Vuelta 5: Menchov makes his mark

Denis Menchov wins the first hilly stage of the Vuelta, as US Postal's Manuel Beltran becomes the la

Denis Menchov wins the first hilly stage of the Vuelta, as US Postal’s Manuel Beltran becomes the la

PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The first really testing finish in this year’s Vuelta proved every bit as intriguing as expected. While most were banking on a stage win by Spanish sensation Alejandro Valverde, it was Illes Balears’ Denis Menchov who came up with the winning sprint to the line at the top of a third-category hill in Morella. Valverde was just three seconds behind the Russian at the finish, but was beaten into third place by an apparently remotivated Aitor Gonzalez. With overnight leader Benoit Joachim failing to stay with the hot pace over the last two climbs of the day, the gold jersey was passed on to the fourth US Postal leader of the race, with Manuel Beltran edging Floyd Landis out of the honour by virtue of higher finishing places. While those mentioned made a successful transition from the flat to the hills, other possible contenders won’t have been anywhere near as content, particularly T-Mobile. The German team lost three riders – Steffen Wesemann, Torsten Hiekmann and Santiago Botero – long before the stage had reached the first major rendezvous, the second-category Torremiro, whose summit was just 12 kilometres from the finish. All reported stomach problems, and more worryingly team leader Alexandre Vinokourov was visibly struggling with a similar ailment. The Kazakh trailed in 17 minutes down, his chances of victory blown to pieces. The only bright spot for T-Mobile was an excellent sixth place for Cadel Evans, who led in a large group nine seconds down on Menchov. Just behind the Australian were overall hopefuls Nozal, Mancebo, Cunego, defending champion Heras, Beltran and Landis, and Tyler Hamilton. It is also good to report that Joseba Beloki was with them at the end of his best day on a bike for some while. The decisive action began as the day’s main break was chased down on the approach to the Torremiro. A front group of 17 had been reduced to just five by an attack by Stuart O’Grady, whose aggression was later rewarded with the lead in the points competition. Liberty Seguros reeled this quintet in on the climb, but the first attack came from 2002 Vuelta winner Gonzalez. That brought most of the favourites to the front, but saw figures such as Haimar Zubeldia and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano slip out of the fray. Valverde’s CV-Kelme team-mates set a cracking pace to the final climb, where Saunier Duval’s Joaquin Rodriguez went on the offensive and was quickly joined by the sprightly Gonzalez. This pair were joined by Valverde, Cunego, Carlos Sastre and others. Then, with a kilometre remaining, Menchov launched his attack and with it pushed his name right up among the contenders for the gold jersey. Tomorrow’s 157-kilometre stage from Benicarlo to Castellon should go the way of the sprinters or a breakaway group, especially with a 40-kilometre time trial to follow on Saturday and the first major summit finish on the Aitana on Sunday. Stage 5, Zaragoza-Morella 1 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears-Banesto 186.5km in 5.07.44 (36.36kph) 2 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 0.03 3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 4 Leonardo Piepoli (Ita) Saunier Duval 5 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 0.05 6 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 0.09 7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 8 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 9 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal 10 Angel Gomez (Spa) Costa de Almeria 11 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 12 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 13 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 14 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 15 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 16 Miguel Angel Martin Perdiguero (Spa) Saunier Duval 17 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 18 Dario Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 19 Luis Perez (Spa) Cofidis 20 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 23 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 0.21 49 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal 1.01 85 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 6.00 118 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 9.09 120 Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa) Liberty Seguros 125 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 13.18 145 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank 16.50 133 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 157 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Cofidis 180 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 17.06 183 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 24.48 Scott Sunderland abandoned during the stage Overall standings 1 Manuel Beltran (Spa) US Postal-Berry Floor 18.47.16 2 Floyd Landis (USA) US Postal 3 Denis Menchov (Rus) Illes Balears 0.04 4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.09 5 Cadel Evans (Aus) T-Mobile 0.16 6 Benoit Joachim (Lux) US Postal 0.28 7 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears 0.39 8 Carlos Garcia Quesada (Spa) CV-Kelme 0.47 9 Tyler Hamilton (USA) Phonak 0.50 10 Victor Hugo Pe¤a (Col) US Postal 11 Aitor Gonzalez (Spa) Fassa Bortolo 0.52 12 Santiago Perez (Spa) Phonak 1.01 13 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 1.09 14 Roberto Heras (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.13 15 Dario Cioni (Ita) Fassa Bortolo 1.14 16 Isidro Nozal (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.17 17 Tomas Konecny (Cze) T-Mobile 1.18 18 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Saeco 1.23 19 Koldo Gil (Spa) Liberty Seguros 1.28 20 Ruben Plaza (Spa) CV-Kelme 1.39 29 Joseba Beloki (Spa) Saunier Duval 1.50 34 Stefano Garzelli (Ita) Vini Caldirola 2.09 95 Antonio Cruz (USA) US Postal 9.50 116 Michael Barry (Can) US Postal 13.09 127 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile 17.13 131 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Cofidis 17.45 133 Frank Hoj (Den) CSC 18.21 150 Robert Hunter (SA) Rabobank 19.43 182 Matt White (Aus) Cofidis 29.15