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September 29 - Weekly Rap

The final week of the Vuelta a Espana promised excitement and the racers did not disappoint.  It was also a challenging week of hard-fought racing that lead to the inevitable showdown between Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrei Kashechkin, the latter two of Team 0Astana.  Euskaltel-Euskadi's Igor Anton won the rain-soaked stage 16 in the mountains, earning his first pro win after attacking an elite six-man lead group with 4 km to go in the 145-km stage.  Valverde finished 2nd, 23 seconds behind, but earned a valuable time bonus.  Vino moved up to 2nd GC with his 3rd place finishing time bonus.  Kashechkin lost 1:28 on the stage and fell to 4th place GC.  Stage 17 went over three rated climbs in 159 kms that saw American Tom Danielson (Discovery Channel) taking home 0his first Grand Tour stage win.  Vino finished with Tommy D while grabbing the GC lead.  Astana's Kazaks took turns mercilessly attacking Valverde in the final 19 kms.  Danielson had been part of a six-man break, eventually getting clear on his own.  After an attack by Kashechkin, Vino countered and eventually caught Danielson with 5 km to go.  The two worked together and Vino was content to let the American take the stage while he earned the golden leader's jersey.  Stage 18 finished with the 153-km trek on a steep mountain climb.  Kashechkin bagged the stage with his teammate Vinokourov by his side.  Again Vino did not contest the finish as he was pleased to collect the time bonus for 2nd place, increasing his overall lead over Valverde.  A seven-man break went at just 8 kms into the stage, which finally got caught by Iban Mayo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Egoi Martinez (Discovery Channel) in the final 13 kms.  En route, Martinez collected the valuable points he needed to ensure his win of the King of the Mountains title.  Vino attacked Valverde with less than 7 kms to go, which was answered by Kashechkin, who successfully bridged to his teammate.  The two Astana men finished together.  CSC's incredible ironman Carlos Sastre, in his fifth consecutive Grand Tour, cracked a bit and fell to 4th GC behind Kashechkin.  Covering 205 kms, stage 19 was hilly, but the final 45 kms were pancake flat.  The shrinking peloton, down to 132 men after 54 had dropped out, took the day easy, finishing eleven minutes behind the eventual stage winner.  An eight-man break stuck at 48 kms that pared down further in the final 11 km when the attacks got thick.  The four-man finishing sprint was won by AG2R's Jose Luis Arrieta.  Vinokourov celebrated his 33rd birthday by winning the 27 km time trial on stage 20th, his third stage win of the race, which ensured his overall victory.  The course, although technical, was primarily flat.  Vino won the stage by six seconds over Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), with Valverde taking 3rd, 19-seconds back.  Vino held a 1:12 lead over the Valverde heading into the largely ceremonial final stage, with teammate Kashechkin comfortably holding onto third.  Milram's Erik Zabel collected his second stage win in the 142-km race.  The six finishing circuits in Madrid were fiercely contested and a dangerous break gained 22 seconds, but they were pulled back in the final km.  Milram gave the German sprinter a perfect lead-out.  Fellow sprinter Thor Hushhovd (Credit Agricole) earned the points jersey win while Vino took home his first-ever Grand Tour title.                        

At the 3-Lander Tour, T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz won the 190-km opening stage, with Frank Schleck (CSC) and Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) completing the podium.  A 13-man break went at 30 kms, eventually building up a 22-minute advantage before the three men went away.  They ended up finishing twenty minutes ahead of the pack, essentially making the "short" five-day stage race a competition between those 13 riders.  Karsten Kroon (CSC) won stage 2, but there were no GC changes after the 170-km trek that conquered five climbs.  A break escaped early with six men surviving to the end where Kroon sprinted to victory.  Time trial specialist Lang won the flat 18 km time trial on stage 3, which gave him the GC lead on his birthday.  Sinkewitz's 9th place finish moved him down to 2nd place overall, 26 seconds back.  Three mountain climbs were served to the peloton to gobble up over 165 kms in stage 4.  A 13-man break formed after 40 kms.  In the end, four-men went to the line, with CSC's Luke Roberts snagging the win.  CSC's Jens Voigt and Kroon attacked from the start of stage 5 and ended up forming a large group break.  Kroon went clear with 25 kms to go and won the final stage by 23 seconds, giving CSC wins in three out of five stages.  However, it was Lang, winner of this race two years ago, who again won the overall.  Sinkewitz and Schleck finished 2nd and 3rd respectively.            

Back on American roads, the final National Racing Calendar event unfolded in Parker, Colorado at the Parker Main Street Omnium.  Impressively the small three-man HealthNet squad managed to finish first and second overall ahead of a large TIAA CREF squad (nine men) and a solid Toyota-United unit (six men).  Priority Health's Tom Zirbel won the opening seven-mile time trial in very windy conditions.  The powerful winds continued the next day, making the road race so brutal that only 15 racers finished.  HealthNet's ageless wonder Scott Moninger collected the prize.  Australian Karl Menzies (HealthNet) won the criterium and the GC ahead of Moninger and TIAA CREF's Mike Friedman.  

Finishing the season strongly, Menzies won the final two NRC stage races.  More importantly, HealthNet won their third consecutive NRC team title over Toyota-United and the surging Navigators Insurance.  Individually, the NRC title went to Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis (Phonak).  A trio of HealthNets – Menzies, Greg Henderson and Nathan O'Neill – finished second through fourth.      

With the racing season now over in the U.S., next week we'll cover the World Championships in Salzburg, Austria and some of the final ProTour races of the year, including the Zuri Mietzgete.     

The Cool Down

Congratulations to former Giro d'Italia winner Gilberto Simoni.  Recently we told you the climbing phenom would conclude the rest of his season by trying five mountain bike races.  Well he did more than try.  Simoni won the Italian Championship Marathon Mountain Bike race…   

Will two-time Amgen Tour of California stage winner J.J. Haedo be turning in his red, white & blue Toyota-United kit to race in the red, black & white kit of top ProTour team CSC next season?  Stay tuned to see where this talented sprinter will end up…

Amgen Tour of California winner Floyd Landis recently underwent extensive surgery to replace the hip he injured in a training accident in 2003.  We wish him a full and speedy recovery…