Vuelta 12: Heras takes a grip

Roberto Heras finishes alone at the Calar Alto observatory to take his first stage win of this year'

Roberto Heras finishes alone at the Calar Alto observatory to take his first stage win of this year’

PICTURE BY LAVUELTA.COM Roberto Heras took a major step towards becoming the first rider in history to win the Vuelta with three different teams when he won today’s mountain stage to the Calar Alto observatory in the Almeria sierra. The Spaniard broke away from the gold jersey group seven kilometres from the finish, soon caught and passed stage leader Francisco Lara, and forged on alone to finish well clear of his rivals. Phonak’s Santiago Perez came in 34 seconds down on the Liberty Seguros team leader, but of more importance was the gap Heras had on the next two finishers. Paco Mancebo finished third at 53 seconds and Alejandro Valverde an extremely laudable fourth given his injuries at 1-27. When hitherto race leader Floyd Landis came home more than three minutes down on his former US Postal team-mate Heras, a change in leadership was confirmed. Heras now leads Mancebo by 35 seconds, with Valverde perhaps content to be dropping just one place overall and still in the hunt for victory at 49 seconds. Landis fell to fifth at 2-19, his huge exertion at the Tour de France and in the first 10 days of this race apparently starting to tell. The day started with a big name Spaniard failing to start, but it was world champion Igor Astarloa rather than Tuesday’s crash victim Valverde who decided to sit out a stage featuring two first-cat mountains and then a super category climb to the finish. Valverde, though, was soon getting treatment from the race doctor to his heavily bandaged left knee, which did not seem a good omen of what was to come for the CV-Kelme leader. After a number of attacks on the first-category Velefique, Costa de Almeria’s Lara got away on his own to fly the flag for the local team. Lara continued alone over the first-category climb of the Calar Alto, where a Mancebo attack from the gold jersey group had Valverde and several other contenders in difficulty. At the foot of the final super category climb of 18 kilometres to the observatory, Lara led by five minutes, but that gap began to erode quickly once Liberty Seguros led the gold jersey group onto the mountain. Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano set the pace from the bottom, but most damage was done when Marcos Serrano took over. Leonardo Piepoli found Serrano’s pace so hot he pulled his bike over to the far side of the road, almost taking Damiano Cunego out with him. Landis was soon feeling the pace as well. The Postal rider slipped back, then got up to the small peloton on a flatter section. Soon after he did Valverde stunned everyone by attacking. It was a brave move that was quickly countered by Liberty’s Serrano and Isidro Nozal. Landis, though, could not respond. Nozal set the pace for a couple of kilometres, until Heras decided with seven kilometres left his moment had come. As Nozal flagged, Heras flew. In a few moments he was past Lara and heading alone for the steepest section of the mountain. Perez was the first to chase, with Mancebo and Valverde not far behind. The rictus grin on Valverde’s face told of the pain he was in. Soon after Mancebo got the pair across to Perez, Valverde’s gears jumped as he changed down and he lost contact. Heras increased his advantage all of the way to the summit, urged on by Liberty team boss Manolo Saiz from the team car. The Girona-based rider pushed himself right to the line before celebrating, eager to gain as much time as he could. In the end it was more than enough to take the lead, with the mountains and combined jerseys thrown in good measure. Tomorrow’s stage is an almost pan flat run to Malaga, and Saturday’s stage to Granada appears to favour a breakaway group. The strength of Heras’s grip on the gold jersey should be revealed on Sunday in the mountain time trial to the Sierra Nevada resort. Stage 12, Almeria-Calar Alto Observatory 1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 145km in 4.19.30 (33.53kph) 2 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 0.34 3 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.53 4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 1.27 5 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 6 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 1.38 7 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 8 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 2.02 9 Peio Arreitunandia (Spa) Cafs Baqu 2.17 10 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 2.28 11 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 12 Francisco Lara (Spa) Costa de Almeria 13 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 2.35 14 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 3.06 15 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 16 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 3.36 17 Marcos Serrano (Spa) Liberty Seguros 18 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 3.54 19 Jorge Ferrio (Spa) Costa de Almeria 5.37 20 Luis Pasamontes (Spa) Relax-Bodysol 6.30 Overall standings 1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 44.50.50 2 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.35 3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.49 4 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.12 5 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 2.19 6 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 2.40 7 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 3.16 8 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 4.22 9 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 5.07 10 David Blanco (Spa) CV-Kelme 6.12 Points 1 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Cofidis 130 2 Erik Zabel (Ger) T-Mobile 128 3 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 95 Mountains 1 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 57 2 Felix Cardenas (Col) Cafs Baqu 56 3 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 53