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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 19 of the Vuelta a España. The 174 kilometre route will see the peloton travel from the site of yesterday's finish, Ávila, to La Granja, Real Fábrica de Cristales. It's another chilly start today, 15 degrees C, but the rain isn't falling, as it was on Thursday.
It's the final mountain stage of this year's race today. Four categorised climbs on the agenda, including two ascents of the Category 1 Puerto de Nevacerrada:
1. Alto del Leon - Category 3 at 39 kilometres.
2. Puerto de Navacerrada - Category 1 at 53km
3. Puerto de la Morcuera - Category 1 at 95km
2. Puerto de Navacerrada - Category 1 at 141.5km
Amaël Moinard (Cofidis) was the first to commence hostilities today. He attacked as soon as the flag was drawn in after the neutral period.
Moinard was joined by 15 other riders shortly afterwards, but with Liquigas and Vacansoleil missing the break, this move was closed down after 20 kilometres.
Christope Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale) was the next to try his luck.
He attacked after 26 kilometres and was joined two kilometres later by Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream) and Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia). In the last half-an-hour the break has moved out to an advantage of 3:44 over the bunch.
The leaders are currently riding up the Alto del Leon. They have already ridden through the town of San Rafael, which I had earlier identified as the first climb, my apologies there.
The Leon is Category 3, it's only six kilometres long and the leaders will be decending towards the town of Guadarrama pretty quickly.
Caisse d'Epargne have assumed their position at the front of the peloton. They've backed the pace off considerably; the average was more than 45km/p in the first hour of racing this afternoon!
This is a considerably smaller break than yesterday, when Philip Deignan joined 16 colleagues on the road to Ávila. The Irishman took an impressive victory over Roman Kreuziger yesterday in the final battle between the two.
Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream) and Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia) have continued to build their advantage on today's stage, they've pushed out to almost seven minutes lead on the slopes of the Alto del Leon. The trio are on the descent now.
Deignan's victory yesterday was his first Grand Tour stage win, and the first Grand Tour stage win by an Irishman since Stephen Roche at the 1992 Tour de France. No surprises that Deignan was pretty chuffed afterwards.
Deignan rocketed up the overall yesterday too. He'll hope to get through the next three days without incident in order to protect what is creeping close to a top-ten finish:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 78:56:42
2 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:00:32
3 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:10
4 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 0:01:29
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 0:01:51
6 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:01:55
7 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:05:54
8 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre-NGC 0:06:35
9 Philip Deignan (Irl) Cervélo TestTeam 0:07:49
10 Juan José Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto 0:10:46
Vorganov led the break over the summit of the Leon first, David de la Fuente was the first of the peloton to cross the same line, about seven minutes later:
1st Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia)
2nd Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream)
3rd Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale)
4th David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto)
De la Fuente is looking to secure his second place in the mountains classification. He's always an aggressive rider, but it'll take a disaster on the part of David Moncoutié for Fuente to take the red jersey before Madrid:
1 David Moncoutié (Fra) Cofidis 186 pts
2 David De La Fuente (Spa) Fuji-Servetto 89
3 Pieter Weening (Ned) Rabobank 60
4 Javier Ramírez (Spa) Andalucía-Cajasur 59
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 58
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 57
7 Julián Sánchez (Spa) Contentpolis-Ampo 57
8 Johnny Hoogerland (Ned) Vacansoleil 54
9 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 53
10 Bingen Fernández (Spa) Cofidis 51
Vorganov is not the sort of name you expect to see on a Spanish wildcard's Vuelta roster. The Russian is the only non-Spaniard on the Xacobeo team for this race, although the 26-year-old's compatriot Vladimir Isaichev is also on the team's books.
Could there be an Irish one-two? Dan Martin is in today's break. He hasn't had the smoothest of journeys in his debut Grand Tour, but as he pointed out to Cyclingnews last week, he's done his part to fulfill the old adage: 'you gotta be in it to win it'.
There are two sprints on today's stage, although it's unlikely that points leader André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) will have much of a sniff at those; they're close together and they'll take place just before the final ascent of the Puerto de Navacerrada.
1. Sprint 1 - 138km
2. Sprint 2 - 141.5km
At any rate, no real need for Greipel to go chasing intermediate sprints; like Moncoutié he'll hang onto his jersey as long as he can keep it 'rubber side down':
1 André Greipel (Ger) Columbia-HTC 123 pts
2 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas 81
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 80
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 68
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 54
10 Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil 52
AG2R La Mondiale will be keeping their fingers crossed for Riblon today. They've had a dry year in terms of victories, just five this season. Mind you, Riblon has played his part in those, he won the third stage of the Rud du Sud into Bagnères-de-Luchon in June.
We haven't received word of any withdrawals on today's stage, either before or during. Maxim Iglynskiy of Astana was one of eight riders that ceased their participation Thursday. His team manager Johan Bruyneel is to set sail on the good ship RadioShack at the end of this year. Today the Belgian said the return of Alexander Vinokourov was the reason for his impending departure from Astana.
The leaders are on the first ascent of the Puerto de Navecerrada at the moment. The second ascent of the climb, later on today, will preceed a rapid drop to the finish in La Granja. On paper it's much better suited than yesterday's course to an attack from one of the contenders for overall. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) or Eziquiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) would seem the men most likely.
That's not to say Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) or Ivan Basso (Liquigas) won't have a dig. Robert Gesink is less likely to attack as he's still nursing his injuries from his stage 17 crash, but the attendance of his Rabobank team could assist Caisse d'Epargne in defence against any potential attacks.
Three riders who won't be launching any attacks in the forseeable future are Nuno Ribeiro, Isidro Nozal and Hector Guerra. The trio tested positive for EPO-CERA prior to the Tour of Portugal. The incident looks to have spelt the end for Liberty Seguros' involvement in cycling.
Caisse d'Epargne haven't let go of the reins completely. They're monitoring the advantage of the leaders pretty closely. With just three riders sharing the workload out in front, it'll be a tough fight to stay away until the end.
The leaders are just about to tip over the top of the Navacerrada, still 6.27 in front.
It's unlikely to be a long way up his agenda of interest at the moment, but Dan Martin's Garmin teammate Bradley Wiggins is surrounded by speculation as to where he will race next year. Despite a report saying that Wiggins had joined Team Sky, Garmin director Jonathan Vaughters told Cyclingnews this morning that:"Bradley Wiggins is under contract for 2010... that's the end of it."
The slope of the Category 1 Navacerrada did slice a little bit of the leader's advantage away, not to mention sucking some of the pace from the day's average speed: 37km/h so far.
Same order over the top of the Navacerrada. The names behind indicate who's doing the work on the front of the peloton.
1. Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia)
2. Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream)
3. Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mond
4. Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-Ampo)
5. David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto)
6. Alan Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
7. Francisco Perez (Caisse d'Epargne)
8. Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne)
9. José Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne)
Caisse d'Epargne have pulled the lead closer to six minutes over the first of three Category 1 ascents. 6:06 was the latest time check
The site of today's finish is La Granja, which in English translates to 'the farm'. The full title of today's finish: 'La Granja, Real Fábrica de Cristales' gives a hint to something far removed from a rural setting. Spain's King Charles the 3rd set up a factory for the manufacture of crystal under that title in La Granja during the 18th century.
The riders are currently tucking into their lunch en route to the next climb of the day: the Puerto de la Morcuera.
The lead is continuing to drop, though not too dramatically. Daniel Martin (Garmin) hasn't taken a victory this season, although he finished second overall at the Volta a Catalunya, including a second-placed stage finish on the climb to Vallnord Pal. He's arguably the most purest climber of the leading three.
Quick Step's Matteo Tossatto has abandoned the race.
The leaders: Christophe Riblon (AG2R La Mondiale), Daniel Martin (Garmin-Slipstream) and Eduard Vorganov (Xacobeo Galicia) are now on the climb of the Category 1 Puerto de la Morcuera.
He's not racing at the Vuelta, but Janez BrajkoviÄ� has decided to follow a number of Astana riders transferring to RadioShack at the end of the season.
Caisse d'Epargne are being relieved by Liquigas at the head of affairs in the peloton.
The gap is still hovering around the six minute mark. If the leaders can hold a similar advantage over the top of the Morcuera their odds of a stage win will increase significantly. Yesterday, the peloton turned off the pressure on the final climb, it'll be interesting to see whether they're happy to let the breakaway get another win.
Based on this Vuelta so far, the odds of a breakaway succeeding would seem pretty solid. Eight out of the last ten stages have been taken by a member of each day's main breakaways.
The final descent today will be the reverse route of last year's uphill individual time trial. Levi Leipheimer (Astana) was the victor on that occasion.
Speaking of Astana riders, Alberto Contador held a press conference at La Granja this afternoon. He said he's keen to leave the Kazakh team, and a decision on his new home could be made by Sunday.
Robert Gesink (Rabobank) has been dropped from the main group on the slopes of Puerto de la Morcuera. He's 38 seconds behind the peloton, who in turn are now just 3:43 behind the leaders.
Silence-Lotto have realised that Gesink is struggling and have come to the front of the peloton, Liquigas and Caisse d'Epargne are already there. This is bad news for the Rabobank captain and the breakaway.
Gesink is now chasing on the descent off the Morcuera. He's pulled back to within 30 seconds of a now Euskaltel driven peloton. The boys out front have just over three minutes now.
The leaders will be willing Gesink back into the peloton. There's a chance that if he makes it back to the main group the teams in the race for overall will take their collective foot off the gas and give them hope of surviving over the top of the Navacerrada.
Gesink is one tough cookie. He's just nine seconds behind the main bunch now.
Rabobank have almost brought their leader back to the main pack now. The leaders have 2:48. This is shaping up to be a battle royale on the final climb.
We're not long from finding out whether Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) will make his long-awaited bid for glory. No chance of him catching anyone by surprise; it's been talked about for the last week.
The leaders are riding through rain, it's not raining at the finish. They won't mind too much if it rains on the ascent, but a dry descent will be a blessing.
The peloton are strung out in a long line as they pursue the three in front. The peloton is all back together after Gesink was unhooked on the previous climb.
Euskaltel are still driving on the front of the bunch. Caisse d'Epargne riders are filling the slots in between the orange jerseys.
Vorganov is leading the breakaway. They're doing long, smooth turns in the breakaway. Martin comes through to take his turn at the front now.
Sergio Dominguez (Contempolis-Ampo) has abandoned the race.
Euskaltel have pulled the peloton to within touching distance of the leaders. 1:08 is the gap. There's less than 40 kilometres to go in today's stage.
Valverde is accepting food from a teammate now. Fueling up for the attacks that are bound to begin shortly.
The breakaway isn't going to last too much longer now. They've got around half a minutes advantage now.
NB. Distance indicator is switching over to distance from the finish now.
The leaders are racing through the streets of El Boalo. The roads are properly wet now.
It's amazing the difference between where the riders are now and the finish. It's completely dry in La Granja, but the raincoats are on water buckets down. The advantage of the leaders has stabilised at 30 seconds.
And just as I say that, the advantage drops again. Just over 20 seconds now. The leaders have stopped working now.
Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) springs out of the bunch as the leaders become visible in front of peloton.
Hoogerland has been accompanied by Alexandr Kolobnev (Saxo Bank) and Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia). They catch the leaders. Martin and Riblon are dropped immediately.
The new leaders have moved away to a small, 14 second advantage.
The attack has been neutralized, Hoogerland and Martinez are the only two in front now.
David Moncoutié has made his way off the peloton as well. Ah, but now, it's all back together yet again.
There are bonus seconds available at the sprint points, not many, but bonus seconds are bonus seconds.
Euskaltel-Euskadi are at helm of the peloton as the final climb begins.
They've hit the lower slopes. Gesink is already in trouble already, he's in a third group on the road that is forming. Koos Mourenhout gives his Rabobank captain a push.
Gesink's position in the overall is slipping away rapidly as Euskaltel push on. Rabobank are all there assisting their leader, but the gap to the peloton is a wide one already.
Valverde is well up towards the front, he's looking comfortable. There's a Quick Step rider on the front of the Gesink Group. The man himself is grimacing as the road kicks up a little more.
Egoi Martinez is one of two Euskaltel-Euskadi riders setting the pace on the front.
Inigo Cuesta (Cervelo TestTeam) shoots out of the peloton. There's no reaction for the meantime, the Spaniard is no threat to the overall contenders.
Cuesta hasn't got much of an advantage. He looks back.
The peloton is splintering now. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) is pacing himself back to the group containing the main contenders, he doesn't look to be in too much difficulty.
Gesink is holding at 30 seconds behind, but the splits in the main bunch will make things more difficulty. In any case, he's not likely to get back on terms with the main leaders.
Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel) has run out of teammates in the front group. Caisse d'Epargne are now leading things with Liquigas.
Gesink is now almost a minute behind.
Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), Ivan Basso (Liquigas), Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Eziquiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) are all present and accounted for at the front of the race.
It's now raining at the finish, so the descent is going to be pretty sketchy for whoever decides to attack.
Sylvester Smydz (Liquigas) is leading his captain Basso. Sanchez gets out of the saddle, Valverde is on him in an instant.
Sanchez puts in another tester. He cant get away, but it's thinned the group down to just a handful of riders.
Gesink's demise means Sanchez is in second place overall. Short of a miracle from the Rabobank rider, the podium at the moment is: Valverde, Sanchez, Basso.
Juan Jose Cobo attacks nead the top of the climb. Sanchez follows. It looks like Sanchez has chosen the descent as his point of attack.
Valverde and Sanchez have gone away on the descent. It's the top-two in the Vuelta who are at the head of the race, with a gap to the other favorites. Valverde appears to be descending far better than Sanchez.
It's wet, Sanchez takes a looooong time to apex one of the corners.
Mosquera has bridged to the leaders on the descent.
The three leaders are now into the hairpins. Evans has rejoined now too.
Basso is the only one not with the leaders now. He's following Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne) about 150 metres behind the leaders.
They're still descending by the gradient has reduced now. 10 kilometres to go. Cobo's back on. Basso is solo, 10 seconds behind.
Basso's back in. It looks as though the final mountain stage of the Vuelta has claimed just one scalp: Robert Gesink.
Valverde's got a teammate in the front group. It looks as though one of the favorites is going to collect a stage win today.
Who's it going to be? If it ends in a sprint, Valverde would be odds-on for a win in the gold jersey.
Mosquera launches an attack. Moreno counters and the rest follow immediately. Back together.
Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre) goes next. There's no big risk in letting the Italian go GC-wise, but this is now about the stage win. Moreno shuts down the attack yet again.
Moreno is leading the group, Valverde is sitting second wheel.
Mosquera goes again. Yet again Moreno pulls it back together.
Cobo has attacked now. He gets the biggest advantage so far, but Moreno, yet again, is pulling it back.
Cobo has about 6 seconds. It could be enough.
Tiralongo attacks the chase group. Cobo has gone under the K-to-go
Sanchez now leads the chase, Cobo is going to take the stage.
Cobo gets the stage. Valverde gets second and embraces Cobo afterwards.
1. Juan Jose Cobo (Fuji-Servetto)
2. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)
3. Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)
4. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
5. Daniel Moreno (Caisse d'Epargne)
The peloton broke right up on that final climb, so we'll wait to see what happens in the GC.
General classification after stage 19:
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
2 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
3 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
4 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
6 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre-NGC
Thank you for your company once again. Tomorrow, Cyclingnews will provide live coverage of the stage 20 individual time trial in Toledo. Alejandro Valverde appears to have an unbeatable lead overall, but the 26 kilometre test will provide opportunity for a few surprises further down the order. We'll see you then!