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Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of the ninth stage of the Vuelta a España. Today, the peloton is facing up to the 186 kilometre journey from Alcoy to Xorret de Cati. The second day in the mountains for this year's Vuelta will take the riders over seven categorised climbs.
Like their slopes, the ascents today work their way upwards through the categorisations:
1. Puerto de Onil - Cat. 3 at 17km
2. Alto de Tibi - Cat. 3 at 48.7km
3. Puerto de la Carrasqueta - Cat. 2 at 67km
4. Puerto de Tudons - Cat. 2 at 95km
5. Puerto de Torre Manzana - Cat 2 at 122.3km
6. Puerto de la Carrasqueta - Cat. 2 at 151.5km
7. Also de Xorret de Cati - Cat. 1 at 185.6
The riders started today's stage in temperatures of 28ºC. It's set to be yet another hot day on the roads of Spain today.
Seven riders attacked from the gun today and have stayed well away from the peloton over the first three climbs of the day (Puerto de Onil - Cat. 3 at 17km, Alto de Tibi - Cat. 3 at 48.7km and Puerto de la Carrasqueta - Cat. 2 at 67km)
The riders away are Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), Marco Mazano (Lampre-NGC), David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-Ampo), Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) and José Lopez Gil (Andalucia Cajasur).
The leaders are currently making their way up the fourth climb of the day, the Category 2 Puerto de Tudons. David de la Fuente had a mechanical issue, but has rejoined the leaders once more.
De la Fuente has been on the attack throughout this Vuelta. Today he has finally making a break that has, so far, stuck. He'll no doubt be anxious to bump up his team's victory tally for this season. Fuji Servetto have had a lean year, taking just three wins.
The summit of the Puerto de Tudons marks the halfway point of today's stage, the breakaway are just 1km from cresting the top.
The team of race leader Cadel Evans, Silence-Lotto, have taken responsibility for controlling the distance between the peloton and the escapees. At 6.22 it's stretched to its widest margin.
Running through the classification leaders:
Evans (Silence-Lotto) wears the Golden jersey as race leader. The Australian has a two second lead over Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and eight seconds over Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who is in third.
André Greipel (Columbia-HTC) leads the points classification with 88 points. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) sits in second with 75 points, while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) is a further eight points further behind on 67.
David Moncoutié (Cofidis) may have missed a stage win yesterday, but the Frenchman would have taken consolation in the mountains leaders jersey. He leads the competition he won at last year's race with 60 points. Rabobank's Pieter Weening has 48 and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) sits in third with 31.
David de la Fuente led the leaders over the summit of the Tudons. He was the first of the four Spaniards in today's break to cross the line. Incidentally, the other three followed him over in order too:
Result at the summit of the Puerto de Tudons:
1. David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto)
2. Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-Ampo)
3. Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia)
4. José Lopez Gil (Andalucia Cajasur)
5. Stijn Devolder (Quick Step)
6. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis)
All 189 riders who finished yesterday's stage eight to the summit of the Alto de Aitana began today's stage. Unfortunately, two of those have abandoned today. Laurent Lefevre (BBox Bouygues Telecom) and Allan Davis (Quick Step) have left the race. Davis had been receiving treatment from the race doctor, but stepped off his bike after 66km, two kilometres after Lefevre.
The leaders have just commenced the ascent of the Puerto de Torre Manzana, a Category 2.
So far today the race has averaged 35.9km/h
The riders have been quite lucky today with the temperature. At an average of 27º C it is still warm, but a far cry from the first few days in Spain.
Today's final climb, the Alto de Xorret del Cati, lies nine kilometres from the finish. The summit itself is three kilometres from the finale. The rider's visit today will be the fourth time the climb has been used in the Vuelta since it was debuted in 1998 (the climb that is, not the race).
The leaders have covered 119km of the route today. They've got about 70km to go, but the biggest factor in their survival will be the effect these mountains are having on their legs. The climbs get tougher and tougher towards the finish, although as they head up the Manzana they'll know they've got just two more climbs to go.
The leader have pulled away on the Manzana. The peloton follow them over the top 6.55 in arrears. As their team directors radio through with news of the lead it will strengthen the resolve in the break.
Silence-Lotto continue to lead the peloton as the race descends off the Manzana. The peloton are now on their way towards their second ascent of the Puerto de la Carrasqueta.
The story today has been up-and-down, literally. The riders have either been climbing or descending. It's been a bit too much for another rider. Classica San Sebastian winner Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) has retired from the race. He's visibly upset as he reluctantly gets into the team's support car.
It looks as though it's all going to come down to the ascent of the Xorret del Cati. With 53km remaining, the break have more than seven minutes on the peloton.
Estonian champion Rain Taaramae takes his turn at the front. The clack, blue and white of his champions jersey is a stark contrast to the bright red colours of his trade team, Cofidis.
The teams are staying together in the peloton. Silence-Lotto continue to set the pace as Caisse d'Epargne and Liquigas mass behind them. Cadel Evans' boys seem to be keeping their leader fresh; Evans looks comfortable.
It's a magnificent day in Spain. A few clouds disrupting the otherwise bright blue sky as the riders make rapid progress along the smooth grey roads.
There's the mountain's leader, David Moncoutie, in his customary position at the back of the peloton.
Moncoutie could be in danger of losing the jersey tonight. In the break, David de la Fuente has been collecting a lot of points in that particular classification.
The leaders are currently making their way up the Puerto de la Carrasqueta.
As for the last climb, the results at the top of the Manzana were as follows:
1. David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto)
2. Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-Ampo)
3. Rein Taaramae (Cofidis)
4. Marco Mazano (Lampre-NGC)
5. Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur)
There will be plenty of time for the breakaway to gather themselves before the final climb of the day. After the Carrasqueta they'll have a 35km run with gravity in their favour as they make their way through the towns of Ibi and Castalla, on their way to the Alto de Xorret de Cati.
The riders in the break do seem relatively comfortable as they tick their way up the slopes of the Carrasqueta. The climbs today have allowed them to find a good tempo. It will make the final climb a little bit of a shock for some as the steeper gradients turn the advantage to the climbing specialists.
The odds in increasingly in the favour of the break. With 39 kilometres to go they still have more than six minutes advantage. Moreover the odds of a Spanish winner on todays stage are increasing too. There are three four Spaniards in the break of seven.
For those just joining us the non-Spanish riders in today's break are Belgian Stijn Devolder (Quick Step), Italian Marco Marzano (Lampre -NGC) and Estonian champion Rein Taaramae.
The four Spanish riders are David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto), Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis-Ampo), Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur).
The break has been away since the third kilometre of today's stage.
The peloton are racing towards the top of the Carrasqueta at 27km/h. Meanwhile the break are descending the other side of the mountain.
Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur) have decided to stretch their legs even further. The two have a little joust for the sprint point in Ibi. Cesar grabbing a few points and the small prize on offer.
The race could yet come back together on the final climb, but the peloton are going to have to get their skates on if they want to catch the leaders. They've got 29km in which to close a gap of 5.15.
Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur) drops back to the team car to grab a drink and, more than likely, a bit of advice. He returns to take his turn in the breakaway.
The peloton has just passed through the same sprint point as the leaders did 5.38 minutes ago.
The impetus in the peloton appears to be slipping away again. It looked for a little while there that Rabobank and Liquigas would come to the front, but they appear content to let Silence-Lotto carry the lion's share of the workload today.
The peloton resembles more of a rectangle that the diamond shape it will adopt when really 'getting their chase on'. The leaders are making their way through the streets of Ibi. There are a lot of enthusiastic spectators out to cheers them on.
Fabian Cancellara shakes his legs out at the back of the peloton. He's had yet another brilliant Grand Tour. Check out some equally brilliant images of his race here.
Right now he's demonstrating his ability to carry quite a number of bottles for his teammates.
It's looking good for the breakaway now. The gap has extended back out to 6.33 with 19.2km to go.
The peloton are making short work of the approach to the final climb, they're swapping off at 41km/h as they ride past an orchard.
The pedals are rolling over easily now but they're not likely to when they hit the Xorret del Cati. It's may only be around four kilometres long but the slope averages more than 11 percent.
The first kilometre of the climb is a 'gentle' 7-10%, but it'll be the last three that will be the most fun - all of those are over 10%.
By comparison, the previous climb, the Puerto de la Carrasqueta averaged out at 4 percent.
The leaders are now riding through the streets of Castalla, there's a sprint in the town, five kilometres before the start of the Xorret del Cati.
It's not a mountain-top finish today. There will be a three kilometre downhill dash to the line after the summit of the final climb.
The peloton are entering the outskirts of Castalla themselves. A round-a-bout breaks their 70km/h progress.
10 kilometres to go the lead is 4.55
Caisse d'Epargne and Rabobank have jumped on the front and are driving the peloton. They're closing the gap quickly. 8.5km to go and the leaders have 4.05
Garmin are up there too. It's got the trappings of a sprint finish, but the teams at the front are looking to give there general classification riders the best position for the climb.
The leaders have started the climb now. They're out of the saddle quickly as the gradient kicks up.
The peloton is lined out now, Daniele Bennati is on the front.
Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) and Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) have dropped off the break. Marzano (Lampre) is slipping now too.
Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) and Evans (Silence Lotto) are at the front of the peloton as they tackle the climb.
Rain Taaramae (Cofidis) is out in font of the race now, only de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) looks able to follow.
Taaramae is looking strong as he pushes on. He's straining against the 14, now 15% gradient but he's on his own and he's out in front.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) has leapt out of the peloton.
No-one has responded behind Rodriguez. He's passing the cars of the breakaways quickly.
Up front Taaramae is battling away, the gradient is 18% now. There's plenty of support for the young Estonian.
Valverde, Evans and the rest of the leaders have been forced to ride through a small gap between the barriers and the leader's team cars.
Evans takes a pull at the front. It's really starting to break up now; Evans, Valverde, Basso, Sanchez all appear to be there.
Taarrame has cracked. Marzano (Lampre) has refound his legs and passed the leader. Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) has now siezed the lead.
Valverde fires attack after attack, but Cadel Evans responds each time.
Casar is flying down the final descent towards waht looks to be a certain victory. He's got less than a kilometre to go now and it's flat to the finish.
Valverde, Evans and Basso are back together, they're inside the final kilometre themselves now.
Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo Galacia) crosses the line. He blows kisses and throws his hands in the air.
Valverde sprints past David de la Fuente (Fuji-Servetto) to take second. 40 seconds behind the stage winner.
Cadel Evans may have lost a few seconds to Valverde there. But the Australian finished with Ivan Basso (Liquigas) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank)
Valverde was two seconds behind Evans at the start of today's stage. He would have received a time bonus for second place so we'll have to wait and see what comes out in the wash-up...
No, correction, Marco Marzano (Lampre) got second. Valverde was third, but picked up six bonus seconds and gained an additional second with his spint.
Valverde has taken the Gold jersey. He now holds a six second lead over Cadel Evans (Silence Lotto)
Here are brief results for stage nine:
1 Gustavo César Veloso (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 5:21:04
2 Marco Marzano (Ita) Lampre-NGC at 0:00:21
3 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 0:00:40
4 David De La Fuente (Spa) Fuji-Servetto
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
6 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
8 Javier Ramírez (Spa) Andalucía-Cajasur at 0:00:53
9 Joaquím Rodríguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne at 0:01:12
10 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
11 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC
12 Tadej Valjavec (Slo) AG2R La Mondiale
13 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
14 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Lampre-NGC at 0:01:29
15 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Saxo Bank
16 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
17 Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 0:01:37
18 Daniel Navarro (Spa) Astana
19 Matteo Carrara (Ita) Vacansoleil at 0:01:39
20 Juan José Cobo (Spa) Fuji-Servetto
General classification after stage 9
1 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 36:26:40
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto at 0:00:07
3 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 0:00:36
4 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream at 0:00:51
5 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 0:00:53
6 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC at 0:01:03
Thanks for joining us for Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage nine of the Vuelta a España. A day or respite from the mountains tomorrow for the peloton as they make their way from Alicante to Murcia. Join us again tomorrow as we present live coverage of stage ten. See you then!