Russian continues control of race with stage win
Denis Menchov put a golden stamp on the Vuelta a España leading into its first rest day. Clad in the maillot oro of race leader, the 29 year-old Russian of Team Rabobank won the stage to the top of Arcalís ahead of Australian Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and Spaniard Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
"No, I think it's not that way," said Menchov answering a question about whether he was aided by Piepoli in the finale. "Truly, we didn't talk about anything for today. Leo always rides this way; he tried to change the tempo many times. I followed him just in case, to see if someone stays behind. Leo tried to put a strong rhythm."
"Today it was difficult to jump out of the group because the wind was against us," said Menchov.
Only Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel) and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r Prévoyance) were left from a large, early escape as the race blasted up the 15 kilometre assent of Arcalís. Once the early escapees, including a last-ditch move by Manuel Beltrán (Liquigas), were caught at three kilometres to go, it was Team CSC's Carlos Sastre's turn to go.
The Spaniard appeared to be fading early on, but he was the only general classification rider to threaten the race lead of Menchov. Sastre put in his first serious dig at nearly three kilometres remaining, but the crafty Menchov was right on the wheel of his rival. The move by Sastre put everyone on the rivet and thinned the lead group. When he eased it was down to only seven men, with Menchov, Evans, Vladimir Efimkin (Caisse d'Epargne), Beltrán, Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval-Prodir) and Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Sastre did not give up; he threw two hard punches at two kilometres remaining. The jabs bought out the animal in Menchov. The Rabobank rider resisted the resurgence and subsequent attacks of Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
"I think what he [Piepoli] did was shameful," Sastre took aim at Piepoli's tactics. "It could have been a much nicer stage but this kind of... . We can not call it alliances. They are 'buys' in your face. These kind of things [make] dirty races; I think it's not good. Every rider has responsibility of his actions."
He was happy with CSC's performance. "I am glad because the team did try. We tried to break the race. There was a lot of wind blowing against us. It was very hard. We came to the Vuelta to fight."
"I agreed with Carlos," said Beltrán. "They hurt me a lot. I understand there are always alliances. Yesterday, he [Menchov] let Piepoli win the stage and it's logical than today he [Piepoli] helped him [Menchov]. This doesn't help the show. I think that I was the one most damaged."
Once he smelled the finish line, Menchov could not be contained. Evans' charge up the right side of the road only resulted in second, while Sammy Sánchez' third place arrival left him gasping for air metres past the line.
"I didn't have the speed to win," said Sánchez of the sprint. "I was thinking I could win, and I truly suffered a lot in this climb. I knew how to dose my strengths. I tried to surprise, but in the end it was impossible with Menchov."
He was impressed with Antón's attacks. "He is a pure climber. ... He is able to surprise you any day; he attacks. The truth is that as a rider he is a 10, and as a person a 15. I share the hotel rooms with him and he is a great guy."
The first rest day will give a chance for Menchov's rivals to think of a new strategy. The rider who obtained a post-dated Vuelta win in 2005 appears positioned to win the Grand Tour outright.
CSC's determination to put Sastre into control spelled disaster for the early escape group of nearly 20, which included their own man, Christian Vande Velde. Belgian Van Goolen hit out of a thinned escape group with 11 kilometres remaining in a bid for his first professional win. He was immediately followed by Frenchman Turpin. Five kilometres later the duo's move was over when Beltrán bridged. The Spaniard first ditched Van Goolen, and then Turpin.
Stage nine winner Piepoli looked like the danger-man on the early gradients of Arcalís. The Italian who makes his home in Monaco was sitting pretty, and protected in CSC's next. He ruffled the feathers of the computer team when he flew at nine kilometres later. He was captured by CSC's Gusev before gaining an insurmountable amount of metres. He flew again at five kilometres remaining, but this time it was another Russian, race leader Menchov, who shut down the tiny climber.
Menchov's heavy handed tactics did not let up until he crossed the line for his fourth Vuelta stage win.
How it unfolded
Oscar Freire decided not to take the start in Benasque, so the remaining riders on the road totalled 176. The Spanish ride opted not to ride further in order to reach the World Championships in Stuttgart in the best possible condition.
The steady breakaway was made of 18 riders at kilometre 21: Hubert Dupont, Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r Prévoyance), Stef Clement (Bouygues Telecom), David López García, Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Van Goolen, Dionisio Galparsoro, Alan Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Santos Gonzalez (Karpin Galicia), Damiano Cunego, Marco Marzano (Lampre-Fondital), Franco Pellizotti, Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Mario Aerts (Predictor-Lotto), Paolo Bettini (Quick.Step - Innergetic), Ángel Gómez Gómez (Saunier Duval-Prodir), Christian Vande Velde (CSC) and Giuseppe Guerini (T-Mobile). Meanwhile, Ian McLeod (Française Des Jeux) left the race. The gap between the break and the peloton increased over the second mountain, and was 4'15".
The leaders maintained the advantage, and they were almost five minutes ahead of the big group at kilometre 100. 16 kilometres later, Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) left the race. The Slovenian wore the golden jersey in two stages last year.
Puerto del Canto was the third climb of the day, and the breakaway had a four minute advantage at the summit (kilometre 140). The leaders preserved the distance after going down the mountain (kilometre 164).
When going through Andorra La Vella (kilometre 185 - 29 kilometres to go) the CSC riders sought to catch the break. The boys headed to the front and took command of the peloton. The gap was nailed back to less than two minutes. Shortly after, the gruppo started gobbling up the escapees.
There were just two riders who could resist: Turpin and Van Goolen. They led by 48 seconds with 10 kilometres to the end. The favourites were coming from behind. The duo's lead was down to 32 seconds by eight kilometres to go. Inside the thinning chase group was Beltrán. The Spaniard attacked, and he caught the duo with 6,000 metres to go.
"Triki" led the race solo with four kilometres to go, but it was only by 12 seconds. The gap was closed one kilometre later. With less than 3 kilometres remaining, Carlos Sastre attacked and caught Beltrán with Menchov and Piepoli on his wheel. The top group was made of Sastre, Beltrán, Menchov, Piepoli, Evans, Efimkin and Sánchez.
The last 200 metres formed an uphill sprint where Menchov ruled and crossed in first place. Neither Evans (second) or Sánchez (third) could catch him.
Stage 11 - September 12: Castellón - Algemesí, 191.3km
A transfer south and a well earned rest day will be followed by a stage suited for an escape group of 20. The two categorized altos that appear midway will solidify a small group that should be able to stay clear to fight out for the finale in Algemesí. The category 3 climb at Marianet (kilometre 58) and the category 3 climb at Chirivilla (kilometre 101) will 90 kilometres through Valencia with no major challenges.