Stage 15: Heras Leads Spanish Revolution At Angliru
US Postal’s Roberto Heras stole the stage and the race lead, riding to a solo victory atop the brutal slopes – and in brutal weather – on the Angliru. Truly an epic day that will be remembered for years to come…
– Story by Charles Manantan –
The stage from Gijon ending at the top of the Angliru was a classic and defining point in this year’s Vuelta. And although we didn’t see anyone lose Like Angel Cassero did in 2000 (4 minutes in the last 3 Kilometers), having the riders finish in the rain on this beast of a climb after a run up that included two Cat 1 and one Cat 2 climbs was difficult and was probably the closest thing Spain has seen to the Inquisition in centuries.
The stage started with 145 riders of the original 207 and it was noted that several teams had fitted triple chain rings en mass (Kelme and US postal included, while other did the expected double with mountain bike rear cassette (Saeco) for a 38-30 combination possibility and still others opted to use standard road combos like campy’s 39 – 29 and Shimano’s 39 – 27 (The latter probably still have riders finishing while you read this). With the weather forecasting rain at the finish, the riders must have been overjoyed as they set off.
After just 17 kilometers a large group of about 24 riders set off and with nobody a GC threat, the peloton let them go, with the lead never getting to me more than 6:30. With Kelme firmly at the front (Kelme has the only complete team left at the Vuelta) the race wound its way over the first two climbs of the day, with three riders (Flecha, Pereiro, Florez) breaking away from the group of 24. That splinter reduced to two riders as Florez crashed and wound up back in the chase group, but the peloton didn’t take keen interest until the approach of the last climb of the day, the Cordal.
The peloton was led first by Kelme and then a strong effort by Saeco that brought back the group on the Cordal and that effort was followed by an attack by a stomping Danilo Di Luca who was caught and countered by an attacking Aitor Osa, who went on to reach the two leaders and then drop them in a dangerous descent on now wet mountain roads. A crash followed in the thinned out Peloton as they descended, and saw some key top 20 people in the Pile up. Trentin in 9th, Lastras in 15th and David Millar in 10th, (with Millar abandoning in a protest on the finish line) all fell victim to the wet and tricky drop down the Cordal.
Just up the road were Aitor Osa followed by an MSS rider (Sousa), but the race was unfolding as most thought it would and by the start of the Angliru climb, there was a group featuring the key contenders, with the most notable team being Kelme who had Sevilla and Gonzalez protected by 2 team mates, while the other contenders had a helper or two at best.
The first fireworks were started by Francesco Casagrande as the rain started to fall steadily and the visibility at the top was a reported 10 meters. This was marked quickly by Gonzalez who was in second place by just a second to a struggling Oscar Sevilla, but as Gonzalez began to pass Casagrande, Roberto Heras came around a helping Christian Vandevelde (who would finish a very respectable 20th on the stage and has been Heras only true help in the mountains to date) and Heras took just a few pedal strokes behind Gonzalez before making the pass.
Watching Heras go by Gonzalez was like watching a jet airplane from a great distance. He seemed to be going so slowly, but it belied the true power and speed, and in an instant the gap was there and Heras was going away. In an instant, he was past Osa and Souza and was off alone. Heras had 20 seconds on Gonzalez inside the first kilometer of his break (started with just 6.5 Kilometers to go) and the pace now being set by the contenders in the mountain had overall leader Sevilla in serious difficulty, but saw Joseba Beloki showing his resurgent form, closing on Gonzales. With 3 kilometers to go, Heras had 1 minute on Beloki who had caught and passed Gonzalez and seemed to be gaining, but by the 2k point the gap to Beloki had jumped to 1:15 and Gonzalez had lost the Golden Jersey on the road with a gap to Heras of 1:47. The rest of the riders were scattered in the rain and dense clouds trying to get traction and finish while dodging loads of fans and a few team and ref’s cars that couldn’t finish the climb.
In the end Heras had the stage as most had expected, but with Beloki proving himself stronger than the Kelme duo of Sevilla and Gonzalez (Beloki has a great chance of being the first man since 1991 to podium in two major tours in the same year).
RESULTS – Stage15
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal Service 5.01.02 (35.2km/h)
2 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 1.35
3 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.41
4 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 1.54
5 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 2.16
6 Danilo Di Luca (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport
7 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport
8 Angel Casero (Spa) Team Coast 2.22
9 Fabian Jeker (Swi) Milaneza-MSS 2.34
10 Fйlix Garcia Casas (Spa) Bigmat.Auber 93 2.42
11 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 2.50
12 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Team Coast
13 Jцrg Jaksche (Ger) ONCE-Eroski 3.18
14 Carlos Garcia (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 3.30
15 Rui Miguel Sousa (Por) Milaneza-MSS 3.48
16 Jesus Maria Manzano (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 4.01
17 Klaus Mцller (Den) Milaneza-MSS 4.08
18 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 4.21
19 David Plaza (Spa) Team Coast 4.32
20 Christian Vandevelde (USA) US Postal Service 6.12
GC AFTER STAGE 15
1 Roberto Heras (Spa) US Postal Service 55.14.08
2 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 0.35
3 Oscar Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 1.08
4 Joseba Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 1.57
5 Iban Mayo (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 2.16
6 Francesco Casagrande (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 3.56
7 Fйlix Garcia Casas (Spa) Bigmat.Auber 93 4.05
8 Gilberto Simoni (Ita) Saeco-Longoni Sport 4.55
9 Manuel Beltran (Spa) Team Coast 5.20
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5.26
Results – Stage 15
1є HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 5:01:02
2є BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE a 1:35
3є CASAGRANDE, Francesco ITA FAS a 1:41
4є MAYO, Iban ESP EUS a 1:54
5є GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 2:16
6є DI LUCA, Danilo ITA SAE a 2:16
7є SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE a 2:16
8є CASERO, Angel ESP COA a 2:22
9є JEKER, Fabian SUI MIL a 2:34
10є GARCIA CASAS, Fйlix ESP BIG a 2:42
Overall After Stage 15
1є HERAS, Roberto ESP USP 55:14:08
2є GONZALEZ, Aitor ESP KEL a 35
3є SEVILLA, Oscar ESP KEL a 1:08
4є BELOKI, Joseba ESP ONE a 1:57
5є MAYO, Iban ESP EUS a 2:16
6є CASAGRANDE, Francesco ITA FAS a 3:56
7є GARCIA CASAS, Fйlix ESP BIG a 4:05
8є SIMONI, Gilberto ITA SAE a 4:55
9є BELTRAN, Manuel ESP COA a 5:20
10є ZUBELDIA, Haimar ESP EUS a 5:26