Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 5, August 30th,
Estación de Esquí La Covatilla (Béjar), 178 km
Struggle for Supremacy
The original idea for this stage was to be as a homage to Roberto Heras who was born (and still lives) in Béjar. While Heras is now a disgraced champion, the Vuelta will still pass through his local training roads to experience the first serious mountain stage of this Vuelta. Two Cat 1 climbs precede a Cat 2 climb which then leads on to the finish at the 1960 meter summit at the ski station of La Covatilla (9.5km, average 8%) which is rated “Categoría Especial” (above category).
Many riders would probably prefer the chair lift up to Estacion de Esqui La Covatilla
The 2006 Tour de France Polka Dot Jersey winner, Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank) is also eyeing the climber's prize at the Vuelta. Today will provide a good indication of his form and he can be sure to be challenged by a plethora of talented Spanish climbers probably led by Alejandro Valverde.
On the first climb of the day, the Cat 1 Puerto de Piornal, a group of fourteen riders including Tour de France Mountain Champion Michael Rasmussen, Italian Champion Paolo Bettini and surprise winner of the recent San Sebastian Classic Xavier Florencio.
Fifty kms later on the next climb (Cat 1 Puerto de Honduras) the lead group split and eight riders contested the summit. Just over 30 seconds back five riders (including Bettini and Florencio) dropped from the break set about trying to regain the leading eight on the descent. Meanwhile the bunch was at a manageable 4:20 minutes back with CSC taking particular care of Carlos Sastre.
On to the penultimate climb of the day, the Alto de Lagunilla, the lead group was whittled down to eight riders. Gusev and Joachim for Discovery were looking good. Over the top Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) attacked on the long false flat with very little down hill on the way to the final showdown up to Estación de Esquí La Covatilla.
Landaluze on a solo attack, 1'20" in the lead ( Image © Unipublic )
The CSC controlled bunch was at 2:50 minutes and not over exerting themselves. Up front Rasmussen looked to be positioned to help Denis Menchov on the final climb. Landaluze meanwhile was not saving any energy as he made his bid for the stage victory (and race leadership as Hushovd had long been dropped from the bunch). Approaching the climb to the finish he was over one minute ahead of the Rasmussen group who in turn were about 1:30 minutes ahead of the bunch.
As the La Covatilla climb started to bite Landaluze cracked and was soon caught and dropped by the break and shortly after that by the bunch which was rapidly closing in on the break. Ten kms to go and Sergio Paulinho (Astana Team) attacked the remnants of the break taking David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) with him.
Inigo Cuesta leading the pack up the final climb ( Image © Unipublic )
CSC now turned the screws with just 6km to go. The bunch had dissolved and it was Valverde, Cuesta, Sastre, Kohl, Danielson, Brajkovic, L. Perez, S. Sanchez, Vinokourov, Kashechkin, Di Luca and Marchante chasing down the two leaders. Last year's Vuelta winner, Denis Menchov, was dropped. Di Luca attacked and Brajkovic went with him as together they caught Marchante. One more shake out in the final km and Di Luca, Brajkovic and Kashechkin head for the line together. Di Luca easily took the win.
Stage win and race lead for Di Luca ( Image © Unipublic )
There is a long way and many mountains left to conquer in this Vuelta. Today was a struggle for supremacy. Di Luca was the most animated, won the day and took the leaders jersey. CSC, Discovery, Liquigas, Caisse d'Epargne, Astana and Saunier Duval-Prodir have thrown down the gauntlet. But if Di Luca has regained his 2005 Giro form then he is going to be a tough man to beat.
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