Stage 16 photo gallery>>

Just one day after one of the most dramatic stages in the Tour of Spain, stage 16 won the prize hands-down for the most boring of 2008.

If you?d turned on the telly to watch the last ten kilometres of the Tour of Spain?s stage 16, you might have been quite impressed – until, that is, you looked at the time and realised it was an hour behind schedule.

After all, on the flat-run in to Zamora there you had Quick Step giving it some welly on the front, with Paolo Bettini personally doing a massive turn through the last few corners.

After such an impressive display of collective strength, Tom Boonen could hardly fail his team-mates. Sure enough, Tornado Tom turned on the gas to take his second Vuelta stage win by half a bike length over Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas).

Unsurprisingly, the World Championships are never too far away from the action in the Tour of Spain and Boonen revealed he?ll be going home on Thursday to build-up for the World?s. Judging by his amazing work on the front both half-way through the stage – where he singlehandedly cut down a two-man breakaway?s lead from four minutes to two, despite being stung by a wasp – and then again at the finale, Bettini won?t be long following him, either.

That was the good part of stage 17 of the Vuelta – all ten kilometres of it. The bad part lasted 176 kilometres and consisted of an unwritten truce by the bulk of the peloton to do as little as possible.

On a stage where the average speed was calculated at the very worst to be 40kmh, the bunch completed the course – it would be an insult to other events to use the word ?raced? – in an average speed of 34.794kmh.

That meant the race was an hour down on schedule – and that apart from an early attack by two breakaways, for kilometre after featureless kilometre, the bunch crawled across the plains of eastern Spain. Watching paint dry would have been far less monotonous.

The racing grew so tedious that Onda Cero, one of Spain?s most important radio stations and one of the few that gives the event national coverage in Spain, stopped their live reports. The commentators said they?d done so, ?out of respect for their listeners.? – and very possibly after five hours of total tedium, because they had run out of things to say.

?The stage didn?t have much buzz,? Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour winner and currently third overall, said when the event finished at nearly 7 pm local time. Talk about stating the obvious.

?The day was pretty calm in fact. We spent five hours on the bike. We took a ?holiday?, in inverted commas.? Sastre needn?t have bothered with the inverted commas: barring Boonen and Quick Step, stage 16 looked like a holiday full stop.

It’s a pity the racing was so dull, because after years of slow decline, TV viewing figures have risen enormously in this year?s Vuelta. In the Angliru stage the audience share was a staggeringly high 22.3 percent – 2.5 million viewers for a race which normally struggles to average one million a day. There are more crowds out on the stages, too – the 200,000 on the Angliru stage was an all-time record.

But coming after all the fast-moving excitement of stage 15, where the breakaways fought tooth and nail for victory, stage 16 was the pefect justification for those who say that the Vuelta should be cut to two weeks – or less.

Either that, or it was the perfect excuse for an extra-long siesta.

TOUR OF SPAIN 2008: STAGE 16 RESULTS

Ponferrada – Zamora

1. Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 186.3km in 5hr 21min 16sec


2. Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Liquigas

3. Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Gerolsteiner

4. Mickael Delage (Fra) Francaise des Jeux

5. Thomas Vaitkus (Lit) Astana

6. Koldo Fernandez de Larrea (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi

7. Alexandre Usov (Byl) Ag2R

8. Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Lampre

9. Oscar Gatto (Ita) Gerolsteiner

10. Sebastien Hinault (Fra) Credit Agricole all same time

British

110. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole at 39 sec

OVERALL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE 16

1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana in 66hr 35min 04sec


2. Levi Leipheimer (USA) Astana at 1min 17sec

3. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Astana at 3min 41sec

4. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo-Galicia at 4min 35sec

5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 5min 49sec

6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne at 6 min

7. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse D’Epargne at 6 min 11sec

8. Egoi Martinez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 8min 56sec

9. David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis at 9min 32sec

10. Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Gerolsteiner at 10 min 1sec

British

132. Jeremy Hunt (GB) Credit Agricole at 2hr 16min 19sec

Tour of Spain 2008Stage 16 scenery

Tour of Spain 2008Peloton on stage 16

Tour of Spain 2008What’s the time gap?

Tour of Spain 2008Race leader Alberto Contador and Astana head the bunch

Tour of Spain 2008Tom Boonen makes it two

Photos by Graham Watson

TOUR OF SPAIN 2008

STAGE REPORTS

Stage 15: Garcia Dapena takes solo win

Stage 14: Contador takes second mountain-top stage win

Stage 13: Contador wins on Angliru to take lead

Stage 12: Bettini wins, Valverde out of contention

Stage 11: Freire wins stage

Stage 10: Hinault wins, Martinez retains lead

Stage nine: Van Avermaet takes stage, Martinez new leader

Stage eight: Moncoutie triumphs in Vuelta’s second Pyrenean stage

Stage seven: Ballan takes surprise win in mountains

Stage six: Bettini wins, Chavanel leads

Stage five: time trial win for Leipheimer

Stage four: Bennati takes crash-strewn stage

Stage three: Boonen bounces back

Stage two: Valverde powers into lead

Stage one: Liquigas are surprise winners

NEWS

Tour of Spain rest day review 1

Tour of Spain on Eurosport (schedule)

Behind the scenes at the Tour of Spain

Tour of Spain – still a week too long?

Tour of Spain kicks off this weekend

PHOTOS

Stage 16

Stage 15

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

Stage 11

Stage 10

Stage nine

Stage eight

Stage seven

Stage six

Stage five

Stage four

Stage three

Stage two

Stage one