day's action when it went clear at kilometre 58. Karpin, Euskaltel, Caisse and Cofidis had the upper hand in the move with multiple members. The latter two made good on the day by getting Horrach and Duque in the move, while the Professional Continental Team Karpin Galicia helped form the final winning move when Vorganov hit out. However, it was Euskaltel who really failed to come through in the stage. It had Koldo Fernández in the move, and it should have been able to play the team card Dionisio Galparsoro also in the breakaway. Instead the Basque team was left empty handed.

The gap of the large escape group was kept under control by the Rabobank-led peloton over a demanding day that included three categorized climbs. The Dutch team ensured that its leader Denis Menchov remained in the leader's jersey oro. The Russian is saving his strength for the demanding mountain stages, where he will face attacks from his rivals, including Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne), second overall, and Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto), in third.

How it unfolded

154 riders of the original 189-rider start list headed out on the 165-kilometre route to Puertollano, which last hosted a Vuelta finale in 2005 when Alessandro Petacchi won in a bunch sprint. Italy's Damiano Cunego (Lampre), suffering from the effects of a stage one crash, decided to head back home to recuperate for the World Championships and didn't take the start in Jaén.

Early on, the peloton didn't allow any escapes, and it wasn't until kilometre 58 that the bunch finally relaxed its grip and let a group go. Bert Grabsch (T-Mobile), Eduard Vorganov (Karpin Galicia), David Herrero (Karpin Galicia), Mario Aerts (Predictor-Lotto), Alexandr Kolobnev (Team CSC), Javier Mejías (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Leonardo Bertagnolli (Liquigas), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ag2r Prévoyance), Jean-Marc Marino (Crédit Agricole), Dionisio Galparsoro (Euskaltel-Euskadi), José Ruiz (Andalucía-Cajasur), David López García (Caisse d'Epargne), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Juan Manuel Gárate (Quick.Step - Innergetic), Koldo Fernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sébastien Minard (Cofidis), Joan Horrach (Caisse d'Epargne) and Geoffroy Lequatre (Cofidis) worked smoothly together to build up a four minutes by kilometre 92.

The peloton had a difficult time controlling such a big escape, and the 18 men had opened up six minutes at kilometre 111 (50 kilometres to go), but with the highest placed rider on GC, López, some 20 minutes behind Menchov in the standings, the bunch was happy to save its efforts.

As the break came closer to the finish, all cooperation was destroyed, and the first attack was made by Bertagnolli, who he was caught at 25 kilometres to go. Next Vorganov attacked and produced a little gap, however, the others were still strong. The right move was made by three men: Horrach, Duque and Kolobnev who put a little distance on their former mates at 20 kilometres to go. Herrero joined the leaders later on. Meanwhile, the chasers didn't cooperate with each other, instead they fought. Marino argued with Gárate, and the Frenchman went off the road, but righted himself without much trouble.

The foursome took advantage of the arguments behind, while the chase group split up under pressure of several attacks. A group of eight came together, but then split up again, with the same trio proving the strongest, while Herrero was left behind. Duque, Horrach and Kolobnev continued with a 10-second advantage over the five chasers, and increased their lead to 34 seconds two kilometres later, and to 42 seconds with five kilometres remaining.

The trio made the final kilometre together before setting up for the sprint, but all tactics were worthless against Leonardo Duque, who launched a powerful sprint in the final straight, solidly beating Kolobnev and Horrach. The chase of eight men arrived just six seconds after, while the peloton came home 7'43" in arrears.

Stage 17 - September 19: Ciudad Real - Talavera de la Reina, 175km

The sprinters that remain in the Vuelta will order their men to give all they have to ensure the race arrives in a bunch gallop as the following days will be too vertical for them. The 17th stage between Ciudad Real and Talavera de la Reina does not present a single ranked climb. A quick finish will allow for the men to check out the town known for its ceramics and to prepare for the following day.

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