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Good morning and welcome to VeloNews.com’s Live coverage of the 19th stage of the 2002 Vuelta a España.Today’s 177-km 19th stage from Bejar to Avila is a difficult, up-and-down climbing stage with three rated climbs: the category-three Alto de la Hoya at 8 km; the category-one Puerto de Serranillos at 115 km; and the category-two Puerto de Navalmoral at 155 km. The final kilometer is flat, but there’s a sharp climb up to the city with 3 km to go. The finish at Avila is much tougher than it looks. It’s quite steep coming into Avila, a beautiful city surrounded by the best-preserved medieval walls in all of Spain. There’s sure to be splits among the leaders coming in the final three kilometers to the finish.
3:25 p.m. — Today is the 30th birthday of defending champion Angel Casero. All 132 remaining riders signed in this today.
It’s a spectacular day — gorgeous weather, sun, warm, slight breeze, beautiful course — mountains, streams, pines — looks like Colorado. There was a huge crowd for Roberto Heras in Bejar, his hometown. Thousands cheered as he signed in and waved flags with his picture.
“All of the city is with you, Roberto. Aupa, the champion!” many in the crowd cheered. Try to imagine a Tour de France stage in Austin and you get the picture.
Riders warmed up Friday morning, climbing the category-three Alto de la Hoya that opened up the stage. Christian Vande Velde and Antonio Cruz “warmed up” by riding up the climb and back down just in time for the stage start.
“Neutral starts” mean nothing in the Vuelta. Today, Jazztel’s Jorge Ferrio attacked even before the riders got to the 0 km sign.
Heras punctured going up the de la Hoya … got back on no problem.
Nine riders —
Martin Perdiguero (Acqua e Sapone)
José Garcia Acosta and Aitor Osa (iBanesto.com)
Carlos Garcia (Kelme)
Jose Luis Rebollo (Relax)
Pietro Caucchioli (Alessio)
Marcos Serrano (ONCE)
Daniel Atienza (Cofidis)
Rui Lavarinhas (Milaneza)
–leapt off the front early today. By 35 km they were 6:37 ahead of the peloton.
3:34 p.m. — The nine leaders are on the slopes of the Puerto de Serranillos. The peloton is 5:52 back and on the lower slopes of the climb. Coast is driving the pace at the front of the peloton.
3:43 p.m. — The nine leaders are seeing their advantage chipped away. They are now around 5:00 ahead of the field with 5km of the climb remaining.
Angel Casero’s Coast team is still setting tempo at the front of the peloton.
3:49 p.m. — Kelme has gotten a bit of a scare on the climb. ONCE’s Joseba Beloki has attacked out of the field. The Kelme team has moved to the front.
Now Francesco Casagrande has attacked.
3:52 p.m. — Casagrande has been joined by Angel Casero.
The lead group has 5:25 on the field, but we do not have a time gap on Beloki yet.
3:53 p.m. — Beloki is back in the field. Casagrande and Casero were pulled in, too.
Casero attacks again.
3:57 p.m. — Coast’s Casero is back in the field.
Now his brother Rafael, who rides for Jazztel, is on the attack.
The peloton has crested the top of the climb 3:34 behind the group of nine leaders. Among those leaders, by the way, Osa takes the top climbers’ points and is again the leader of the KOM contest, albeit by a single point over Heras.
4:06 p.m. — The attacks on the climb had two effects: The gap to the lead group has been trimmed to less than 3:30 and the size of the peloton has been trimmed to about 35 riders, though the brave among the chasers are making contact on the descent.
4:17 p.m. — José Garcia Acosta has attacked from the lead group. He has a nice advantage of 1:32. The peloton is still 3:30 behind the main break.
The peloton is continuing to grow as riders rejoin after the descent.
4:23 p.m. — Garcia Acosta is now nearing a 2-minute advantage on the group behind him. He is more than five minutes ahead of the peloton.
4:26 p.m. — Garcia Acosta is now more than 5:15 ahead of the peloton. He has but 35km to go, so he may well hold the lead all the way to the finish. He still faces the Cat. 2 Puerto de Navalmoral at 155 km.
4:39 p.m. — Garcia Acosta has hit the lower slopes of the Puerto de Navalmoral. He began the climb about 2:25 ahead of the eight men in the chase group.
The peloton is another 2:00 behind.
4:46 p.m. — Garcia Acosta has had his lead cut to under two minutes. Behind him the men in the group are battling each other. Acqua e Sapone’s Martin Perdiguero is now off the front of the group.
Behind them the peloton is closing in quickly.
4:49 p.m. — Perdiguero is now 1:25 behind Garcia Acosta.
4:51 p.m. — Perdiguero is still making ground on the iBanesto man ahead. As he continues up the climb, he is now 1:10 behind Garcia Acosta.
4:54 p.m. — Now about 1.5km from the top of the climb, Garcia Acosta is working hard to maintain his advantage. Perdiguero is just one minute behind him.
4:57 p.m. — Garcia Acosta crested the summit of the climb just 56 seconds ahead of his lone pursuer.
4:58 p.m. — The chase group crossed 2:11 behind Garcia Acosta and the peloton crossed at 4:00.
5:01 p.m. — With 18km to go, Garcia Acosta is re-extending his lead on the descent. He is now 1:10 ahead of Perdiguero.
5:04 p.m. — With 15km to go, Garcia Acosta has bumped his advantage to 1:20.
5:06 p.m. — There has been a split in the main group, though we are unable to I.D. the riders who caused that.
5:09 p.m. — Garcia Acosta has just nine km to go. He is 1:35 ahead of Perdiguero and 3:15 ahead of the main field. The remanats of the chase group are at 2:03.
The split in the main group didn’t succeed. The main group has come back together again.
5:11 p.m. — Rather than catching Garcia Acosta, Perdiguero is being reeled in by the men in the chase group. The peloton, too, is closing in on the men in the break…with the exception of Garcia Acosta.
5:14 p.m. —Garcia Acosta is now 6km from the finish and he appears to be holding on to his lead.
Ahead, at 3km to go, he will have to work his way up a short but steep climb into town.
5:18 — Garcia Acosta is now 2.5km from the finish and is 2:17 ahead of the chase group. The peloton is closing in on the group.
5:20 p.m. — Garcia Acosta is closing in on the finish and well on his way to a stage win. He is one km from the finish.
The peloton is within 3km of the finish. There has been no change in the overall standings of the Vuelta.
5:22 p.m. — Garcia Acosta has won the stage.
Meanwhile Aitor Gonzalez is trying to steal a few seconds of time from Heras. He has attacked on the field.
5:25 p.m. Gonzalez has crossed the finish five seconds ahead of Heras.
That may not seem like much, but Heras’s advantage in the Vuelta is now down 1:07.
5:35p.m. — It was only 4 seconds, making the gap 1:08.
Check back soon for full results, a stage report from Andrew Hood and pictures from Graham Watson.