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Good morning and welcome to VeloNews.com’s live coverage of the 16th stage of the 2002 Vuelta a Espana. Today’s 145-km 17th stage starts in Benavente and rolls over northern Spain’s vast meseta to Salamanca, a bustling university town. There are no rated climbs in this stage. The course climbs some 200 feet with two kilometers remaining, but the final kilometer is flat with one gentleleft turn.
3:20 p.m. — We are now 61km into today’sstage. The hoped for respite of a flat stage has been somewhat disruptedby strong crosswinds today. The wind has forced the peloton into echelonsat one point and we have had the usual early break away.
Juan Jose De Los Angeles (Sp), Kelme
Daniel Becke (G), Team Coast
Dave Bruylandts (Bel), Domo-Farm Frites
Patrick Calcagni (Swi), Tacconi
Igor Astarloa (Sp), Saeco
Jose Maestre (Sp), RelaxGrabsch (Phonak),
Rafael Casero (Jazztel),
Angel Edo (Sp), Milaneza-MSS
Davide Bramati (I), Mapei
Mariano Piccoli (I), Lampre-Daikin
escaped early in the stage, but unlike past stages, this group did not manageto build a great lead and after breaking up at the 40km mark, the group hasslowly been reeled back in by the peloton. Despite the winds, the pelotonis now back together again.
3:35 p.m. — The peloton has passed the halfway mark of today’s stage.
The Vuelta is now down to 134 riders. Jesus Maria Manzano (Sp), Kelme, didnot sign in this morning. The UCI “vampires” carried out blood tests on 22 riders. None showed an elevated hematocrit, so all were deemed fit to ride.
3:41 p.m. — Elio Aggiano (I), Mapei and Diego Ferrari (I), Tacconi,have slipped off the front. They have a small 20-second margin, but the fielddoesn’t seem likely to let them stay away. The race speeds are quite highat this point.
3:43 p.m. — Actually the gap is better than that. The two men off the front are 1:39 ahead of the field.
The peloton is being led by the Fassa Bortolo team of Alessandro Petacchi, who is aiming for a stage win and progress in his campaign to wrest the points jersey from Erik Zabel.
3:49 p.m. — The two riders off the front have 60km remaining. They are now 1:28 ahead of the field as the peloton passes through the feedzone.
3:53 p.m. — The course has now turned and creating a strong crosswind. The field has split into three echelons. ONCE, Fassa Bortolo, Coast and Kelme are now driving the pace. Race leader Roberto Heras isolated, with very few teammates around him.
Meanwhile, the two escapees are being reeled in very quickly. Their lead is now under a minute again.
3:56 p.m. — The two leaders are about to be scooped up by the first echelon. Remarkably, it is Roberto Heras is taking nice full turns at the front of the lead group.
4:03 p.m. — The split between the two groups is shrinking, but the crosswinds will continue for another 15 to 20km. We have 40km remaining in this stage.
4:07 p.m. — The field is mostly back together. Fassa Bortolo is again driving at the front of the peloton.
4:15 p.m. — The peloton is progressing, relatively intact, toward the finish in Salamanca.
Heras is now riding comfortably surrounded by three of his teammates.
4:21 p.m. — With 35km remaining, the situation on the road is stable. It looks like this stage may come down to a sprint battle between Zabel and Petacchi.
4:29 p.m. — Juan Guillamon (Sp), Jazztel has charged off the front with 30km to go. His teammate was just reeled in from an earlier attack when Guillamon jumped.
Fassa Bortolo is still at the front of the peloton and Guillamon is likely to be caught.
4:36 p.m. — Antonio Flecha (Sp), iBanesto.com and Jose Maestre (Sp), Relax rode up to join Guillamon. The presence of three riders off the front, however, lit a fire under Fassa Bortolo, and the three men were reeled in with 23km to go.
4:40 p.m. — With 20km to go, the Telekom team is moving up to the front of the peloton as well. Heras is still riding comfortably within the field.
4:51 p.m. — We are now 10km from the finsih line. The peloton is still intact with Fassa Bortolo, Telekom and Lampre in the front.
4:55 p.m. — We are now 6km from the finish.
4:56 p.m. — We are now 5km from the finish. The peloton is crusing along at 65kph.
4:57 p.m. — We are 4km from the finsih and the peloton has hit the slight rise to the finish. Telekom is now moving to the front.
4:59 p.m. — Three km to go. Telekom is still setting up Zabel.
5:00 p.m. — We have 2km to go.
5:01 p.m. — With one km to go, we have made the sweeping left turn we mentioned earlier and now the speed is quite high. There is a hard left up the road.
Telekom is at the front. Zabel is on Petacchi’s wheel.
After the hard left. Zabel came through on Petacchi’s wheel.
Zabel hangs on… then comes around as Petacchi fades.
It’s Zabel, … and no! Angelo Furlan (Alessio) comes up on Zabel’s right and… it’s Furlan! Zabel in second and Petacchi in third.