Rabobank's Oscar Freire has won the Vuelta's stage 11 from Calahorra to Burgos, scoring his first stage victory at the race. The three times World champion deceived the rest of the sprinters once again with his impressive final speed, beating Quickstep's Tom Boonen by a hair. Argentinean Juan José Haedo of Team CSC-Saxo Bank came in third.
Freire was relieved to have brought his team a victory, and to show that he wasn't only riding the Vuelta to prepare for the World Championships in Italy later this month. "I always come to the Vuelta to prepare well for the Worlds, but I always give my best," he said after the finish. "Today also I was fighting for the win. I wasn't feeling great in the beginning of the Vuelta, but the last few days I was feeling better, which is why I was trying yesterday and today. It is always important to do well here." The Spaniard was out of luck in yesterday's stage, where he finished fourth.
Looking ahead to the big event in Varese, the triple World champion hoped that this year's preparation would bear fruit. "I hope this is a good sign for the Worlds. Last year I prepared essentially the same way, but I was lacking a bit at the Worlds. This year I arrived at the Vuelta much fresher," he said.
He took advantage of Boonen's lead-out and managed to pass the Belgian in the final metres. Behind them, a difficult right hand bend 500 metres before the finish had made life hard for the sprinters, who had to fight hard to keep their positions. Freire lost some ground there, but could came back with the help of Boonen's lead-out by Matteo Tosatto.
Boonen was delivered to the line in an armchair, but could not achieve his third stage win at the race.
AG2R's Lloyd Mondory, who placed second in yesterday's bunch sprint, again achieved a top five result. "I was well-placed in the sprint," Mondory said, satisfied with his new status within his squad. "The team did a great job. I had the legs to win. Yesterday, the guys saw that I am capable of winning. After yesterday, my team-mates also saw me in a new light today."
Three men in front
The day was marked by a three-man breakaway, namely Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia), José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Andriy Grivko (Team Milram), who escaped the bunch at km 33. Their advantage grew to more than seven minutes but the sprinter's teams cherished their chances of victory and made sure to catch the break with seven kilometres to go.
Still, Milram's Grivko believed that the break could have made it through. "It was a nice day and I think it was a nice try, because the last few kilometres we went very fast," he said. "But it was windy and the last ten kilometres were too difficult. The other guys didn't seem to have the legs. I will try again."
Spain's Martínez was also in the break and satisfied to have spent a day in the limelight of the TV cameras. "I am happy I tried," he said. "The three of us intended to stay away, but it was impossible. In the end they [the peloton - ed.] caught us quickly." Even the Cat. 3 climb towards the end of the stage could not keep the chasers away.
Orange team under control
With the peloton arriving together at the finish in Burgos, there were no changes to the General Classification. Euskaltel's Egoi Martínez' golden jersey was safely in the hands of the Basque team, which controlled the pace together with the sprinter's outfits until the finish.
Still, the day made the riders suffer because of the difficult terrain and a wind that constantly changed direction. "It was a difficult ride, a continuous up and down," said Team CSC's Carlos Sastre. "We were lucky, too, because there was some wind that was a tailwind, then a headwind at times. But it was still a tolerable day for us riders who look more towards the week-end stages. I think these last two stages did us some good; recovering a little to face those next stages with a bit more guarantees."
How it unfolded
Another sprinter's day got underway for the peloton in Calahorra under warm temperatures; it was already 25° Celsius when the bunch started. There were no overnight abandons. Oscar Freire later earned his prize money for the stage win, but will have to pay 100 Swiss Francs to the UCI. The latter fine was imposed on the Spaniard for not signing in before the stage start, along with Imanol Erviti (Caisse d'Epargne).
A few breakaway attempts were made early in the stage, and a trio finally went clear after 33 kilometres: Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia), José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Andriy Grivko (Team Milram).
The escapees' lead was up to more than seven minutes after 60 kilometres covered. However, once the pace was being set by Euskaltel, Lampre and Rabobank, their advantage started to shrink slowly, but steadily.
By the time the break reached the only difficulty of the day, the Cat. 3 climb of Alto de Valmada with 47 kilometres to go to the finish, the gap was down to 4'45. Despite the pulling of teams like Liquigas and Rabobank, the bunch made it all together over the hill and continued to gain time over the escapists.
With 15 kilometres to go to the line in Burgos, the peloton was 1'33 minutes back, and pushing 62km/h to reel the trio back in. World champion Paolo Bettini personally saw to it that his team-mate Boonen was going to reach the finish for a mass sprint.
With seven kilometres to go, it was game over for the breakaway. Then, AG2R, as well as Quickstep took the reigns during the last clicks. It was all about positioning with a last right hand bend at 500 metres to go. Quickstep's Tom Boonen was perfectly led out to the last 200 metres, but Oscar Freire managed sneak in from the left and throw his bike just a few centimetres before the Belgian's.
Stage 12 - September 11: Burgos - Suances, 186.4km
It is another hilly day in Spain, with the Alto de Bocos (cat 3), el Portillo de Lunada (cat 2) and el Alto de Campillo (cat 2) making life hard for the tired riders. The stage is 186.4 kilometres long and the finale - used for the first time in the Vuelta - is a flat affair for the last 30 kilometres.
But a little hump in the last 15 kilometres could still see a small group or a lone breakaway arrive at the finish in Suances. The overall is unlikely to change but those looking for stage glory will go all out. They know that the next day is a rest day.
Suances is located at the Cantabrian Sea in northern Spain and a favourite vacation spot for those wanting to hang out at the beach. It is a perfect location to spend one of the two rest days.