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Welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 11 of the Vuelta a España from Vilanova i la Geltrú to Andorra.
The stage covers a distance of 208.4 km and ends with the climb to an altitude of 1900 metres in Andorra. It is the first real mountain stage of this year's race and is set to shake out the overall contenders. Can Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) hold onto the leader's red jersey? Or will Igor Anton (Euskatel-Euskadi) or Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo) take it from him? We'll find out very soon.
The riders are already past the half way point in the stage but the best and hardest part is yet to come.
The early racing was hectic as riders fought to get in the break of the day. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was again in the action but again eased up after taking the first intermediate sprint. Is the Belgian working on winning the points jersey? Perhaps. But the spint marked the end of hostilities as two riders jumped away and were quickly allowed to open a gap.
The two are Mikael Cherel (FDJ) and Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and currently have a massive 14:50 lead as they go through the feed zone.
You may remember that Tschopp won the stage to the Passo del Tonale at the Giro d'Italia, the stage that went over the snow-covered Passo Gavia. He must have a good chance of staying away to the finish. However it is a very wind day out there, making it an even harder day in the saddle.
Tschopp is going to ride for BMC in 2011 and a stage victory in a second grand tour in the same season would prove he is a good signing for the US-registered team.
The peloton has also arrived at the feed zone and is taking on board food and bottles for the second half of the stage.
The gap on the two breakaway riders has fallen slightly as they tackled a short climb but it still a whopping 13:40.
The world of cycling never stops and there are other races today. The Memorial Rik Van Steenbergen is being held in Belgium, while the future talents of the sport are riding stage three of the Tour del'Avenir in France. We can confirm that Tylar Phinney has started, despite being bandaged like a mummy. He is close to deciding which team he will ride for in 2011. BMC is in pole position but the young American is rightly considering all his options, as he told Cyclingnews here.
It has just been announced that Philip Deignan (Cervelo TestTeam) has retired from the race. We will try to find out way after the finish but it is a bloe for the Irishman, who was looknig for some results in the Vuelta after a difficult season and as he looks to secure a place with a team for 2011.
Deignan won a stage in Avila and finished ninth overall last year but was down in 117th place this year in the GC.
The Rabobank team is working on the front with Katusha as the gap on the two breakway riders gradually falls.
The day after Andy Schleck and Stuart O'Grady were sensationally sent hom from the Vuelta by Saxo Bank team boss Bjarne Riis, the news is still creating waves. O'Grady has claimed expulsion was too harsh a decision because it will also affect his build-up for the world road race championships. You can read O'Grady's comments here.
Mikaël Chérel is a former French national junior champion. He is only 24 but rode the Vuelta in 2009, finishing an impressive 25th overall. He turned professional with FDJ in 2007 but is set to move to Ag2r-La Mondiale in 2011.
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha) has punctured but has quickly changed his wheel and is back in the pack. Pippo is riding the Vuelta to get ready for the world championships. As he wrote in his latest blog for Cyclingnews, he is carefully studying his world championship rivals at the Vuelta and is impressed by Philippe Gilbert, Thor Hushovd, Nicolas Roche and Oscar Freire.
With 50km left to race, but with the last ten on the climb up to the finish, the gap on the break has fallen to below ten minutes.
From now on the road will head upwards more and more as the kilometres count down. In 20kms the race heads into Andorra and then the climb to the finish in Vallnord Sector Pal lasts 9.9km and climbs at an average gradient of 6.5%.
The gap is now just 8:20 and it looks less and less likely they will stay clear before the finish.
Rabobank is still driving along on the front, giving it the traditional big licks.
Mikael Cherel (FDJ) and Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) are working hard but the gap is coming down.
We are now just 40km from the finish but remember, the last 10km are up hill.
It's going to be fascinsting to see how the overall contenders perform today. Here at Cyclingnews, we're curious to see if Christian Vande Vdelde (Garmin-Transitions) is finding some form.
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) is wearing the blue polak-dot jersey. He will be looking to hang on and score more points today.
Rabobank are still setting a furious pace on the front. Are they riding to set up Denis Menchov or just doing Katusha a favour by controlling the race? We'll find out very soon.
Liquigas-Doimo and Astana are also gathering on the front of the peloton, as the gap falls below six minutes.
The peloton is lined out ni the right hand side of the road. Surprisingly Carlos Sastre (CTT) is well down the line.
Rabobank directuer sportif has told Spanish television that the team is riding to set up Denis Menchov for the stage victory. I hope it's worth all the effort boys. The two breakways still have five minutes.
The peloton has just crossed the border and entered Andorra. There is a final intermediate sprint in 7kms. Watch for Philippe gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) to go for that. If he takes third place behind the two breakaways, it should givehim enough points to take the green jersey from Mark Cavendish. Unless HTC-Columbia ride to stop him.
Rabobank could also be riding for Juan Manuel Gárate who has become a father.
The two leaders have 3:15 now. but Rabobank is still giving it biog licks on the front.
The break and the peloton are being helped by a strong tailwind. We're going to have an early finish folks. Don't go away now or you wil lmiss all the fun on the 10km climb to the finish.
The gap is falling and some riders are getting dropped from the peloton. It looks difficult for Cherel and Tschopp now.
Mark Cavendish has just dropped off the back of the peloton as the racegoes through the capital of Andorra. It is a good ride and good training for the Manxman.
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) took third place in the intermedaite sprint. He is also chasing the green jersey.
As the climb out of town starts, the gap is just 1:10.
This must hurt the legs of Tschopp and Chérel after all the wrok they've done on the front today.
Dimitri Fofonov (Astana) has another go. He seems to be trying something everyday but it always seems to be at the wrong time.
The race cars are passing the breakway now. For them it means the peloton is coming and the gap is less than a minute. The Shimano car will also pull out when the gap touches 30 seconds.
Riders are sropping off the back of the bunch. There goes Bennati, Hondo andJulian Dean of Garmin. Thor Hushovd (CTT) is also fighting to hold onto wheels.
Katusha is now on the front of the peloton. Rabobank has disappeared.
The climb is about to start with a peloton of 50 rider chasing the two and Fofonov.
Tschopp looks round and can see the peloton coming after them. The gap is just 25 seconds
Fofonov catches the two up the road but they're going to get caught by the bunch very soon.
That's it. The trio has been caught. Cherel sat up first but the other two have been swallowed up.
Now Nicolas Vogondy (BBox Bouygues Telecom) has a go for glory.
The climb is not steep and so is a real power finish. Perfect for Nibali perhaps? The race leadership is up for grabs on the line.
Vogondy has been caught as more riders fall out of the back. They're hurting, including Zabriskie.
Oops. Menchov is off the back. All that work for nothing. Or was Rabobank riding for Garate? lets hope so. Menchov is perhaps suffering with his knee injury.
Ezeqiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) is the first to attack. Good move. He is joined by Nibali and they have ten seconds on the chasers.
Frank Schleck (Saxo Bank) is also dropped, as race leader Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) joins the break.
Igor Anton (euskaltel) is struggling behind the chasers and looks like he is at his limit. This stage could end his overall chances of victroy in the Vuelta.
Wow. Anton has just lit the fuse and blasted past the chasers, as Rodriguez blows completely.
Wow. Anton has just lit the fuse and blasted past the chasers, as Rodriguez blows completely.
Anton has bridged up to Mosquera and now kicked past him.
1km and Anton has opened a gap over Mosquera and looks set to take the stage and the overall lead.
Anton is going for the stage victory.
He gets it and so takes back the race leader's jersey.
That was a violent end to the stage, with Anton out powering Mosquera. Other riders are finishing but Rodriguez has lost a minute and his red jersey.
Double blow for Anton: stage and leader's jersey.
Xavier Tondo (Cervelo TestTeam) was third.
Anton is confirmed as the new race leader. He now leads Nibali by 45 seconds, with Tondo third at 1:04.
As expected, the stage produced a shake up in the overall standings. But with two kilometres to go, who would have expected Anton to blow the fromt of the race apart like that? No wonder he was happy as he crossed the line.
Anton also moved up to fourth in the climber's competition and took the green points jersey from Mark Cavendish. Gilbert is second, one point ahead of Cavendish.
That's it from the Cyclingnews live coverage. Join us again tomorrow for stage 12 from Andorra la Vella - Lleida. It includes a big early climb but ends on the flat and is likely to end in a sprint after 172,5 km of racing.