Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 3, August 28th, Córdoba to
Almendralejo, 220 km
Almendralejo is located in the province of Badajoz , Extremadura. Situated on the main road and rail route between Mérida and Seville the region is particulary noted for its Brandy.
Brandy! ( Images © MSC - Movimiento Scout Católico )
This is the longest stage of the 2006 Vuelta and strangely the topography of the race route is very similar to that of yesterday (Stage 2). It features just two Cat 3 climbs within the first 30 kms and then takes winding and mainly flat roads to Alemendralejo. A break will have to be strong and well organised to prevent a bunch sprint finish.
With the temperature around 40 degC (100 degF), and not deterred by the daunting prospect of a long break under the scorching sun, Spain's David De La Fuente (Saunier Duval), France's Hervé Duclos-Lassal (Cofidis) and Italy's Enrico Franzoi (Lampre) broke clear at 10km. The brown and arid Andalusian countryside can be dangerous in such conditions and the following team cars focused on ensuring that their men were kept well hydrated. At first the peloton seemed reluctant to let them go but after 30 kms their collective resistance had wilted and the trio had gained about 6:30mins advantage.
Stage 3 break: (r to l) De La Fuente, Franzoi and Duclos-Lassal ( Image © Unipublic )
The break managed to extend their lead to about 7:15mins at 100km before the distance and heat started to take its toll. De La Fuente, “most aggressive rider” at the Tour, was again demonstrating his competitive nature as the most active rider in the break. Meanwhile the road, now mostly flat and descending very slightly towards Almendralejo, was perfect for the sprinters domestiques to start earning their keep.
Credit Agricole (looking after Hushovd's leader jersey), Davitamon-Lotto (for Robbie McEwen) and Milram (for Zabel and Petacchi) were the most active teams in the peloton as the three riders up front started to work harder to maintain their advantage.
With 44km to go the break's lead was down to 4:07mins. Ten kms later the lead was down to 3:43mins. As the time gap agonizingly sank for the three leaders the temperature was adding to everyone's misery as it climbed up to 44 degC. Another 10kms later (24km to go) the lead was down to 2:35mins. However the leaders kept working well together with full optimism of making it to the finish ahead of the bunch.
De La Fuente decided that with 16km to go it was make or break time as he attacked on a slight descent. Franzoi hung on as Duclos-Lassal threw in the towel to be quickly absorbed by the bunch. Fourteen kms to go and the bunch closed to 1:06 to the two leaders. It was all over for the break with just 5kms to go. So a bunch sprint it would be and the lead out trains soon got to work. Inside the final km David Millar (Saunier Duval-Prodir) exploded from the front of the bunch but was pulled back with 500m to go. Out of the heaving mass, bumping and grinding at full speed, Francisco José Ventoso (Saunier Duval-Prodir) just edged out Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole).
Ventoso's most important triumph of his professional carreer ( Image © Unipublic )
The day was a real ‘pot boiler' and for all their excellent work over about 200kms of lone effort, the break was cooked as the bunch steamed past them into Almendralejo. Hushovd retained his leader's jersey and Saunier Duval-Prodir enjoyed their day in the sun with De La Fuente featuring in the break all day and Ventoso bringing home the day's laurels.
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