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Good morning and welcome to today’s live coverage of the 16th stage of 2002Vuelta a España.
Today’s 154-km 16th stage from Aviles to León takes the peloton fromSpain’s lush northern coast to the high meseta that dominates northern-centralSpain.
The stage features the category-one Puerto de Pajares at 89 km. Speeds shouldbe very high as the peloton drops from the Pajares to León. The finalthree kilometers are flat with two hard left turns in the closing kilometer,but straight in the final 800 meters.
3:20 p.m. – We are now 76 kilometers into today’s stage. A leadgroup of 13 riders are now on the slopes of the Pajares, about 3:30 aheadof the main field.
The riders in the break are:
Luis Perez and David Plaza (Team Coast)
Koos Moerenhout (Domo-Farm Frites)
Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com)
Carlos Torrent (Jazztel)
Santiago Botero, Jörg Jaksche and José Gutierrez (Kelme),
Joan Horrach and Rui Lavarinhas (Milaneza)
Rafael Diaz Justo and Mikel Pradera (ONCE),
Daniel Schnider (Phonak)
There were two non-starters this morning, including Oscar Camenzind.
There was some discussion last night as to whether David millar would or would not be allowed to start after his protest on Sunday when he took off his race number and placed it one-half meter short of the finish line. He apparently was no where to be seen this morning.
Also Melchor Mauri (Milaneza), winner of the 1991 Vuelta, has withdrawn after a crash.
3:34 p.m. — The race leaders are just cresting the top of the climb. Only five of the group remain in the front.
The peloton is about 3:30 behind and now down to 23 riders. Kelme has driven the pace. Roberto Heras is the lone Postal rider in the group.
3:39 p.m. — The Heras group has crested the climb. That group is down to 16 riders and Heras remains isolated in a group dominated by Kelme, including Aitor Gonzalez and Oscar Sevilla.
3:43 p.m. — David Etxebarria has withdrawn from the Vuelta.
Two of the ONCE men in the original break have dropped back into the Heras group to lend some help to their man Joseba Beloki.
3:48 p.m.– The lead group of five — Luis Perez and David Plaza (Team Coast), Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com), Santiago Botero and Jose Gutierrez (Kelme) — is now 5:15 ahead of the Heras group.
That Heras group includes no other Postal riders, but does include Gilberto Simoni, Joseba Beloki and others who would be likely to respond to a Kelme-led charge.
3:54 p.m. — The five men in the lead group are 5:28 ahead of the Heras group.
4:01 p.m. — The peloton is regrouping and Heras has now been joined two of his teammates: Christian Vande Velde and Rubiera. Vande Velde has had a remarkable Vuelta and ridden selflessly throughout this race.
The leaders are now 6:03 ahead of the peloton.
4:07 p.m. — With 36km to go, the five leaders have a lead of 6:11 over the growing peloton. The Heras group is now up to about 50 riders again.
4:17 p.m. — The leaders are still around six minutes ahead of the field.
With 30km remaining, the Telekom team is at the front of the field…
And Heras has flatted! He is calmly getting a change. He has Christian Vande Velde and Rubiera helping to pace him back into the field.
4:21 p.m. — Heras has rejoined the peloton and is working his way back up to the front of the field.
4:26 p.m. — It looks as those five men in the front will make it to the finish. They are 22km from the finish and now have a lead of 8:21.
4:35 p.m. — The leaders are now more than 9:45 ahead of the field with just 12km to go.
4:44 p.m. — The field is nearly 10 minutes behind the five leaders, who are within 5km from the finish.
4:46 p.m. — The leaders are now 4km from the finish. The peloton is 9:53 back.
4:48 p.m. — The jockeying has begun with 3km to go.
Plaza has charged off of the group…
4:49 p.m. — Kelme jas countered. Perez (Coast) has gone off the front and Kelme’s Botero is chasing.
He caught him… the two men have a gap on the others. Botero seems content to sit on Perez’s wheel.
4:50 p.m. — Botero is simply hanging on to Perez’s wheel…
Poor Perez — who has been so close on two other stages — has been forced to lead out, and Botero flies right past him, winning by a full wheel.
4:57 p.m. — The peloton is still out on the course. Telekom is leading the charge in and setting Zabel up for the field sprint and a few more valuable points to add to his advantage over Petacchi in the points contest. Petacchi is not in this group.
5:00 p.m. — The peloton comes in 8:57 behind Botero. Zabel takes sixth and Heras survives as overall leader despite the flat and the incredible challenge from Kelme on the climb.
Check back soon for results, a stage report from Andrew Hood and photos from Graham Watson.