Spanish Champion's Tour-like move garners race lead
In an action similar to day one of the Tour de France, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of Team Caisse d'Epargne moved into the Vuelta a España race leadership with a powerful and winning dash in the closing metres of stage two. The early surge of team-mate Joaquím Rodríguez as the race approached the line in Jaén allowed Spanish Champion Valverde to profit with a counter-move that could not be answered by Italians Davide Rebellin (Gerolsteiner) or Alessandro Ballan (Lampre) – second and third. Greg Van Avermaet (Silence-Lotto) finished fourth and overnight race leader, Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas), finished fifth.
"I was helped by the confidence I gained in the Tour," said Valverde. "The team has worked phenomenally. Joaquím Rodríguez did great work; he played his trick and punished the others."
Unlike this year's Tour de France, the Vuelta offers time bonuses on the line for the race winner. Valverde, with his first place, scored a 20-second cut to his overall time. He started the day nine seconds behind race leader Pozzato and finished in gold, 13 seconds ahead.
His Spanish team smelled the opportunity in the final kilometres of a rather unorganised race finale. "Oscar Freire told me it was an arrival that favoured me," revealed Valverde. His ace, Rodríguez, moved to the fore and fired on the sprinters in the final 1200 metres. His move almost lasted, but opportunists brought back his attack, such as Tinkoff Credit Systems' Riccardo Serrano. As the others caught his move, near 300 metres, Valverde launched a textbook counter that went unanswered.
"Bennati pulled hard and then the attack by Serrano," he said of Rodríguez's capture.
The only threat came from the Italians, who are racing for wins and a spot on the Italian squadra azzurra for the upcoming World Championship. Two-time World Champion Paolo Bettini (Quick Step) aided in Rodríguez's capture while two likely national candidates, Rebellin and Ballan, zoomed to the line behind Valverde for a podium finish. 'Pippo' Pozzato lost his overall race lead and finished fifth.
Pozzato, clad in the leader's maillot oro, had his Liquigas team working hard all day to control the escapes. It pulled the peloton along when the first escape formed almost at kilometre zero. Spaniards Jesús Rosendo (Andalucía-Cajasur) and Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) moved off the front first and, later, duo Frenchman Cyril Lemoine (Crédit Agricole) and Russian Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff Credit Systems) joined them. The four men gained a maximum lead of 4'06" by kilometre 69.
Sensing danger, Martínez moved out on his own at 42 kilometres remaining. Rosendo joined him a few kilometres later. The peloton succeeded in controlling both escape duos, but did not count of the flurry of counter-escapes in the closing kilometres. There was first a move by Mauricio Ardila Cano (Rabobank) and Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne) at 20 kilometres to go. It faded, but another move followed. Irishman Nicolas Roche (Crédit Agricole) and David Moncoutié (Cofidis) formed a subsequent move. The duo, joined by five others, still did not succeed. The race was all together with five kilometres of racing left.
Both Liquigas – for Daniele Bennati and Pozzato – and Quick Step – Tom Boonen – were driving the pace to the line. The plan for a sprint fell apart as the bunch compressed in the final three kilometres. The game fell into the hands of Caisse d'Epargne's Valverde. Rodríguez was able to position himself perfectly to give his captain the win and overall race lead. His last win in the Vuelta came almost two years ago to the day, stage seven to Ponferrada, September 1.
"We have earned a stage and taken the leadership, the objective is met. ... Everything from here on in will be all the better," said Valverde.
The win not only adds to his Tour de France coup, but his recent win in the San Sebastián and big spring wins in the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Dauphiné Libéré.
Rosendo took the mountains lead for his efforts in the escape. The rider from the Spanish Professional Continental team was the first rider over the first categorised climb of the 63rd Vuelta a España. Martínez, by going solo when he did, picked up the overall in the combination competition.