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Good morning dear readers, and welcome to what is live coverage of the first big mountain stage of this year's Vuelta a Espana. Yesterday was the last hurrah of the flatlands, a 30km time trial utterly devoid of hills, and followed a starting portion to this race that was tailored towards the sprinters and puncheurs, but not the grimpeurs. That will all change today.
Today's stage looks like a crocodile's mouth, frankly...following a mainly flat first 40 kilometres, the profile becomes one of jig-jags..all up and down. There's really very little flat roads there, thanks to a jumble of third- and second-category ascents, then a 22.3 kilometre climb to the line. In a word, ouch.
Here's the climbs, plus the summit points:
Km 52.6: Alto de Beniarres, cat 3
Km 71.4: Alto de Margarido, cat 3
Km 80: Alto de Tollos, cat 2
Km 100.7: Alto de Castell de Castells, cat 3
Km 131: Alto de Guadalest, cat 2
Km 146.1: Alto de Cofrides, cat 3
Km 160: Alto de Tudonos, cat 2
Km 204.7: Alto de Aitana, cat ‘especial’
The Aitana has featured twice before, in 2001 and 2004. You can read and see more about the stage here:
Yesterday's stage saw a somewhat predictable - but nevertheless impressive - time trial win by Mr Spartacus, Fabian Cancellara. Having revved up his engine on the motorbike track in Assen last Saturday, he topped the podium yet again on the Formula 1 track in Valencia. Vroom vroom x 2 = a second spell in the Maillot Oro of race leader, and a second stage win in this year's race. Cancellara said after the stage that his big motivation is to regain his rainbow jersey of world champion on home soil in Switzerland, and he's going about things the right way here.
You might remember that he missed last year's worlds due to fatigue after a strong Tour de France and then a victory in the Olympic time trial in Beijing. By the time the worlds approached, he said he was feeling flat and didn't head to Varese. In his absence, German rider Bert Grabsch triumphed and has worn the Maillot Arc en Ciel ever since. The Columbia HTC competitor was third yesterday behind Cancellara and David Millar, and will hope he can find the missing seconds before this year's race in Mendrisio.
You can read more about yesterday's stage here.
Without further ado, let's get up to speed with today's stage, shall we? There was an active start after the flag dropped and there were a flurry of short lived attacks, including one by Jose Luis Arrieta (Ag2r La Mondiale) and others. Each were brought back.
Former race leader André Greipel took the first intermediate sprint in Xátiva, beating Javier Benitez Pomares (Contentpolis Ampo) and Daniele Bennati (Liquigas).
A group of 20 riders was then clear at km 20, but all bar Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) were brought back. He persisted and 30km after the start, was joined by Adrian Palomares Villaplana (Contentpolis-Ampo), Julien El Fares (Cofidis) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vancansoleil).
The gap was small and this permitted David de la Fuente (Fuji-Sevetto), Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Lars Boom (Rabobank) and Alexander Efimkin (Ag2r La Mondiale) to scurry across some two kilometres later. However the peloton was having none of it and reeled them in almost immediately.
Undeterred, several other riders tried to go clear and 37 kilometres into the stage, Pieter Weening (Rabobank), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), Sébastien Hinault (Ag2r La Mondiale), Paul Voss (Team Milram) and William Bonnet (BBox Bouygues Telecom) clipped away. This proved to be the big move, and they pulled steadily ahead.
They are now approximately 70 kilometres into the stage, and riding well together.
The aggressive start saw those riders average 44.4 kilometres in the first hour of racing and, at that point, the gap had soared to 5’08. They raced onwards and crested the summit of the first climb, the Alto de Beniarrés. Weening was first to the top of that third cat mountain, ahead of Moncoutie, Hoogerland and Hinault. At that point, 52 kilometres into the stage, the leaders were a considerable 8’52 up.
This continued to grow and at km 64, the gap was 10’51. Hoogerland had started the stage 3’50 behind Fabian Cancellara and so was race leader on the road.
Perhaps motivated by the thoughts of the Maillot Oro, Hoogerland took the points at the top of the Alto de Margarida, leading Moncoutie, Weening and Hinault over the top. The gap was 14’33 then and the break continues to push onwards.
Behind, the main favourites are content to wait until a little later in the stage before they begin to test each other’s strength. The fuse is lit, but it’s a slow-burning one.
Because of the flattish start to this year's race, there's still a large number of riders who could - in theory anyway - be in the lead tonight. 43 riders are within three minutes of Fabian Cancellara, who isn't expected to retain his Maillot Oro. Of those, you have to look to the strong climbers as to see who will fancy their chances.
Of the big names, Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto) is best placed in sixth. Here’s where he and some other race favourites stand.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Saxo Bank 24:58:12
2 Tom Boonen (Bel) Quick Step 0:00:51
3 David Herrero (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:59
Ones to watch:
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 0:01:12
7 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0:01:14
8 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 0:01:19
9 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:01:20
14 Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana 0:01:48
16 Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Milram 0:01:52
17 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
19 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 0:01:57
21 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Saxo Bank 0:02:03
41 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:02:52
51 Andy Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank 0:03:10
53 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank 0:03:15
58 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas 0:03:25
You can add your own tips to that, of course. Valverde is poised to strike, as is Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez, while Tom Danielson is impressing once again. Providing he goes well today, it's clear that he's back in business again. Here's a feature on him from our sister website, Bikeradar.
Ivan Basso is one of those who has lost some time to his rivals, with the TT not going as well as he might have hoped. He said earlier that he thought there was 'no need to become hysterical'. The Italian believes there are enough climbs to make a difference and to win the race.
The break has just crested the summit of the Alto de Tollos, the second category climb. Weening was first there, ahead of Moncoutie, Hoogerland, Hinault, Voss and Bonnet. Behind, the Caisse d’Epargne team of Valverde are chasing hard and, for the first time since the escape got clear, the gap is starting to come down.
The break had pulled 15'08 ahead but it's now just over 13 minutes ahead. Still quite a way to go, and the break will push on and try to maintain its lead. Riders like Weening and Moncoutie willl be hoping that the tactical struggle between the overall contenders will give them enough leeway to stay clear until the summit of the day's big climb.
Andy Schleck has been reported as pulling out of the race. We are unsure as to the reason for that, but will try to find out why the Saxo Bank rider has retired.
Caisse d'Epargne continue to chase and this is having an effect - the gap is now 11'58. Those in the break must be getting worried, and will work harder to try to hold their advantage. In the meantime, there should be a mountains jersey up for grabs...plenty of points out there today.
José Antonio López (Andalucía-Cajasur) is currently leading that contest with 20 points, ten more than fellow Spaniard Aitor Hernández (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Here's a little more on today's profile. We expect a dazzling finale to the stage, given that it's the first chance for the climbers to show what they are made of.
Thomas Dekker has his birthday today, and is (just) 25 years old. He's not in this Vuelta, of course, due to his suspension from racing. Dimitri Champion (Bouygues Telecom) is also due to blow out some candles. He's also not competing here.
The break is now descending the Alto de Castell de Castells – we are awaiting the results of that climb. They are now over halfway through the stage, and the action will ramp up as the kilometres tick by.
Hoogerland was the one who gobbled up top points on the Alto de Castell de Castells, passing the prime line ahead of Weening, Moncoutie and Bonnet. The gap there was eleven minutes, so it continues to be nibbled away.
Vincent Jerome (BBox Bouygues Telecom) has left the race. He fell twice in yesterday’s time trial – it really was slippery. The weather will have made it more difficult for some riders, depending on when the heavy rain fell, and also depending on what tyres they are using. Some brands are better in the wet than others.
If you want to discuss today's stage, there's a forum thread on it here. Predictions for today's win and race leader have already started...
10'47 is the latest difference between break and bunch...
Valverde will want to prove a point today, having missed the Tour de France this year. He's never won the Vuelta, although he's been in the thick of the action in several editions. He finished second to Alexandre Vinokourov in 2006, fading in the final week.
The peloton is now climbing the second category Alto de Guadalest. It tops out at km 131. After that there remains three more:
Km 146.1: Alto de Cofrides, cat 3
Km 160: Alto de Tudonos, cat 2
Km 204.7: Alto de Aitana, cat ‘especial’
So it's a tough second half to the stage - continuously up and down. It's going to become more dramatic the closer they get to the finish.
Irish rider Daniel Martin may be keen to do something today; he's had a disappointing time thus far, losing time in his first Grand Tour due to a crash, a puncture, a split in the bunch and then an off-pace time trial yesterday. He said after the stage that he'd never been as scared on a bike due to his wheels sliding in the conditions. He's a strong climber and will want to show what he can do.
10’29 was the gap at the top of the Alto de Guadalest, where Weening beat Moncoutie, Hoogerland, Voss, Hinault and Bonnet for the points. They are now on the third category Alto de Confrides, and their advantage has continued to shrink – now 9’50.
The tough nature of the course is reflected in the average speed for the last hour of racing: 34.3 km/h. The most recent time gap was 9'32, and continuing to fall.
Today will be the first chance to see Vinokourov in the high mountains. He was dominant in the 2006 Vuelta, en route to winning in Madrid, but was far off that climbing pace in the 2007 Tour de France.
The Kazkah rider had a bad fall in that event, but still won the two time trials. Fast against the clock, he failed in the mountains and then was ejected from the race due to a positive test for a homologous blood transfusion. The Astana rider is back in action now and will find out today if he is able to climb with the best or not.
He says his biggest priority is to prepare for the world championships, and that a stage win is the most likely target.
Weening is clearly targeting the mountains jersey. The Rabobank rider took the third category Alto de Cofrides, edging out Moncoutie, Hoogerland and Voss. At that point the bunch had closed to within 8’18, so it’s by no means certain that the break will stay clear to the finish. However even if they are caught, Weening will hope to have amassed a chunk of points. He was first to the top of the Alto de Beniarres (cat 3, km 52.6), third on the Alto de Margarido (cat 3, km 71.4), first at the Alto de Tollos (cat 2, km 80), second at the Alto de Castell de Castells (cat 3, km 100.7), then first at the Alto de Guadalest (cat 2, km 131) and at the Alto de Confrides (cat 3, km 146.1).
Next up, the Alto de Tudonos (km 160).
Now 50km to go, and Caisse d'Epargne continue to drive the bunch behind. Clearly Valverde is feeling good about his chances today, as his team has been at the front for a long, long time.
The break is on a long descent, hurtling down and negotiating some tight corners.The landscape is pretty arid here - green trees, but growing out of sandy soil. It's a very different landscape to the Tour de France and, at times, almost resembles a desert.
This peloton is going to explode on the final climb, clearly... It's a waiting game now. The GC contenders will watch each other, let Caisse d'Epargne do all the work, then turn on the jets on the slopes of the Alto de Aitana.
Elsewhere, Brazilian rider Murilo Fischer triumphed in the Giro della Romagna, beating two Italians. Enrico Rossi (Ceramica Flaminia-Bossini Docce) and Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre-NGC) were second and third.
Weening rolls through up front, then is passed by Bonnet. They are all working well together, it seems. They need to; the Caisse d'Epargne riders are pushing hard.
Behind, Gabriel Rasch (Cervelo) has been dropped.
Weening went clear over the top of the Alto de Tudonos, taking top points there and then hurtling down the descent. The others have come back up to him, though.
The peloton are on the way up, cheered on by large crowds. Good to see such a big turnout at the Vuelta - sometimes the spectators are quite sparse.
Fabian Cancellara lost contact on the climb and is chasing hard.
The peloton went over the top 5'03 back. Cancellara has a team-mate with him, driving it on, and has got back on.
The order over that climb, the Alto de Tudons, was Weening, Moncoutie, Hoogerland, Hinault, Voss and Bonnett.
Meanwhile, Olympic champ Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) had a mechanical on the descent but is chasing hard. He’s very good on the downhills and, drafting his team car, should return quickly.
Hinault took the bonus sprint. The break covered 34.6 km in the last hour, so it's been a tough slog out there. Not an easy day by any means...
Sanchez continues to chase, catching and passing some dropped riders. Where is his team?
Okay, he's with them now...that was quite a while by himself. We hope he hasn't blunted his legs prior to this final climb. Every bit of energy may count at this point.
The peloton is one long line, stretching out on the descent and led, once again, by the Caisse d'Epargne guys.
We've got an update from Andy Schleck, the Cyclingnews diarist who pulled out of the Vuelta today. The Saxo Bank rider and Tour de France runner-up said that he is suffering from stomach problems. That's a pity, as we were looking forward to seeing how he was going in the high mountains.
You can read more about this here
Just 3'21 now....these leaders look likely to be caught before the end of the stage. Moncoutie leads them along.
Moncoutie goes to the front and pushes things...he wants more gas from the others. Weening takes over, then Bonnet.
Hoogerland accelerates, trying to go clear of the others.. He was going for the intermediate sprint at Sella but was pipped by Hinault. He's not happy and attacks on his uphill section. In the words of a famous song, Go Johnny Go Go Go!
He's joined by Gesink and Moncoutie, then Hinault. Johnny's feeling antsy and jumps away again. They are now on the lower slopes of the final climb.
Those four are back together, while Voss and Bonnet have been dropped.
Further back, Inigo Cuesta (Cervelo) has jumped away. Cancellara's losing time and is in a group - game over as regards the Maillot Oro.
So 15km to go, and four leaders...
Cuesta is with De la Fuente (Fuji Servetto), riding hard. No response from behind just yet.
They are motoring along, showing their fresher legs.
The Cancellara group is 4'10 behind the leaders! Wow...he's losing a lot of time.
Hoogerland and Hinault are ahead again, holding a 2'20 lead over the main bunch. They are fully committed, with Hoogerland being particularly aggressive.
When will the fireworks start behind?
Hoogerland was best of the break in the GC and is doing what he can to take the jersey. He's now dropped Hinault and is giving it loads.
Cuesta and De La Fuente have now caught Bonnet. He's dropped by the fresher riders, and will have a painful grind up to the finish.
David Herrero (Xacobeo Galicia), the big surprise from the TT, is at the back of the peloton. Not sure if he is in trouble or if he had a bike problem. Up front, Valverde lurks near the front of the peloton, waiting for his chance to unleash that sprint at the top of this climb.
Yes, Herrero is dropped. So adios to his third place overall. Surprising - he looks more like a climber than a time trialist, but fared better in the flat TT.
Moncoutie has caught Hoogerland...the Frenchman jumps and drops the Dutchman, who scrambles to get back on his wheel.
Moncoutie now looks stronger, but Hoogerland will be motivated by thoughts of the Maillot Oro. But he's surely lost too much of that lead now to be able to pull it off.
Caisse d'Epargne all the time - still driving it. Meanwhile Enrico Gasparotto (Lampre) appears to have been dropped.
The two leaders are now 1'50 ahead of the main bunch...
The gap is down to 1:50
The climb is getting steeper and steeper...the bunch is inside the final ten kilometres.
Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) has been dropped, as has Carlos Barredo (Quick Step). Garate (Rabobank) is also heading south...
Cuesta and De La Fuente look like they will be caught by the peloton... meanwhile Moncoutie and Hoogerland remain out front - delaying the inevitable?
Vino's blown! As he did in the 2007 Tour, he shakes his head and waves at the camera.
Moncoutie is doing most of the driving. 1'39 is all they have now...
The French/Dutch duo has 1:39 on Caisse.
The bunch is still quite large, with perhaps 40-50 riders left. Vino won't be happy to get shelled so soon.
Valverde looks sharp and focussed...he wants this stage win.. Up front, Moncoutie is shadowed by Hoogerland, and has 7km left.
David Moncoutié (Cofidis), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil)
Iñigo Cuesta (Cervélo TestTeam), David De La Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) 1:29
Peloton at 1:40
The leading duo are 1'29 ahead of the next chasers, and a further 11" up on the peloton. Now Marchante goes, joining up with Cuesta and De La Fuente. They have 6km to go..
The two Cervelo riders are now riding together. No big reaction in the bunch, which contains most of the big guns. Will it explode?
Hoogerland is doing none of the work...he's hanging on for dear life. He has been riding very well, though - Moncoutie is be a far better-known rider.
The peloton has caught the chasers. Now Moncoutie drops Hoogerland and pushes on.
David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) at 10"
Peloton at 1:40
Just before the bunch caught the chasing trio, Marchante attacked and he's still a little way ahead. But he'll be swallowed up once the others throw down the gauntlet. There's an uneasy tension now...who will attack first?
Valverde, Evans, Danielson, Sanchez and others are all still there...as is Dan Martin - good ride.
Moncoutie is pushing onwards, hoping for a big win. Caisse d'Epargne still drive behind, giving Valverde the platform for his move. Francis de Greef (Silence Lotto) is at the back of the peloton, looking both tall and under pressure.
Matthew Lloyd is near the front, with team-mate Evans on his wheel.
Good return to form for Lloyd, who was injured earlier this year.
Now Liquigas lead! They want more pace and are riding for Basso...
Danielson is right up there...great to see him going well again. No attacks as yet, just an acceleration of pace by the lime green guys from Liquigas.
Three kilometres to go for Moncoutie, who is not that far ahead now...
Cobo is dropped, while Daniel Navarro (Astana) is also under pressure. The Liquigas push has thinned out this front group.
David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
Liquigas led Peloton at 1:24
Ah, Moncoutie still has 1'24...he can do it, perhaps...!
If so, that would be a great ride for the veteran Frenchman. Now Basso goes!
Evans and Valverde on his wheel.... There's perhaps 14 riders left in that group...Cunego is still there too!
Cunego attacks!! Has he found his form again?
Cunego goes under the 2km to go banner... Gesink, Basso, Evans, Valverde, Sanchez and Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) are behind. Not sure if the others have been dropped...bear with us.
Cunego chases solo...
Cunego has caught and dropped Hoogerland, and will hope to do the same to Moncoutie...
David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) at 40"
Main group at 1:00
Who would have predicted this from Cunego, who has become more of a Classics rider of late?
Basso chases behind, with Valverde content to sit on his wheel. Moncoutie is now in the final kilometre....
David Moncoutié (Cofidis)
Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC) at 12"
Main group at 52"
Cunego is just 12" back!! He's closing fast....
Cunego is out of the saddle, pushing hard... Basso is the only one driving the chase. They go under 1km to go now, so they are quite a way back...
Gesink attacks! He's flown clear and caught Hoogerland... Meanwhile Cunego caught, passed and dropped Moncoutie...he's giving it everything..
Cunego is going to take a strong win here in the Vuelta...He's heading towards the line, cheered on by the crowds..
He wins! Out of the fog, literally and figuratively - a big victory.
Moncoutie hangs on for second, just ahead of Gesink. Evans led Valverde over for fourth, with Sanchez also there. Looks like Danielson was part of the next group, which was just a couple of seconds behind...
That's a good ride for the Garmin Slipstream leader, who has returned to strong form.
Big victory celebrations from Cunego, who was overjoyed to take that win. Is he, against all expectations, a contender for this Vuelta?
Valjavec, Basso, Mosquera, Rodriguez, Danielson and Tiralongo all came in as part of the group just behind Evans, Valverde and Sanchez. Evans now leads!
The Australian is in the Maillot Oro, something which must feel very welcome after his tough Tour de France.
His fans will be delighted with his return to form. He wasn't as strong as usual in the time trial yesterday, but certainly packed his climbing legs when heading to the Vuelta.
Evans takes the overall by 2"
Hard luck to Moncoutie, who really worked hard in an attempt to take that win.
That completes the live coverage for today's eighth stage of the Vuelta a Espana.. This race is really livening up, as regards the GC battle, and there will be some dramatic stages ahead. Come back a little later on for a full report on Cyclingnews.com; news and photos will also follow. Thanks for reading!