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Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the 14th stage of the Vuelta a España. Today the peloton are making their way from Córdoba to Puertollano, a 170 kilometre journey. Two climbs today, both category three: The Alto de los Villares at 1.2km and the Alto de la Chimorra begins at 42.1 kilometres.
The peloton are currently on the slopes of the Alto de los Villares. They left Córdoba, where it was announced yesterday that the Andalucian capital of Seville will host the start of the 2010 Vuelta. Interesting to hear that organisers will change the colour of the leaders jersey yet again; from gold to red.
It means that whoever wins this year's Vuelta will be the last to wear the gold jersey (unless they decide to change it back of course!). At the start of today the man closest to gold in Madrid is still Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). He leads a top-five that looks thus:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 0:00:31
3 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 0:01:10
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas at 0:01:28
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at0:01:51
Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia is sixth, 1:54 behind Valverde.
The peloton remains together as they crest the summit of the Villares.
Coming back to the jersey change for a moment; a change to red will mean that the shade of the mountains classification is also set to change, but no word on what colour that may be at this stage. Regardless, David Moncoutié (Cofidis) has pretty much wrapped up what will be the last red climber's jersey for a little while:
1 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis 160 pts
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Fuji-Servetto 83
3 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC 76
4 Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank 60
5 Javier Ramírez (Spa) Andalucía-Cajasur 59
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 58
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 57
8 Julián Sánchez (Spa) Contentpolis-Ampo 57
9 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil 54
10 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 53
Mind you, Moncoutié ain't resting on his laurels just yet. He's just pipped David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) for the top of the Alto de los Villares. Moncoutié's teammate Jean-Eudes Demaret takes third.
Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucía-Cajasur) has attacked on the descent and has moved away to a 1.10 lead over the peloton.
André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) is still wearing the green jersey of points leader, despite sitting four points behind Valverde in that competition. Today Columbia will be hoping that Greipel can take the lead out-right with a stage win in Puertollano.
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 80 pts
2 André Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC 76
3 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 68
4 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC 67
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 67
6 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 58
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 56
8 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 55
9 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis 51
10 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 51
Jesus isn't hanging about. No one seems keen to jump across to him and he's certainly not waiting. 17km's in and he's got 3.17 on the bunch.
27-year-old Rosendo Prado is a native of Seville: he'll no doubt have been pumped up by the news that the Vuelta will be starting in his home town next year.
We're we leaving Andalucía for the first time in five days as the race heads into the region of Ciudad Real and the finish in Puertollano. Colombian Leonardo Duque won on the Vuelta's previous visit to Puertollano - he's here this year too, racing for Cofidis.
Rosendo Prado is building his lead steadily. It's unlikely he'll get out to the sort of gap that we witnessed yesterday, when Rabobank's Lars Boom finished 25 minutes ahead of the peloton.
Incredibly, Boom was the first Dutch winner of a Vuelta stage since Max van Heeswijk in 2005. Riding for Discovery Channel, Van Heeswijk won stage seven of that year's race into Vinarós, a city we visited on stage five this year.
After 26 clicks (kilometres), Rosendo Prado has 6.20 on the main group; big day of work ahead for him as he heads towards the centre of Spain. Nice day for it though: temperature today is 25 degrees C and it is sunny.
Two weeks out from the World Championships and riders' attention is starting to turn towards Mendrisio. Spaniards Valverde and Samuel Sánchez will head into the race as favorites. Sánchez told Cyclingnews that after doing the Tour de France/Olympic Gold double he's confident that he can do the same with the Vuelta/Worlds combo this year.
The peloton really took it easy yesterday after the mountain onslaught of the weekend. They seem content to let Rosendo Prado dangle out in front today. He'll provide a nice magenta coloured carrot for them to chase later on. 7.42 is the lead now.
One bloke who wasn't happy about missing a ticket to the Worlds is Stijn Devolder. The Ronde Van Vlaanderen winner is still racing here in Spain and is currently 103rd overall and 1:50:53 behind leader Alejandro Valverde, but he sure isn't pleased to miss out on the Belgian team for Switzerland.
Rosendo Prado is just coming up to the town of Villaharta; he's averaged just over 34kph in the first hour of racing.
Rosendo Prado's team, Andalucía–Cajasur, is backed by the government of Andalucía. A day like thiswwhere one of it's riders spending most of the day occupying the attention of the media is part of the incentive for sponsors and, in the case of a local team like this one, an exciting day for spectators!
Speaking of inspiring efforts, it's fantastic to hear that Italian former F1 driver Alex Zenardi has set his sights on the 2012 Paralympic games in London. What a legend.
Rosendo Prado is about five kilometres from the start of the second and final categorised climb of the day, the Alto de la Chimorra. He's got a big lead now, almost nine minutes.
There are two sprints on the course today. The first is at Pozoblanco after 71.2km and the second is at Almodovar Del Campo at 159.3.
Film buffs might recognise that the name of that second sprint point. Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar was born in Calzada de Calatrava, which is about 20km east of Puertollano.
Columbia have moved to the front of the peloton, they won't be overly concerned by a solo escapee, but with 11.09 advantage the orders will have come from the team car to temper Rosendo Prado's lead.
Incidentally, Andalucía–Cajasur are one of 13 teams not to record a victory in this year's Vuelta so far.
Columbia have the most: three stages (Greipel x 2, Henderson); Garmin-Slipstream have 2 (Farrar, Hesjedal); Saxo Bank have 2 (Cancellara x 2); Lampre 2 (Cunego x 2) and one each to: Milram (Ciolek), Vacansoleil (Bozic), Xacobeo Galicia (Cesar), Cofidis (Moncoutie) and Rabobank (Boom).
Rosendo Prado has now gone over the summit of the Alto de Chimorra. That's it for categorised climbs until stage 18 on Thursday.
Unless Rosendo Prado does survive today, it's likely that we'll see two sprint finishes. Today in Puertollano and tomorrow in Talavera de la Reina.
While sprinters Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Tom Boonen (Quick Step) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) have left the race, others remain. André Greipel (Columbia) and Gerald Ciolek (Milram) look set to remain to Madrid; both will be looking to seize sprint opportunities.
Moncoutié led David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) over the summit of Chimorra, to mop up the points left behind by the leader.
Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made intimate contact with the asphalt on the way off the Chimorra. Nothing too serious, he's up and riding again.
Lars Boom's win yesterday was a Dutch highlight, but his compatriot Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) has also had a great, super-consistent race this year. Hoogerland is currently sitting twelfth overall, 12:18 behind Valverde.
Somebody's been keeping an eye on both of them: they've both been named as part of the Netherlands' team for the Worlds.
Hoogerland could be worth marking down as dark horse for this year's World Championships. He;s hung tough on the climbs at this year's Vuelta, good preparation for the hilly Mendrisio parcours. He finished 12th in this year's Ronde Van Vlaanderen too, so he's no sloutch when it comes to tough, one-day races.
Columbia's attention has seen the gap to Rosendo Prado drop towards nine minutes. The leader, by the way has averaged 31km/h in the first two hours of racing. Couple of hills, but in reality it's not that quick. Another day of 'active-recovery' for the riders today.
Perhaps not, in the last four kilometres of racing the bunch have cut the lead to just below seven minutes. The Andalucía rider is closing on the first sprint at Pozoblanco.
We'll see what happens, but Columbia will probably be happy to keep the gap around six minutes. There are still 100km to go on the stage and they won't want to bring Rosendo Prado back to quickly.
Another scenario is that Rosendo Prado fades on his own, there are no more Categoriesed climbs, but the profile of the stage would indicate that the third quarter is going to be a real slog for him on his lonesome.
There's certainly enough time for another group to get away if he comes back quickly.
Not surprisingly Rosendo Prado takes the first sprint at Pozoblanco. His lead now sits at the six minute mark - here we go: Will my predition of a six-minute gap be torn to shreds?
André Greipel (Columbia) gets second at the sprint, his teammate Adam Hansen takes third. I'll grab the abacus to work out where Greipel now stands in the points classification, he was four points down on Valverde at the start of today.
76 + 2 = 78. Right, Greipel's halved the gap to Valverde with that second place. The Spaniard has 80 points, the German on 78.
No word of any abandons today. All 154 riders who finished yesterday in Córdoba lined up again today.
Having made his way through the feedzone, the next town that Jesus Rosendo Prado will visit is Torrecampo. It's not huge, about 1300 residents. The Andalucian Institute of Statistics indicated last year that the highest proportion of ex-patriots resident there come from Romania, so a shout out to any former-Romanian residents of Torrecampo who may be following Cyclingnews' live coverage today.
Well so much for the six minute prediction, it looks as though Columbia had upped the pace to make sure Greipel grabbed the two points at the sprint. Rosendo Prado's lead has stretched back out to 9.05
There's little doubt over who will collect the most-combative prize for today, although (assuming he does get it) Rosendo Prado won't be a total stranger to the Vuelta podium. He wore the jersey of mountains classification leader from stages two to six at last year's Vuelta.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Columbia-HTC) seems to be hitting his straps at the Tour of Britain. He nabbed his second stage win in Blackpool this afternoon ahead of Chris Sutton (Garmin-Slipstream).
Bit of a kaleidoscope at the front of the peloton as Columbia gets some help from Liquigas, Contentpolis-AMPO and Milram as the gap again drops towards seven minutes.
The leader is racing through Castile-La Mancha, the third region of Spain that today's stage visits. He's got just under seven minutes lead now.
Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucía-Cajasur) has averaged 33km/h today. He's forging his own path through the region famed as the setting for Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote. He's probably not taking to much notice of the windmills or sunflowers of the area, nor stopping to sample any Manchego, the cheese made in La Mancha.
There's not too much likely to change in the overall today, but Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes caught up with Cadel Evans this morning, who was still upset with events of an unlucky stage 13.
"It's really frustrating what happened the other day with my wheel change," said Evans. "I was sitting in second overall, in a perfect position, and then that happened. And they also penalised me for taking a water bottle - I needed one as I had changed bikes!
"It will be very hard to win the race now but we'll see what happens."
Meanwhile, Rosendo Prado is pushing his way along an uphill section. At this stage he's still got 6:35 of his lead intact.
André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) is definately motivated for the win today. Like Evans, the German had a tough stage 13 as the race jury docked him 25 points as the autobus he crossed the line with finished outside the time limit. That's the reason he now sits behind Valverde in that competition, and he's not happy about it:
"It is bullshit," Greipel told Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes this morning. "It's not a penalty against the riders in the autobus, just against the sprinters. I hope I can still get the jersey, but it will be more difficult now."
Rosendo Prado's gap is starting to drift backwards from six minutes. He's been out in front now, alone for 90 kilometres. He's on the climb of El Mochuelo - which isn't worth any climbers points - and he's not going to be handed today's state.
André Greipel's Directeur Sportif Brian Holm agreed with his sprinter's assessment of the autobus penaly: "The rule is crazy. It means that the sprinters' teams have to ride in the mountains as well as on the flat. If we have to defend a points jersey, every other team is just going to sit back and say that we have to ride, otherwise we lose it. It's not fair at all."
One rider in a better mood was Saxo Bank's Jakob Fuglsang. You'll remember the Dane crashing into the back of a truck on the 'moist' fourth stage to Liege. He's obviously recovered from that incident and told Cyclingnews: "I'm motivated after my second place the other day. I think Cunego could have won from the peloton as well, he is very strong. So I'm satisfied with my result there. It shows I am in good form. If I get the chance, I'll try again."
With the comments of Greipel and Holm echoing Columbia have resumed their pursuit of Rosendo Prado. The Andalucía-Cajasur rider has upped his pace too, but it's no match for the white and yellow train puffing away five minutes behind him.
There's not much to punctuate the course for the next forty kilometres. The next major way point will be the second sprint at Almodovar Del Campo. At that point there'll be just 11 kilometres to race.
Hmmm....will Rosendo Prado make it to the sprint point? He's got 4:46 and about 38 kilometes to go. He'll be riding on uphill gradients pretty much the whole way there.
Four minutes now. Rosendo Prado's got 33 kilometres to the sprint point and at least half of that will be uphill. This will come back together but it's a question of how quickly. He's lost 0.46 in the last six kilometres.
At this rate he'll be caught in 21 kilometres or so.
Columbia, Milram and Liquigas are the teams on the front and they're not taking any chances as the gap is dropping quickly.
Vincente Reynes (Columbia) is the man doing the most work to bring the leader back into the peloton.
Jesus Rosendo Prado looks pretty well resigned to his fate, he's still got it in the big ring but the puff looks to have gone out the Andalucían.
The armada of the peloton are now being led by Milram, the riders on the front make the comment that "It's only two minutes."
Liquigas' Kjell Carlstrom gestures calm on the front of the peloton.
Jesus Rosendo Prado takes one of the Solidario sprint points 30 kilometres from the finish.
It's an odd prize the solidarity award. It's obiously there to reward a rider like Jesus Rosendo Prado, but you have to wonder how much of a consolation it is.
The peloton has blocked out accross the road. The seconds are ticking away from moment to moment, but the leader has picked up pace as he gets a respite from positive gradients.
The arrow head has reformed on the front of the peloton. Rosendo Prado seems to have taken heart from this downhill section, he's looking more animated as he searches for the most aerodynamic position on his bike.
The leader is having a chat with his Andalucía-Cajasur team car. The gap drifts below one minute for the first time since the 17th kilometre of today's stage.
Quick Step have also come to assist at the front. To recap: Columbia, Liquigas, Milram and now Quick Step are taking turns to lead the peloton.
Rosendo Prado shows an exhausted grin. 'Opa Hombre!' is the call from the side of the road.
The peloton is bouncing about as they follow Rosendo Prado up a rise, 30 seconds after the leader.
13 seconds now.
Jesus Rosendo Prado (Andalucía-Cajasur) is back in the peloton after 143km out in front today. Long day at work as yesterday's breakaway victor Lars Boom pats him on the back.
Still 17 kilometres to go in today's stage. Columbia seize control of the front of the bunch in an attempt to discourage attacks.
85kp/h as the peloton descends towards the final sprint point at 11 kilometres to go.
The peloton is racing on long straight roads as Puertollano looms on the horizon, they'll be in the outskirts of the town shortly.
There's a lot of that nervous movement on the fringes of the peloton as the scrapping for position begins in earnest.
Vacansoleil have got their noses up the front, they're there to represent for Borut Bozic. Lieuwe Westra's at the head of affairs at the moment.
The race is in the narrow streets of Almodovar del Campo. Greipel takes the points at the sprint. He's now two points clear of Valverde in the points competition.
Dead straight, single file for the peloton as they begin the final 8km.
It's still all Columbia at the front. Rabon, Hansen, Grabsh lead the procession. 7 kilometres to go now.
Grabsch his hauling at 57km/h. Not too much coming past the German at this stage...save for a few motorbikes.
Columbia will have to maintain this for a while yet. It's a gamble and Liquigas have now created a new train on the opposite side of the road.
It's still a nice, long, straight, wide boulevard into Puertollano.
Still Liquigas, Milram and Columbia dicing at the front of the peloton.
There's a high speed crash on the right hand side of the road. Roger Hammond has gone down, Julian Dean too.
Wouter Weylandt went down too. That was an ugly crash.
The leaders go around a roundabout. A Quick Step rider attacks the front. Mateo Tossatto gets 20 metres but is brought back quickly.
Liquigas on the front. 1km to go
Liquigas is on the front for Bennati
Greipel is on Bennati's wheel
Greipel swings off Bennati's wheel and whips across the line to take his third stage win!
Greipel got the stage win ahead of William Bonnet (BBox Bouygues Telecom). Bennati just held on for third. Ciolek fourth.
Overall classification stays the same, no great surprises there.
Greipel will have re-established his lead in the points classification.
1André Greipel (Ger) Team Columbia - High Road
2William Bonnet (Fra) BBox Bouygues Telecom
3Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas
4Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
5Fco. José Pacheco (Spa) Contentpolis-Ampo
6Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne
7Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Silence - Lotto
8Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
9Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo Bank
10Inaki Isasi (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
General Classification after Stage 16
1Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne69:59:34
2Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank00:00:31
3Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi00:01:10
4Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas00:01:28
5Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto00:01:51
6Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia00:01:54
7Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne00:05:53
8Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre - N.G.C00:06:34
9Thomas Danielson (USA) Garmin - Slipstream00:08:28
10Juan José Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto00:10:45
Thanks for joining us again today for Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 16 at the Vuelta a España from Cordoba to Puertollano. Join us again tomorrow for stage 17, a 175 kilometre journey from Ciudad Real to Talavera de la Reina. We'll see you then!