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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews coverage of stage 16 of the Vuelta a España. We should see fireworks today as the riders tackle a hard stage from Gijón to Alto de Cotobello.
Instead of lots of huge 1,800m-plus climbs, Vuelta organisers Unipublic have tended to pick ascents around the 1,200m mark for key moments this year. This stage exemplifies that perfectly with a trio of cat 1 climbs that are tough without being overly long. The San Lorenzo is the biggest and has ramps of 15 per cent. The Cobertoria featured as a summit finish in 2006, when Alexandre Vinokourov took the stage, and the Cotobello is a new climb that averages 8.1 per cent. The true podium contenders should be evident by the end of today.
it was a delighful 21 degrees in Gijón this morning when the riders set off this morning. They've covered just under 40km so far and there's already been a flurry of attacks. Let's get you up to speed on what you'e missed.
FDJ were the most active at the start but nice riders breifly escaped the clutches of the main field. They weren't given much room, Nibali was with them. Then it was Menchov - yes he is actually racing and Pujol who jumped clear. They were both caught just a few minutes ago. Clearly the shock of seeing Menchov attack has done for his teammate Ten Dam, who has just quit the race. We'll find out the real reason as soon as we can.
Another group have nipped off the front, Uran is among them.
While we find out who is in the main group, let's remind ourselves of the overall situation as it currrently stands.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 65:31:14
2 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:00:04
3 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:39
4 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:02:29
5 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:02:30
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:02:47
7 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:02:48
8 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions 0:03:48
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:04:29
10 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha 0:05:27
11 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC-Columbia 0:06:05
12 David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:06:07
13 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, le crédit en ligne 0:06:21
14 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:06:23
15 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:07:01
So three riders all within a minute of each other, although one strong attack or one bad day could see everthing change.
But before I forget, it's Robert Millar's 52nd bithday. Happy birthday, sir.
We're hearing that Luis Leon Sanchez requires the race doctor.
The leading riders - still waiting for their names - have begun the first serious climb of the day, the Alto de Cabuñada. It leaks at around 375m so it's going to destroy the field. It's a perfect launch pad for riders to attack though. Nibali, meanwhile, is being very attentive, following all the major moves today. He's part of a small chase group just behind the leaders.
But just as a type that he, along with everyone else is caught.
One man that isn't going to get caught by the time I finish this sentence is David Moncoutie. He's got a small gap and is bidding to collect a few more precious mountain points.
The reliable Frenchman picks up maximium points in teh KOM comp. Martinez was second but David extends his lead.
So what do you think will happen today on GC? Will Schleck attack? Will Nibali just sit in and protect his lead? How many riders are riding with a hangover? Let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson
Moncoutie is caught by the bunch who are now being led by Caisse d'Espargne.
Bit of a lull in action so what better than a quick scan of the press. Monday morning and Frank Schleck is trying to convince people he can win the Vuelta. Not an impossible task for the Saxo leader but he's up against it. He's 2.48 down on Nibali, who is arguably a better TT rider, so he'll have to attack. He's at least got a few more opportunities before the race finishes in Madrid at the weekend.
In other news, a gaggle of pro riders have sick notes from their mothers and can't race at the moment. The list includes Tom Boonen and Martijn Maaskant. Here's a link to the story.
And Kim Kirchen has decided he won't make a decision on his future until the end of the year.
Nibbles is on the attack again, this time with another 23 riders. All the main contenders look to be there. They've got a small gap right now but if previous moves are to go by it won't last too much longer.
And it's all back together again. Three big climbs coming up later in the stage so stay tuned.
RadioShack's Vuelta omission means José Luis "Chechu" Rubiera won't be racing up the mountain re-named in his honour – the Cotobello is now the Cima Rubiera. It's a shame as Rubiera is about to retire and will miss this perfect swansong. In his absence, the other Asturian riders will want to pay tribute.
It wasn't until 2006 that the Cobertoria first featured as a summit finish at the Vuelta. That year, Alexandre Vinokourov beat Alejandro Valverde to the top, but the Spaniard was mildly compensated by taking the leader's jersey from Jani Brajkovic. Prior to that, the Alto's fearsome reputation was forged by the slew of high-profile victims claimed on its rough descent.
The most notable was Alex Zülle, who was told by his ONCE team boss to follow rival Swiss rider Tony Rominger everywhere he went. Zülle stuck to his task admirably until the last of four days in the Cantabrian mountains. Riding off the Cobertoria in driving rain, the normally cautious Rominger attacked. Zülle tried to follow, but crashed and lost his bike in the foliage.
"Water, backside, road, bicycle, flowers," he explained in brief after Rominger had won the stage and stretched his lead to a race-winning margin.
Zülle's in good company. In 1999, Roberto Escartín was knocked unconscious in a crash here, while Denis Menchov struggled in the mist in 2005 and lost his lead to Roberto Heras. He was vindicated when Heras was disqualified for a positive EPO test, though.
Ten riders, including Luis Leon Sanchez are now leading the race. We'll bring you the names just as soon as we can.
Two minutes for our leaders. Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Transitions), Marco Marzano (Lampre), Matthieu Sprick (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank), Alexander Dyachenko (Astana), Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel), Kevin de Weert (QuickStep), Ludovid Turpin (AG2R) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas)
Luis Leon is the highest placed riders on GC and tried a similar move during the Tour if memory serves me correctly.
There are some good climbers in the group too so he's got some good company.
We've got someone trying to hitch a ride in the blimp. He's in black and red kit and he looks pretty keen to catch a ride.
It's BMC's Cole House.
DB: Welcome to CN Cole.
CH: Thanks. Good to be here.
DB: You've been riding with BMC but last month you made the step up to stagiaire with the team. How has that gone for you so far?
CH: Good, its a new experience, not to mention a rather difficult one but its going well.
Back the race and the lead is now at 2.30. The leaders are just making it up to the feed zone. Cole and I will break out the sandwiches.
DB: What were you expecations coming into it and what races have you done so far?
CH: I didnt really know what to expect. it was kind of like restarting the season, when you've done all the training to be ready but you never really know how its going to turn out. I just really wanted to be there and help the team as best as i could, and learn as much as possible about these races.
CH: Most recent races I've done have been the GP formies and Paris- brussels over the last weekend. both we're pretty hard races.
Back to the action and Langeveld has a flat tire. The majority of the GC riders are near the front of the bunch as they pass through the feedzone. They'll be marking each other for now, with three big climbs still to come. Remember, we've got a tough uphill finish today so there's bound to be some kind fireworks. A rest day tomorrow too.
DB: What's the feedback been from the team so far? They seem really happy with how you're progressing.
CH: I just try and focus on the race, keep giving it my all for whatever task is on hand
The lead is now just over three minutes for the break. Guys like Willems, Peterson will be there for their respective leaders - always a good move to send someone up the road for later. Watch de Weert though, he could try something special today.
DB: has the experience made you even hungrier to turn pro? and will that be next year with BMC?
CH: Yeah for sure. At this point Im not sure where I'll end up yet. We'll see, in the coming weeks I'll be able to answer that question a little better. hahha.
DB: Thanks for joining us Cole. Hope you enjoyed the sandwich.
CH: Lovely, thanks.
The gap goes up to 3.22 now as the leaders start the next climb, San Lorenzo. This one climbs to 855m, levels out and then jumps up again to 1350m. The leaders will try and extend the gap as much as possible, while the GC riders who are back in the bunch save their powder for the final climb of the day. They can't take it too easy though. Luis Leon Sanchez is only 7.01 down.
The average speed for the last hour of racing was 44kph.
Liquigas are leading the chase at the moment but they're not throwing down a super fast tempo just yet.
A couple of tepid attacks from the bunch as the lead goes out to 3.44
The leaders are roughly half-way up the climb and still working well together. Luis Leon Sanchez is working himself higher up the GC. He'll need another three minutes before he's the virtual leader on the road though.
The reason Ten Dam left the race? He sadly crashed out and couldn't continue.
The two Euskatel riders are ploughing along nicely here. They've caugh the Astana rider from the early break. The bunch are really splitting up here. Moncoutie his setting a fast pace and is clear of the field.
Liqugias still lead the main bunch with all the GC contenders - minus Sanchez - all accounted for.
Word on Tom Peterson, he can climb. He won a stage in the Tour of California back in 2009, beating overall winner Levi Leipheimer to the line.
The field are all strung out now as Liquigas turn the screw. A lot of riders are starting to struggle.
Today is going to be a hard day to control but so far it's going well for Liquigas, although there's still a long, long way to go, and two major climbs before we get to the line. Euskatel are certainly starting to ask some serious questions. They've got three men on the attack.
Over the San Lorenzo and Luis Leon Sanchez takes maximum points.
The Euskatel duo are now with Oroz, who has dropped back to join them. The three are now 1.25 down on the leaders and have 1.35 on the Nibali bunch.
Onto the descent for the bunch now. Liquigas still setting the pace.
Luis Leon Sanchez leads the break on the twisty descent. The roads look smooth and safe though.
Marzano who lost contact with the break near the top of the last climbs rejoins the leaders. Luis Leon drops to the back of the group, stretches his legs and gets some advice from the team car.
The gap conintues to come down.
Mosquera and Rodriguez will need to attack Nibali today if they're to win this race. They'll need time on the Italian with a 49km time trial to come later in the week. I'm sure that they'll both try but they'll need the Nibali to have a bad day.
Turpin takes a long turn on the front of the chase group. It's going to be a matter of time before the leaders are caught but they'll split on the next climb.
The break just two minutes ahead of the bunch. They're starting to look at each other now. They've got around 60km to race but two major climbs still to come.
Liquigas still on the front of the bunch and starting to crank things up for Nibali. We'll see rider after rider drop off the pace soon. They'll hit a small rise just before the main part of the climb begins.
The Euskatel trio are closing in the on break but the bunch aren't too far back either. The men in orange will still be upset about losing Anton on Saturday and they've changed their focus to stages now.
Moncoutie is caught by the bunch now too.
The Euskatel train have caught the break and power through. Who can hang on? Sanchez will benefit from this. he wants riders who want to work and this is perfect for him.
Hats off to Euskatel. They could have hid in the bunch all day after what happened to their leader at the weekend but they're riding a strong race and a great stage.
Interestingly we have a small splinter group trying to make it over to the leaders. Caisse have two riders in the move, Lampre, Astana also present. Euskatel continue to lead the first break. Liquigas are starting to feel a little bit of pressure now.
55km left for today. Lquigas doing a good job at controlling things for now but will they pay the price on the last climb? They're a good team. They were very strong in the Giro and they've already proved in this race that they know how to defend a lead but the Spanish riders are starting to ask some serious questions today.
Oroz on the front now and he's giving it everything for the break. Luis Leon drifts to the back and takes a break. Will he wait for his teammates to come up or will he carry on working? He can't hesitate for too long.
On the climb now, Euskatel still driving things on the front. The bunch are on red alert. They can't allow the two groups to join up. How many favours can Liquigas call in? They're all all on front right now. Schleck by the way is just sitting in the wings and waiting... Uran too.
Six Liguigas riders at the front, Nibali just behind the train. It's a key moment in the race right now. It could change everything. Peterson comes through and takes a turn but Euskatel take over again. Oroz again moves to the front.
Riders popping off the lead group, Langeveld is being dropped now as Euskatel set a fast pace. Liquigas still leading the bunch. A few Cervelo riders moving up now.
Saxo Bank moving to the front to help Liquigas. Cancellara is on the front now drilling the pace. He'll work for as long as he can and then sit up. Oroz is dropped from the leaders.Sanchez still there with two Euskatel riders.
Cancellara looks back and checks the damage done. He's doing a good job.
Cancellara still setting the pace. He's turning everything back into Nibali's favour.
The second group are about to be caught by Cancellara and the main field. H'e pulls over having done his work for the day.
And straight away schleck attacks.
He's going from a long way out but he's feeling good. it's an all or nothing move. jersey open to the waiste he's riding well and already has a big gap. There's no reaction at all from the main field. Liquigas are going to have to move back to the front.
Schleck is passing rider after rider but he's not waiting for anyone.
Roman K comes to the front and sets the pace. Roche is there, Danielson, Sastre, Nibali, Tondo, all there but we're down to around 20 riders in the main field. Schleck has blown the race apart but he's being pulled back.
Schleck all alone now but Liquigas aren't letting the gap increase to more than 150 meters at the moment.
Only about 20 men in the Nibali bunch, which is 1.35 down. Le Mevel and Ruben Plaza are both in the Nibali field. We can't see Van Garderen though. It looks like he's been dropped. Velits is there.
Sanchez, meanwhile, grabs some food from the team car as he follows Peterson.
Frank Schleck has been caught by the way and is back with the Nibali group. Moncoutie is sitting right at the back of the group. Arroyo is there too.
Luis Leon takes the points on the top of the climb.
Van Garderen will lose time today if he can't make it back to this group by the top of the climb. The attack from Schleck saw him distanced.
Sanchez leads the break over the climb that still contains Peterson. Great ride from the Garmin-Transitions rider. The Quick Step rider is also there.
Meanwhile Liquigas have moved back to the front of the bunch and set the pace.
Just one more climb still to come and the gap is at 1.43.
30km to go and a very fast descent before the final climb of the day. The is just under 2 minutes.
Onto the flat for the break. The climb rises slowly before really kicking up in the final 10km.
A number of riders have made it back to the Nibali bunch. Karpets and Van Garderen both there.
Nibali is down to just two riders and Schleck is on his wheel.
The lead group are still working well, all of them well aware that a stage win is still up for grabs. They have 1.49 but it might not be enough with Cervelo and AG2R now starting to move to the front of the bunch.
Final drinks for the riders now before the final climb begins to kick up. The gap is still at 2 minutes.
Frank Schleck has a teammate with him, but Nibali has four men around him. Everthing working in the Italian's favour right now. Will it change on the final climb. Have they done too much work too early?
Sanchez moves to the front of the group, him and Peterson have been in the lead for such a long time. Will they work together against the two men from Euskatel?
A Cofidis rider now moves to the front of the main field. The gap has gone up to 2.54 so they're working well together. The climb will really start to ramp up in the next few minutes.
The bunch all strung out now. There are maybe 30 riders left.
Here we go, the start of the real climb now for the leading five riders. This will really test their mettle.
The Euskatel duo lead proceedings with Peterson at the back.
8.2 per cent average, the steepest sections being 10 per cent.
AG2R now on the front of the bunch. They must be trying to defend's Roche's position on GC.
Sanchez goes backwards as Nieve goes.
Schleck has around 100 meters as Liquigas chase him down. Danielson is trying to jump over to the Saxo Bank rider. Nibali just holds tight, Velits on his wheel.
Nieve, meanwhile goes alone, with Sanchez trying to chase him. The rest of the leaders are all over the road.
Danielson is now with Schleck though and the duo are working well together. They maybe have 200 meters on Nibali and co.
Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d'Epargne)
Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Transitions), Kevin De Weert (QuickStep), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi)
Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) at 2:01
Carlos Sastre and Xavier Tondo (Cervélo Test Team), Nicolas Roche (Ag2R-La Mondiale), David Arroyo and Ruben Plaza (Caisse d’Epargne), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Remy Di Gregorio (FDJ), Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions), Christophe Le Mevel (FDJ), Vincenzo Nibali and Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas-Doimo), Peter Velits (Team HTC-Columbia), Joaquin Rodriguez (Team Katusha), Ezequiel Mosquera and David Garcia Dapena (Xacobeo Galicia) at 2:16
Danielson lets Schleck take a turn on the front. Good ride from the American who quit the race last year through illness.
Nibali has just one teammate left but the gap to Schleck and Danielson is only around 11 seconds. The Italian would take that at the finish.
Velits is riding very well as Danielson and Schleck sweep through the remnants of the break. Sanchez and the lone leader just ahead.
Kreuziger is doing a huge job for his leader Nibali here.
Danielson happy to sit in for a minute and let the Saxo man do the work. The Nibali group are down to around 10 riders now.
The Spaniard wants a stage to sign off with Cervelo before he joins up with Geox and he's put in a very strong dig with 5 km to go.
Schleck looks around for Danielson but the American doesn't come though. Roche near the back of the Nibali group with Arroyo for company.
Nieve still on his own and leading.
Brilliant from Sastre. He flies right by Schleck and Danielson. Schleck can respond but the American can't match them. he's going backwards.
Sastre with his ex-teammate Schleck now chasing the lone leader. Can they bring him back before the line. Schleck now goes and Sastre can't match him.
it wasn't really an attack from Schleck, he just stood up and pressed on a little more. he's just gone by Peterson.
Sastre is fighting to get back on terms with Schleck . he's about 2 bike lengths down.
Carlos goes bang. Schleck is now well and truly on his own. Nibali still sitting in as his teammate sets the pace.
Schleck is over 1.46 down on the Euskatel leader so the stage should be going to Spain today. Nieve still has 2km to go though and the Saxo rider is bringing him in. Slowly.
Ah Schleck is taking a long look back. Is he struggling. Nibali looks good but surely they'll attack him in the final 2km?
The gap to Nieve is 1.31. Schleck is 32 seconds ahead of the Nibali group which wont be enough to get him onto the podium at the finish.
Just 1km for Nieve now. His team car comes right up to his back wheel, urging him on. Great ride from him and his team today. Schleck is still closing but it won't be enough. The gap is now 1.27.
Roche has attacked the Nibali group. 500 meters for Nieve as Schleck reaches the wheel of Sanchez.
300 meters for Nieve as attacks rain down on Nibali now.
Here' comes Nieve for the stage win.
But Nibali has cracked. Big time.
Mosquera launches clear.
Nibali is all alone. The race is going away from him. Schleck still to come home as he makes his way to the line.
Rodriguez will take the lead. Schleck comes home now.
Rodriquez is sprinting up the hill and comes home, then Luis Leon Sanchez.
Roche, Sastre and Mosquera home.
And here comes Nibali, quickly followed by Danielson. The Italian blew up in the last 2km after looking so comfortable. He hasn't lost the leader's jersey. He lost between 30 and 40 seconds today.
Nibali is 33 seconds down on GC, Mosquera 53 seconds down and Frank Schleck moves up to fourth, 2.16 down. What a finale to a thrilling stage.
The knives were out for Liquigas today as Caisse and Euskatel threw riders up the road. In the end Nibali cracked in the final 2km. The race is far from over though. Tomorrow is a rest day but join us again on Wednesday.