Stage 14: Perez wins in Granada

Phonak's Santiago Perez scores finishes clear of the gold jersey group in Granada, reminding everyon

Phonak’s Santiago Perez scores finishes clear of the gold jersey group in Granada, reminding everyon

PICTURE BY LAVUELTA.COM On the day when it was announced that the injury-prone Oscar Sevilla would be leaving Phonak for T-Mobile, the Swiss team’s decision to release the recently disappointing Sevilla was largely vindicated when Santiago Perez won a tough and very fast stage into Granada. The 27 year old attacked on the first-category Monachil climb on the final kilometres into Granada and finished 46 seconds clear of an eight-man group led in by Alejandro Valverde and also containing race leader Roberto Heras and second-placed Paco Mancebo. Despite his age, this is only Perez’s third season as a pro, but today’s stage is his second in a major tour following a win at the 2002 Giro. Although he abandoned both that Giro and the Tour de France that followed in his one season with Kelme, former hockey player Perez was regarded as one of the hottest properties around and was snapped up by Phonak. However, tragedy struck even before the Asturian rider had raced for the Swiss team. In December 2002, Vanesa, his girlfriend of five years’ standing, was killed in a car crash when returning home after visiting Perez. Hoping to assuage his grief by focusing on cycling, Perez was then struck by knee problems that required an operation and forced him to miss all of his objectives for the year. The first signs that Perez was back to his promising best came earlier this week on the climb to the Calar Alto observatory, where he finished a not-too-distant second to Heras. He subsequently admitted he was looking to win at one of the race’s remaining summits but chanced his arm today after a small gold jersey group overhauled Alexandre Vinokourov, the last survivor of a 12-man breakaway on the lower slopes of the Monachil. That gold jersey group had already dropped the likes of Floyd Landis and Stefano Garzelli, and soon Saunier Duval’s Leonardo Piepoli was the only foreign interloper at the front of a stage completely dominated by Spanish riders. Not long after Vinokourov had been caught and dropped, Perez attacked and gained a 30-second lead by the top of the climb. On the largely downhill run into the finish, Perez succeeded in increasing his advantage despite Isidro Nozal, Carlos Sastre and Valverde all pressing strongly behind. The win moved Perez up two places overall to sixth, and given his current form he must be considered a real threat to Heras. Sunday’s 29.6km time trial up the Sierra Nevada above Granada will clarify the overall situation going into the race’s last week. Heras is the favourite for tomorrow’s stage, but the recovering Valverde and the resurgent Perez will also fancy their chances. What had been a very closely fought battle for the points jersey ended before the stage start this morning in Malaga when Stuart O’Grady did not appear. The Australian has followed Oscar Freire, Igor Astarloa and others in switching his attention to the world championships in two weeks’ time, leaving Erik Zabel in a strong position for the Vuelta points title. Stage 14, Malaga-Granada 1 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 167km in 4.06.34 (40.64kph) 2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.46 3 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 4 Paco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 5 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 6 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 7 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 8 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval 9 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 10 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 2.08 11 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 2.22 12 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 13 Juan Manuel Garate (Spa) Lampre 2.46 14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 15 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 16 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) Relax-Bodysol 17 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel 18 Manuel Calvente (Spa) CSC 19 Unai Osa (Spa) Illes Balears 20 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 24 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 50 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 10.09 Overall standings 1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 53.00.05 2 Paco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.35 3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.49 4 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.12 5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 3.16 6 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 3.36 7 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 4.19 8 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 4.40 9 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 6.43 10 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 7.26 11 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 7.34 12 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 7.51 13 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 9.36 14 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 10.39 15 Francisco Lara (Spa) Costa de Almeria 11.45 16 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 12.41 17 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 12.54 18 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Liberty Seguros 14.49 19 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) Relax-Bodysol 16.42 20 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) Euskaltel 19.51 45 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 49.19 Points 1 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 148 2 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 120 3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 106 Mountains 1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 67 2 Paco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 60 3 Felix Cardenas (Col) Cafs Baqu 58