Vuelta 9: Spanish strike on Aitana

The first major summit finish of the Vuelta is won by Leonardo Piepoli, but a pack of Spanish riders

The first major summit finish of the Vuelta is won by Leonardo Piepoli, but a pack of Spanish riders
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE Although Leonardo Piepoli won today's first summit finish in the Vuelta, skipping past defending champion Roberto Heras in the last few hundred metres of the stage, a stormy day in the sierra above Alicante was almost totally dominated by home riders. Floyd Landis managed to hold on to the gold jersey, but he finished almost a minute down in ninth place, with several of his most likely rivals some distance ahead of him. His lead overall has widened to 33 seconds over team-mate Manuel Beltra, but Heras, Francisco Mancebo, the awesomely powerful Isidro Nozal and Alejandro Nozal all closed in on Landis. After a successful day yesterday in the time trial, the American challenge began to wilt early in today's stage when Tyler Hamilton dropped away from the lead group two climbs before the last mountain. Although Oscar Sevilla tried to coax his Phonak leader back to the front of the race, Hamilton urged the Spaniard to continue and slipped right out of contention, eventually finishing almost 11 minutes down. The critical action on the Aitana effectively began when Nozal went to the front of the main group halfway up the Aitana and set a furious pace with his Liberty team leader Heras stuck on his wheel. Riders fell away from this scorching pace very quickly and soon only the two Liberty riders plus Piepoli and Costa de Almeria's Jorge Ferrio were left chasing long-time stage leaders Felix Cardenas and Pablo Lastras. Nozal's pace took the chasing quartet past the leaders with three kilometres left, and a kilometre later Heras attacked. Only Piepoli could stay with him. As the Spaniard pressed on in the search for as much of a margin as he could possibly gain over his faltering rivals, Piepoli sat on his wheel waiting for his moment to attack and take the day's prize. Both got what they wanted, and Landis now finds himself with a gaggle of Spanish riders right on his tail and only Beltran sure to come to his aid. Stage 9, Jativa-Alto de Aitana 1 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval-Prodir 170km in 4.29.36 2 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.04 3 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.10 4 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.15 5 Jorge Ferrio (Spa) Costa de Almeria 0.25 6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.29 7 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 0.41 8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 0.52 9 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 0.55 10 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 1.09 11 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 12 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 1.14 13 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 1.18 14 Felix Cardenas (Col) Cafs Baqu 15 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 16 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 1.27 17 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 18 Pablo Lastras (Spa) Illes Balears 1.51 19 Peio Arreitunandia (Spa) Cafs Baqu 2.02 20 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 2.08 38 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 5.19 59 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 10.52 Overall standings 1 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal-Berry Floor 31.46.48 2 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 0.33 3 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.38 4 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 0.51 5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.57 6 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.35 7 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 1.52 8 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 1.55 9 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 2.25 10 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 3.30 11 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 4.19 12 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 4.25 13 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 4.35 14 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 5.06 15 Victor Hugo Pe¤a (Col) US Postal 5.08 16 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre 5.18 17 Ruben Plaza (Spa) CV-Kelme 5.28 18 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 5.35 19 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 6.11 20 Jorg Jaksche (Ger) CSC 6.48 35 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 10.29
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