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Good afternoon and welcome back to the Vuelta. What else do we want to do on a Sunday afternoon but go for a nice ride in the mountains? Well, it may be nice for us, but we doubt the riders see it in quite that light.
We will start our live report at 14:00 CET.
We are still in the mountains today, even if we don't have quite as many ranked climbs as previously. The first one comes at km 73, the category three Alto de Huelma. Then at the end, we have another double climb, like yesterday. The category two Alto de Los Villares comes at km 144.5, and only three km later they start going up again to the Hors Categorie finale, the Alto Sierra de la Pandera.
It's a short stage, too, only 157 km.
Lieuwe Westra of Vacansoliel was the first to attack today, at km 1. But he was quickly caught. There have been a lot of other attacks by various size groups, but so far none of them has been able to get away.
We are down to only 157 riders now, having lost a total of 41 so far. For the second day in a row, we lost 10 riders yesterday, all of them climbing out during the stage. The biggest names were sprinters Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Tom Boonen (Quick Step).
Three riders were not at the start today: Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), Xavier Tondo of Andalucia, and, we have heard, Ignatus Konovalovas of Cervelo.
This is the race's last mountaintop finish, and possibly one of the last chances for the favourites to attack and put time in on one another. Certainly Cadel Evans will want to make good the time he lost yesterday, and Robert Gesink must be carefully eying those 27 seconds separating him from leader Alejandro Valverde.
The next break to form features nine riders: Christian Knees (Milram), Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank), Damiano Cunego (Lampre), Adrian Palomares (Contentpolis), Gonzalo Rabanal (Xacobeo), Alan Perez (Euskaltel), Bram Tankink (Rabobank), Xavier Florencio ( Cervelo) and Kevin De Weert (Quick Step).
It seems to be successful and now has 1:32 over the peloton.
Will this group stay away? Who will take the stage today? You can talk about it on our forum at forum.cyclingnews.com/showthread.php
With so many riders out of the race, some of the teams are starting to feel the pinch. Bbox Bouygues Telecom is hardest hit, with only four riders left to take on the final week. Four teams are three riders down, eight teams are missing two riders, and six teams are down to eight riders. Only four teams still have all their riders in the race: Euskaltel, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis and Liquigas.
That doesn't include the three riders who were DNS this morning.
Evidently the race leaders have decided they are happy to let this group go, as its lead has now grown to 4:32.
The gap is now up to 6:40, and that is enough for Liquigas, which moves into the lead work of the peloton.
The weather could make things interesting today. We are scheduled to have 24° Celsius and partly cloudy at the start, with showers and 19° - 25° Celsius in the middle. The mountaintop finish looks to feature thunderstorms and 13° Celsius – not good.
And the first raindrops come down as the gap hits 7:40.
Sandy Casar of FdJ is the next to abandon the race.
The “grupetto” finished 39:04 down yesterday, which was actually outside of the time limit. The race jury was gracious enough to let the 54 riders stay in the race, but punished them by deducting 25 points from each one. This was a major punishment for Andre Greipel, who now has only a narrow lead in the point ranking.
Shane Stokes is at the Vuelta for Cyclingnews, and this morning talked to Garmin's Daniel Martin. "I'm going to try and get in the break today. I was working for Tom [Danielson], but he lost time yesterday so that may free things up,” the Irishman said. “At this stage of the race I'm not the best climber, but I'm still pretty good in the mountains so if I get in the break it could work out well."
A puncture caused Cadel Evans to lose over a minute in yesterday's stage, and as you can imagine, he was not happy. “Puncturing at that moment is bad luck, but the imbeciles from Shimano neutral service COULD NOT CHANGE MY WHEEL!,” he wrote on his website. If that wasn't enough, the tv and camera people blocked the road so that his team car couldn't get to him. Still, he managed to remain philosophical, doing his best Scarlett O'Hara imitation by saying, “Tomorrow is a new day...”
Stokes asked Rabobanks's Koos Mourenhout: How are you feeling? "Ask me in 2km," he joked. "The team's plan is to get someone up the road so that they can help Robert Gesink on the final climb."
The gap keeps growing, and is now 8:08.
Yesterday wasn't Robert Gesink's best day, even though he managed to stay with the other top favourites and moved up to second place overall. "I was completely cooked in the final kilometres and was on my max,” he said. If he feels better today, DS Erik Breukink says, you can look for him to attack and try to take the lead away from Valverde. More here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/gesink-will-attack-if-the-form-is-there
Gesink told Stokes today, "I'm pretty happy with how yesterday went. If I've got good legs today I'll try to take time out of Valverde before the time trial. If not, we'll target a podium position."
Jakob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank) told Stokes this morning, "I'm pretty tired. It's my first Grand Tour. I was feeling okay this morning so maybe I'll have a go at getting in the break."
And in fact he is in the day's break.
As always, here is our review of who is leading what classification. Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d''d'Epargne is still the overall leader. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) has dropped to fifth place, so now Rabobank's Robert Gesink is second, and Ivan Basso third.
The gap is now 9:05. Liquigas and Caisse d'Epargne are leading the chase.
Andre Greipel (Columbia) continues to lead the points ranking, but because he had 25 points deducted yesterday, he only a narrow lead over second-placed Valverde, 74 points to 68. Gesink is third with 58 points.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) really piled up the mountain points yesterday and now has 160 points, which gives him the clear lead over David De La Fuente (Fuji) with 83 points and Pieter Weening of Rabobank with 60.
Speaking of mountains, the lead group has a 9:44 advantage as it approaches the top of the day's first climb, the category three Alto de Huelma.
Valverde took over the lead in the combination points, narrowly ahead of Gesink, with Evans a more distant third.
Caisse d'Epargne still leads the team rankings, ahead of Astana. Xacobeo-Galicia moved up into third place, overtaking Fuji-Servetto.
We have conquered the first mountain of the day, and in this order:
1.Gonzalo Rabunal (Xacobeo)
2.Adrian Palomares (Contentpolis)
3.Bram Tankink (Rabobank)
4.Xavier Florencio (Cervelo)
Marco Marzano (Lampre) joins the list of those dropping out of the Vuelta.
Ivan Basso has now moved into third place in the Vuelta, and is only 1:02 behind leader Valverde. He feels his condition is improving and looks forward to the stages to come: www.cyclingnews.com/news/bassos-level-rising
Tom Boonen was one of those who dropped out yesterday. According to the team, he is still suffering back problems caused by a crash in the time trial, and didn't want to take any chances.
The leaders have passed through the feed zone, and the gap is now at 8:40.
There aren't a lot of sprinters left in the Vuelta, but one of them is Milram's Gerald Ciolek. The youngster, who turns 23 on September 19, told Stokes, "I'd like a stage win between now and Madrid. I'm going all the way to Madrid. We're not sure how many opportunity for sprints there'll be now that a lot of the other sprinters have left and their teams won't be working to set it up. Some of my own teammates have already left too.”
Juan Jose “JuanJo” Cobo of Fuji has now moved up into 11th overall, the best placed on his team. It almost didn't happen though. He fell back on the penultimate climb and broke down on the final ascent, where he was helped along by teammate Fredrik Kessiakof. “I bonked really hard in the last kilometres of Sierra Nevada, and I still haven't figure out why, because I didn't forget about eating and drinking,” he said on the team's website.
Not much is happening in the race. The gap is holding steady at 8:30.
We are back in the largley brown area of Spain, although there is some green around.
The road is very wet now in the town where the lead group is. They are riding fairly slowly and carefully through the city streets.
There was a women's World Cup race in Nürnberg, Germany, today, and the win went to Cervelo's Kirsten Wild ahead of Rochelle Gilmore and Ina Teutenberg. Marianne Vos took the overall World Cup.
It is also wet where the peloton is. The peloton looks quite large, we doubt that anyone has been dropped.
Kai Reus of Rabobank has crowned his comeback from a serious crash two years ago, after which he lay in an induced coma, to win the second stage of the Tour of Britain in a solo effort. He also took over the general lead in the race. You can read more about it shortly at: www.cyclingnews.com/races/tour-of-britain-2-1/stages/stage-2/results
Arnaud Gerard of Cervelo has crashed on a cobbled section. He is up and getting help with his bike now.
The gap is down to 7:50, and the roads are extremely wet.
Euskaltel is ignoring the wet roads and roaring along through Jaen at the head of the peloton. It looks to be a bit drier up where the escape group is.
We just had an intermediate sprint, with the points going to De Weert, Florencio and Palmares.
There were several crashes, and they were enough to tear up the peloton. Looks like they are all coming back together, though.
You can read a few details about Reus' win in Britain at: www.cyclingnews.com/races/tour-of-britain-2-1/stages/stage-2/results
It is dry at the moment, but very overcast and dark.
SIx and a half minutes as the lead group hits another intermediate sprint, won again by De Weert.
It's nearly all uphill from here on. The break group has turned off the main road and started ascending.
Euskaltel and Caisse d'Epargne continue to lead the chase.
The lead group has split. Cunego is rather surprisingly in the second group, but brings the others up to the leaders.
The nine are still more or less together, but we doubt it will stay that way much longer.
The gap has now fallen to 5:39. Rabanal is having trouble staying up with the lead group.
A number of riders are being forced to pull over with punctures.
Liquigas has now moved into the lead of the peloton.
Palomares and Cunego try to get away from their companions. They have built up a small lead.
Greipel must have yelled "grupetto". He is at the head of a group at the back of things.
The escape group catches the two leaders, but Palomares keeps trying and is off by himself now.
Tankink is the next to give chase, followed by Cunego. They catch Palomares and head off as a trio.
The lead group had come together, but Cunego takes off. Tankink is thje only to give chase.
Cunego alone in the lead, 4:43 ahead of the peloton.
All the favourites are, of course, together in the large chasing group.
The road is wet for Cunego, and it may be lightly raining. At least we have been spared the predicted thunderstorm.
Cunego hits the second mountain ranking of the day, and goes over alone. He has a very short descent, and then it goes up again.
The Valverde group is now about 50 riders strong.
Unfortunately we don't know how much of a gap Cunego has on his former escape partners.
The road is wet, but it is fairly wide and looks to have a new, nicely smooth surface.
The peloton, led by Liquigas, is now 4:30 back.
Cunego has turned off that nice road on to a narrower one to start up the final climb. The pavement here is much rougher.
When wil we see the expected attacks out of the favourites' group? We expect to see Basso, Gesik and Evans all try to take some time off of Valverde.
Cunego now has nearly a minute over the former break group, with the peloton 4.30 behind them.
Only seven km to go for Cunego.
A Rabo rider leads Gesink to the head of the peloton. No attack yet, though.
More riders are starting to fall off the back of the Valverde group now. It is only 20-25 riders.
Cunego hits the 6 km marker, and a slightly flatter section.
The Valverde group keeps getting smaller and smaller.
Danielson struggles to stay with the favourites' group.
Liquigas and Basso lead the field, followed by Evans, Gesink, Sanchez and Valverde.
Cunego is no doubt happy to once again have a flatter section to ride.
Well, until he hit the 11-to-12 percent gradient section, that is.
Only 10 or so in the Valverde group. We can't see if Danielson is still there or not.
13% gradient now for Cunego, but only 3.7 km.
As always, the narrow road is lined with fans, many of whom unfortunately feel the need to stand in the road and not next to it.
It doesn't look as if Danielson is still in the Valverde group.
Basso's helper Szmyd has now fallen out, and Basso is alone. Valverde has a teammate with him.
Still waiting for attacks.....
Valverde has light problems on the 13% section. Evans grinds his way at the lead of the group. He leads a group of four which does not include Valverde.
Gesink, Mosquera, Basso and Evans are the four together. Sanchez leads Valverde, and pulls away from the leader.
Sanchez is perhaps 3 seconds behind the Gesink group, with Valverde perhaps another 10 seconds back.
The Gesink group catches the first to fall out of the former escape group, as Sanchez catches them. Valverde is alone at the 2 km marker.
Mosquer attacks, but Gesink goes with him.
Mosquera has a slight lead over Gesink. Basso has dropped back slightly.
Mosquera goes on alone, with Gesink further back.
Valverde can now see Basso ahead of him.
Valverde has a word with someone running along side of him, no doubt saying, "please stay out of my way". Or perhaps not so politely.
The last km for Cunego.
Valverde has now nearly caught Evans and Basso.
Valverde passes Basso and looks to be riding well again.
Gesink has caught up with Tankink who was in the break group.
Sanchez has caught Mosquera.
Tankink can't hold up any more and Gesink goes on alone.
Nearly forgotten, Cunego crosses the finish line with his arms held high to take the stage win.
Valverde has nearly cauight Gesink!
They cross the 1 km mark together. Mosquera and Sanchez are the next who will finish.
Fuglsang was still in there, and finished second, 2:22 down. Sanchez sprints for third place and the bonus seconds.
Valverde comes in as fifth, with Gesink sixth, Evans seventh and Basso ninth.
Another time loss today for both Evans and Basso.
Here is the stage finish:
1 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank
3 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
5 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
Here is our new GC:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
3 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
8 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre-NGC
9 Juan José Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto
10 Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step
That's all, folks! For today, at any rate. We'll be back tomorrow with a flatter stage, so join us then.