No change to overall standings
As was the case yesterday, stage 11 of this year's Vuelta proved to be a typical transition stage, with a group of riders going clear early on, building a large lead and providing the springboard for the eventual winner. Today's victor was one of the two Spanish riders on the Discovery Channel squad here, namely 28 year old Egoi Martinez, and he was very pleased to top the podium again after several years trying.
"This is a very welcome victory," he told the assembled media at the finish. "I have waited a long time since my last win in the Tour de l'Avenir [overall classification, 2003]. It is very difficult for me to win in mountain stages, but on days like today I can chase the victory and finally it arrived.
"It is also a very good win for the team, who have already had the leader's jersey. From tomorrow we will have a lot of morale for the rest of the Vuelta."
Martinez was keen from the word go, being one of the first to go on the offensive after the drop of the flag. His early effort was negated by the bunch but another move sparked off by Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) at kilometre 27 saw the Spaniard join the points jersey leader and 11 others in the move. He was frustrated by a lack of cooperation and cleared off on the day's second climb, the Puerto del Escudo, building a decent lead.
He was later joined by Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Volodymir Gustov (Team CSC) yet had enough left to surge clear with 12 kilometres remaining and solo in for the win.
"When we were in the bigger break early on everyone wasn't doing equal work," he said, when asked to talk about the key points of the stage. "I attacked in the hope of reducing it to a smaller group but unfortunately I ended up being clear by myself. I asked my directeur sportif what I should do, if I should sit up or if I should keep going. He said to keep riding and see what happened.
"When the two chasing riders got up to me, my directeur sportif gave me a lot of encouragement to keep my motivation up, telling me to keep fighting until the end because the stage wasn't over yet. It was perhaps that encouragement which enable me to get this win today."
Martinez said that he was in good condition earlier this summer but a couple of falls stopped him capitalizing on that. "I had very good form in the Tour and was lying fifth overall [after stage 4] but then I had a very bad crash," he said. "My body reacted very badly and I couldn't rediscover my pedaling rhythm. After a couple of stages in the mountain I got into decent form again but then crashed once more on stage 15 [to l'Alpe d'Huez] while I was in the break. It was tough to finish the Tour like that.
"I didn't do much training afterwards as I was very tired. When I arrived at the Vuelta I wasn't in great form, I was lacking rhythm, but after several stages I found myself once again in very good condition."
Following his Tour de l'Avenir victory, Martinez spent time with the Euskaltel squad before being signed to Discovery at the start of this year. He said that things didn't go to plan at first. " I arrived to the training camp in California ten kilos overweight and without any English. As a result, I lost a lot of morale in the first few days and it was very tough. But thanks to my trainer and the doctor my motivation improved and I was able to lose that weight very quickly. Other riders such as Chechu and Noval helped me improve my morale and the fact that Johan Bruyneel has good Spanish also helped me to adapt very quickly."
Second and third today were Landaluze and Gustov, while the remainder of the break came home over three minutes down. T-Mobile's Scott Davis was in the group and told Cyclingnews what the stage was like.
"Originally we had Bernhard Kohl on classification but he had some bad luck. Obviously that was a kick for the team and we had to go for stages. Yesterday I tried something and today I managed to slip into the move.
"Straight out of the blocks, everyone wanted to get into the breakaway. After about 20 kilometres there was a little hill and then we managed to get a little group of 14 or so. We worked until the finish, although three riders got away one by one and joined up.
"Later on we had a big storm with hail – a bit of everything today, really. That was the first rain of the race so that cooled us down a bit, but I didn't rate the hail much."
Carlos Sastre finished with all the favourites in the main bunch, 15 minutes and 4 seconds back, and also welcomed the change in weather. "Early on it was rather hot and humid when climbing the two category first mountains, but then with the rain we felt better," he told Onda Cero radio. "We spent the day without much trouble."
Race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) also finished in the main bunch and retains his maillot oro. Early on there was a little concern when three of his biggest rivals Alexandre Vinokourov, Andrey Kashechkin (both Astana) and Carlos Sastre (CSC) attacked, but Valverde's team was quick to relax and snuff out the move. That means that things remain as they were as the race heads into tomorrow's twelfth stage, a mainly flat 162 kilometre leg from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara.
How it unfolded
The gothic styled Burgos cathedral was declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Building in 1984. It was begun in the 13th century and completed in the 16th century. Burgos is an oft visited place in the Vuelta, and Milram's Alessandro Petacchi won here three times: in 2002, 2004 and 2005.
Defending champion Denis Menchov (Rabobank) retired from the race this morning, claiming physical and mental emptiness. The Russian wasn't doing a good Vuelta and he was 67th in the overall classification. Therefore, there were 167 riders who took the start in Torrelavega, the hometown of Oscar Freire.
Egoi Martinez was obviously motivated today and attacked from the gun, but his move was quickly covered by the peloton. At km 27, 13 riders attacked and made a gap: Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), Joaquin Rodriguez (Illes Balears), Serguei Yakovlev (Astana), Egoi Martinez (Discovery), Theo Eltink (Rabobank), Dario Cioni (Liquigas), Eric Leblacher (Française des Jeux), David Loosli (Lampre), Volodymir Gustov (CSC), Iñigo Landaluze (Euskaltel), Stuart O'Grady (CSC), Scott Davis (T-Mobile) and Alexandre Usov (AG2R). At the first intermediate sprint in Villacarriedo (km 28), Hushovd crossed in first place followed by Usov and Davis. Meanwhile, David Cañada (Saunier Duval) began chasing the leaders alone.
The leaders went up the first climb in Puerto de la Braguia (km 39) increasing their gap over the peloton. Cañada rode more than a minute behind the men in the breakaway. Later on, Egoi Martinez made a smart move and changed the tempo to leave the other 12 riders behind at km 68. Martinez led the race at km 80 by 2'42, with the lone Cañada at 6'32 and the bunch at 10'33.
The Discovery rider was determined to win the stage and he led the race by more than 14 minutes over the peloton at km 116. There was a lot of road to cover, but Martinez had a good advantage. The riders had to deal with the rain that started falling, combined with a sudden drop in temperature. Behind Martinez, Iñigo Landaluze and Volodymir Gustov attacked the break and caught the leader at km 130. It seemed the winner would be among this trio, as seven kilometres further, the three in front led by 2'13 over the rest of the break and 12'30 over the peloton.
Egoi Martinez didn't want company and attacked with 12 km to go. The Discovery rider powered away from Landaluze and Gustov and was finally rewarded for his massive effort in the stage, crossing the line to finish in first place. Landaluze and Gustov sprinted for second, and the Spaniard prevailed 55 seconds behind Egoi Martinez. The rest of the break arrived at 3'55, led by Hushovd, and the peloton came in at 15'04.
Stage 12 – September 7: Aranda de Duero-Guadalajara, 169.3 km
Stage 12 will be a rather flattish stage with just one climb in the middle of the parcours. The only mountain will be Alto de Santibañez de Ayllon (1,430 m. above sea level – km 66.4). There will be two intermediate sprints in Ayllon (km 44.8) and Yunquera de Henares (km 153). The route is very favourable for the sprinters' teams if they control the attacks on the climb.