Probably the most significant moment of Jose Luis Arrieta?s winner?s press conference after stage 19 from Jaen to Ciudad Real came when somebody asked him when he had taken the one previous win of his career. ?Erm, 2002? 2003? I can?t remember.? the 35-year-old Ag2R professional said with a grin.
That said it all really: for Arrieta, a lifelong team worker who started racing in 1993 when he rode for Miguel Indurain in the Giro – ?my directors said I couldn?t go home half-way through like they?d promised after Indurain took the maglia rosa, and that was it, I became a domestique.? he recalled – victories are something that usually only figure on his personal radar because they?re something that he helps the team leaders acheive.
On stage 19?s interminable 205 kilometre grind through the mountains of northern Andalusia and up onto the flatlands of Castille, though, Arrieta managed to break away with seven other riders after two hours racing. None of them were significant overall contenders and after three big mountain stages, the peloton was happy to let them look for their slice of personal glory.
?I?d been taking it easy all week just so I could go flat out in this stage.? Arrieta said afterwards, and his strategy paid off well. After the eight?s lead had risen to over 10 minutes, (the peloton arrived so late at the finish that they all had to do the evening?s 200 kilometre transfer to Madrid by bus and not, as planned, in Spain?s equivalent of the TGV!) it was clear that the move was going to stay away.
There was a moment of doubt for Arrieta when Dane Lars Ytting Bak (CSC) launched an all-out attack four kilometres from the line, but he, Kazakh Dimitri Fofonov (Credit Agricole) and Lampre?s David Loosli joined forces and managed to pull Bak back. Biding his time in the last 1000 metres as Bak tried another desperate charge, Arrieta then took off from behind the other three riders on the far side of the road for his first win since – for the record – 2002 in the Tour of Asturias.
Overall, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse D?Epargne-Illes Balears) tested the water early on but was quickly reeled in by race leader Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana). Vino?s overall advantage after the stage remains at 53 seconds, more than enough for him to defend the maillot de oro on the Vuelta?s last big challenge, Saturday?s 27.5 kilometre time trial near Madrid.