Menchov holds firm
After more than 200 harsh kilometres over the Pyrenees, Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears) got his prize today, winning a five-rider uphill sprint to the ski station Ordino-Arcalis. Roberto Heras (Liberty-Würth) finished second on the same time and Vuelta leader Denis Menchov (Rabobank) was third on Heras' wheel.
It was a long and exhausting stage with an early big breakaway that slowly faded on an unforgiving parcours. On the last climb, the favourites' group with Mancebo, Heras and Menchov took the race by its horns and the trio finished together, with Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) and Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) a few seconds behind by the summit of Ordino-Arcalis.
"After so many Grand Tours, finally the victory has come," said an exultant Mancebo, reflecting on his first Grand Tour win. "It is an extraordinary year in my life; in my personal life [his daughter was born in July while he was riding the Tour de France - ed.] and in my professional life. I made a big effort to win and this victory is very important for me and for my team. This is the greatest victory in the world."
Carlos Garcia Quesada was also satisfied with his fourth place: "I'm happy because I gave it all today," said the rider post-stage. "My team-mates Eladio Jimenez and Adolfo [Garcia Quesada] also gave it their all. We are a fighting team, and at least we gave a good show for the TV audience. If we have energy, we will keep on trying to win."
Although isolated on the final climb, race leader Menchov was happy with the outcome. "In the end, things went right," said the Russian.
"At the end of the stage, I had to battle on my own, and now there's one day less, that's important. The final victory is very far; we will go day by day. We saved [the jersey], so it was a very important day." Menchov also added he didn't want to win today, as he told the other riders that he wouldn't go for the stage win.
How it unfolded
Unai Yus (Bouygues Telecom) was the day's non-starter in La Vall d'en Bas, leaving 178 riders with a long and hard journey ahead of them. Early in the stage (km 10), 10 riders made a breakaway: Miguel Martin Perdiguero (Phonak), Eladio Jimenez (Comunidad Valenciana), Joaquin Rodriguez (Saunier Duval), Oscar Pereiro (Phonak), Angel Vicioso (Liberty), David Lopez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Adolfo Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana), David Bernabeu (Comunidad Valenciana), Stijn Devolder (Discovery Channel) and Aitor Osa (Illes Balears). 29 kilometres later, their advantage was 1'20.
At the foot of the second climb, Port de Collada de Tosses, eight riders began chasing the 10 leaders: Joseba Beloki (Liberty), Jose Vicente Garcia Acosta (Illes Balears), David Bernabeu (Comunidad Valenciana), Benjamin Noval (Discovery Channel), Rik Verbrugghe (Quick Step), Iñigo Cuesta (Saunier Duval), Joan Horrach (Illes Balears) and Michele Scarponi (Liberty). On that mountain, the chasers and the leaders joined together, with the gap to the peloton 2'20 at km 75.
By the summit of the climb (km 77.7), Perdiguero was leading the race, followed by Joaquin Rodriguez, Eladio Jimenez and the rest of the leaders. The breakaway kept going and they increased their lead to 4'52 gap by km 130. Rabobank and Liberty Seguros-Würth didn't want to let the breakaway get much further ahead, so they pushed the peloton in order to reduce the time gap.
On the third big climb of the Collet de Montaup (around km 160), three riders attacked the break - Aitor Osa, David Lopez and Rik Verbrugghe, later joined by Adolfo Garcia Quesada. Pereiro and Cuesta couldn't hold the pace in the breakaway and fell behind, with the lead quartet's advantage to the peloton 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Back in the peloton, the group was splitting into smaller groups, as Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) chased the four leaders, 2'55 behind.
On the descent (km 188/18 km to go), Aitor Osa crashed on a left-hand corner, continuing for a few metres before realising his collarbone was broken, and abandoning moments later. But Osa wasn't the only who abandoned: 2001 Vuelta winner Angel Casero (Comunidad Valenciana), Isidro Nozal (Liberty) and Max Van Heeswijk (Discovery Channel), among others, also quit before the day's end.
Between Montaup and Ordino-Arcalis, Verbrugghe was leading the race solo as Adolfo Garcia Quesada and David Lopez dropped off the pace. By the foot of Ordino-Arcalis, Verbrugghe had a group of 10 riders less than a minute behind him, with the favourites including Roberto Heras, Denis Menchov and Francisco Mancebo around a 1'20 behind the first chase group.
At 9km to go, the show began with Carlos Garcia Quesada (Comunidad Valenciana) recovered to rejoin Verbrugghe, the pair staying together for some minutes. With Juan Miguel Mercado (Quick Step) coming up to them, the Belgian was dropped, leaving Quesada and Mercado at the front with 7km to go. Oscar Sevilla (T-Mobile) was coming from behind but struggled to joined the two, unable to make the junction, while the groupe maillot oro kept its pace and started reducing the gap to the leaders.
Heras changed the rhythm in order to trap the leaders, but found a strong Menchov straight on his wheel, with Mancebo also showing his colours to bridge the gap. With just 3km to go, Mancebo, Menchov, Heras, Garcia Quesada and Mercado were one. More attacks came from Heras but again, Menchov was on his wheel; the Russian had a clear strategy today: to follow the Liberty rider, no matter what.
Despite Mercado and Heras' attacking, the lead quintet rode the final kilometres together. In the uphill sprint, Heras accelerated and it seemed he would win, but Mancebo came from behind, passing him in the final 10 metres, earning his first Grand Tour victory.
Stage 11 - September 6: Andorra-Aramon Cerler, 186.6 km
Tomorrow comes the second day in the Pyrenees, another exhausting stage for all the riders. Five big climbs are on the menu: the Port del Canto (Category 1, 1730 m. above sea level, km 41), Coll de Bretui (Cat. 2, 1040 m., km 83), Coll de la Creu de Perves (Cat. 2, 1350 m., km 107.3), and Coll de la Espina (Cat. 2, 1410 m., km 140.3) before finishing at the ski station of Aramon Cerler (Cat. special, 1920 m.). Three intermediate sprints are also on the cards: Sort (km 61), Castejon de Sos (km 158.8) and Cerler (km 178). Expect to see Heras on the attack. So far, however, the Russian seems well prepared for war in the mountains...