Plaza breaks ITT record with superb win
Ruben Plaza set a new record for the fastest ever non-prologue time-trial on Sunday, edging out Roberto Heras by 0.6 seconds over the 38.9 km ITT. A strong tailwind and a flat course helped the Comunidad Valenciana rider clock a time of 41'31" at an impre
25-year-old Plaza put in a performance beyond his years as he denied Heras the chance to win his third stage of the race on the eve of the Spaniard's certain record fourth Vuelta win.
Starting the day in seventh overall, Plaza was eying a leap up the general classification which, bar Heras' healthy lead at the top, remained rather open.
Battling it out for the final place on the podium were Carlos Sastre (CSC) and Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears). Mancebo had put in an imposing first section, setting the best time at the first check after 15 km.
But the future AG2R rider tailed off towards the end and could only set the fifth best time, at 10", with Sastre recovering well to finish in third, at 4".
Rabobank's Denis Menchov, who won both the prologue and the second ITT at Lloret del Mar, was targetting a clean-sweep but he too tapered off slightly, finishing fourth at 6".
Heras was the only rider who could topple Plaza, and after the second check at 28 km, the Spaniard held a six second advantage over his compatriot.
But the reigning Vuelta champion slowed on the final straight, finishing a painstaking nine-tenths of a second behind the ecstatic Plaza.
"I took no risks, but I'm very satisfied I could come so close to winning.
"It's a good omen for time trials in the future and a sign I'm improving at something I always found difficult in the past."
The riders were blessed with strong tailwinds and dry weather which aided Plaza to record his record-breaking 56.2 km/h average speed.
"It was not a tough course and I could push a big gear," said Plaza, who touched speeds of nearly 80 km/h.
"I'm not surprised Heras came so close, all of the big favourites were pushing for the win today.
"It was a heart-stopping finale and from now on, I have to taste this win in calm to enjoy it," he added.
It was the perfect way to end an incredible day for Plaza, who told reporters after the race that he had signed a new two-year deal with his team only that morning.
His win was the third triumph for Continental Tour team Comunidad Valenciana after the previous victories of Carlos Garcia Quesada and Eladio Jimenez.
Plaza himself moves above Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile) into sixth position in the overall standings.
Baring accident, Heras will ride into Madrid and secure the race on Sunday. The Liberty Seguros helmsman has a 4'36" advantage over Russian Menchov and 4'54" over Sastre. Mancebo is fourth at 5'58" while another Comunidad Valenciana rider, Carlos Garcia Quesada, lies in fifth, at 8'06".