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Hello and welcome the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 19 of the Vuelta a España, from Piedrahita - Toledo.
This has breakaway written all over it. There's a cat 2 climb soon after the start that takes the race up into the remote and beautiful Sierra de Gredos. This looks like it will be the launchpad for a long-range attack, given the rolling terrain that follows right to the finish. With one key mountain stage to come, the overall contenders will be happy to let the sprinters' teams chase down breakaway riders.
The riders have just completed the first 1000 meters of racing so lets bring you up to date with a few bits of news from this morning.
Before I forget it's Jens Voigt's birthday. Happy birthday Jens from CN.
It looks like Fabian Cancellara is stalling on his future. The story goes that he might buy himself out of his 2011 contract with Saxo Bank in order to join BMC, Pegasus or the Schleck team. I think Sky were in the mix at one point too. Anyway here's the story.
In other news, just before we get back to the race, Jonathan Chodroff has admitted to CN that he bought and used EPO in spring 2007. You can read that story, right here.
Today is a long one, in fact it's the longest stage in this year's race, covering 231.2km. So far we've not had any attacks but Vogondy, who yesterday announced that he'd signed for Cofidis hasn't shown up this morning. Here's the story about him changing teams.
3km of racing completed and no attacks yet.
A bit of information on today's stage: the race passes through Carlos Sastre's home town of El Barraco, where he's sure to receive a hero's welcome. However, Sastre's an unlikely winner here.
The bunch are on the first climb of the day, a perfect launchpad for an attack or two.
We could see a number of riders plotting for glory at the Worlds try their luck and test their legs. Guys like Gilbert, Pozatto etc, etc.
The bunch are clearly taking things early this morning. No attacks, no action, nothing.
Tondo though as gone back to talk to the race doctor.
While we wait for the bunch to wake up, let's have a quick look at how things stand on GC. Still everything to play for. It's between Nibali and Mosquera for the win and Schleck will fancy his chances, Rodriguez too perhaps, of finishing on the podium.
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 74:47:06
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:38
3 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:01:59
4 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank 0:03:43
5 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:03:48
6 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team
7 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions 0:03:58
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:04:02
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:04:16
10 Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:05:42
11 David Garcia Dapena (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:07:22
12 Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha 0:08:55
13 Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:09:27
14 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, le crédit en ligne 0:10:40
15 Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Team Katusha 0:12:21
16 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:13:58
17 Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) FDJ 0:15:16
18 Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Lampre-Farnese Vini 0:16:17
19 Jan Bakelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:19:30
20 Gustav Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank 0:19:43
A few valuable points up for grabs at the top of this Cat2 climb. Moncoutie who currently leads the KOM and Serafin are going clear in order to compete for them. Serafin currently lies second behind the Frenchman.
Serafin takes the points ahead of Moncoutie. The gap was ten points so it's getting closer between these two.
Over the top and the duo wait for the bunch. They're quickly gobbled up Roels (again) and Jufre have both attacked. They've got a slender lead on the bunch.
The pair have less than thirty seconds on the field but there are two more riders trying to get across.
Ladies and gentlemen we have a break. Four riders now ahead of the bunch , with around a 50 second gap. They are, Dominik Roels (Team Milram), Xavier Florencio (Cervelo TestTeam), Manuel Ortega (Andalucia-Cajasur), Josep Jufre (Astana)
The gap is now over two minutes. The Liquigas boys are on the front patrolling the bunch. They'll let the break get a pretty good lead considering that none of the riders are serious threats to Nibali. Jufre is the highest placed on GC and he's 30:34 down on the Italian.
The sprinters' teams might stir into action later on though. However with HTC and Garmin both with men in the top ten on GC, they may sacrifice any chance of winning the stage in order to save their energy for tomorrow's mountain stage. I don't think HTC have had a rider on a podium in a grand tour before so if Velits can hang on it would be a great result for them.
The gap, now over three minutes, as these four riders push on. Roels of course has been on the attack throughout the race, including yesterday's stage.
With Milram set to fold, Roels is potentially riding to save his career. He's been with Milram since 2008 and hasn't announced what his plans are yet for 2011. If he's after a new contract he's going about it the right way by getting in breaks at the Vuelta. It means folk like myself have to keep repeating his names and his sponsor. Dominik Roels (Team Milram). See, there it is again.
The gap is now four minutes.
So if you were Cancellara, could go to any team in the world, where would you sign and why? Let me know at twitter.com/dnlbenson
45km raced and the lead is creeping towards five minutes. Cataldo has a puncture but other than that the bunch are all taking it easy.
At the start of today's stage Alexis Rodriguez said: “The course is up and down all day. But I think it’s easier for the sprinters’ teams to control because they can let a breakaway cruise five minutes ahead of the bunch. The finale is not easy though. There’s a hill just before the finish and that might not be good at all for Cavendish. It suits Philippe Gilbert to perfection. He looks like being the strongest rider of this Vuelta.”
The man himself, Gilbert had this response: “If everybody says so, it must be true”, said the Belgian. “On paper, it’s good for me. But we’ve heard there possibilities of rain during the stage, and there’s no way I’ll take risks if it’s dangerous. The roads of Toledo are known for being slippery. Yesterday I felt great when I attacked in the last ten kilometres but I thought it was more technical after the 7-km to go mark. In fact, it wasn’t, so I didn’t get much chance to resist to the bunch but I have no regret because the sprint was too dangerous for me to try anything there.”
American Teejay Van Garderen had a hard day before the rest day but is already looking forward to next year, and riding the Tour de France “I was extremely tired after stage 16 but it sort of came around again yesterday. It’s very motivating to finish my first Grand Tour and help Cavendish and Velits. Next year I hope to get a start at the Tour de France.”
Meanwhile the break are going through Navarredondillawith. The gap is heading towards seven minutes, as Liquigas continue to control the bunch.
Tyler Farrar, fourth yesterday, also had a few words to say at the start: “There is only a small chance for a breakaway today. It’s a perfect course for a group to stay away. If it’s not a sprint today, there’ll be one on Sunday for sure.”
Where should Cancellara sign for 2011 (assuming he breaks his contract)?
KarolMcD Karol @dnlbenson Cancellara should go to the new Luxembourg team purely for the party atmosphere.
Over seven minutes now for the break. A long, long way in the stage left to go. If they had a few more riders I'd be more confident on them doing something but with just four guys, and so far still to race.... it's going to be difficult.
Now I feel a little bit better. The lead is now over 8 minutes.
The break have just gone through the first sprint of the day and Florencio takes maximum points. He was followed over the line by Ortega and Jufre.
The four out front are stilling plugging away and working well together. They've got a lead of just over nine minutes now. The bunch are still sitting back and saving their powder, with Liquigas still setting the tempo.
Roche has had a puncture and is waiting for a team car. At least he doesn't have to rely on Gadret this time around.
And we're in El Barranco the home town of 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre. He's getting a huge welcome from his fans on the side of the road. And well deserved, he's been a fine servant for Spanish cycling over the years.
The lead is nearly ten minutes with the bunch content to let the foursome build up a healthy lead. There's still a long, long way to go as we've only covered 80km.
Interesting move at the head of the bunch, with Lotto, HTC and Garmin starting to move the front. The gap is at 10.47, so HTC are perhaps thinking about controlling the break in a bid to encourage more teams to help share the work in chasing.
A slightly uphill finish so Gilbert might also fancy his chances today as well.
Another birthday today. Juan Antonio Flecha is 33. Happy birthday.
Liquigas will be more than happy to have some help at the head of the bunch. The overall will be settled tomorrow and they'll want to save as much energy as possible.
The leaders have hit the feed but an interesting development as they're now riding into a headwind. The gap has dropped to 9.27.
Less than 9 minutes now. The sprinters' teams, combined with the headwind are staying to change the dynamic of this stage.
The bunch have now reached the feed zone and there's a slight slit in the field. Meanwhile the four leaders are still clear and are making their way to the finish. They've still got a over 100km to race.
Fabian Cancellara has withdrawn from the race.
Katusha, Footon and HTC now sitting on the front of the bunch. The wind has changed and is coming from the side now. The four leaders still have minutes on the bunch.
The lead was close to 11 minutes but it's now down to 7.15 as the bunch continue to eat into their lead. Looks like we could have another thrilling sprint on our hands.
The break are losing their lead rapidly as the bunch step up the chase. It's 6.40 now.
The break were always going to find it tough today. There were only four riders, Roels must be tired from his exploits yesterday and they've also had to fight against a head wind for the last few kilometres. To their credit, they're still plugging away.
More time lost to the bunch. The gap is under 6 minutes now, 5.50 to be exact. The four riders have been out there for around 120km and they're starting to lose grip.
The break whiz through Navalcarnero, their lead continuing to come down with each pedal stroke. A few of the sprinters will start getting twitchy now. They'll know that they'll be called into action later on this afternoon. Cavendish looks relaxed and can afford to be with three wins already in this year's race.
Back in the bunch and Luis Leon Sanchez is drifting back to the medical car.
Our gap has now sunk below five minutes. To be exact, it is at 4:53.
The gap is holding at around five minutes now. The bunch easing off slightly as they wont want to catch the four leaders too early. They'll just let them sit out there for a bit longer.
Another few kilometres and another few seconds shaved off the gap by the bunch. The leaders have just over five minutes now.
Nice and sunny at the finish at the moment we're hearing. Remember it's a bit of an uphill sprint today with a few cobbles thrown in for good measure.
The gap down to 4.08 now. Liguigas as ever near the front of the bunch, surrounding their team leader and race leader, Nibali.
Katusha and Footon, meanwhile, are doing some work on the front of the bunch.
But the break are on nice long, wide roads now. Some pretty good crowds out too in Toledo.
Just over 50km to go now. Roels, who has pretty much been on point for the last two days in the Vuelta, takes another turn on the front. How can this guy not have a contract for next year? Ok, ok he hasn't got a bucket full of results but he's riding like a man possessed at the moment.
The bunch are all strung out now, Van Garderen pulling at the front. The gap is now just 3.20.
Footon still present at the front. They've got a couple of descent sprinters, Cardosa came third yesterday, so he might get another chance today.
Roels again at the front and making faces at the tv cameras. Now a peace sign. Forget the Pope visit to the UK, lets just get Roels over for the weekend.
The pace has shot up even more in the bunch. Are we going to see cross winds playing a part? Nibali and Sastre are near the front, Schleck too.
Ignatiev has been on the front for Katusha for the last few km. He's doing a great job but I feel sorry for the Lotto rider behind him, who isn't getting too much shelter.
Ignatiev must be no more than 5'5 in height.
The bunch swing through a tight right hand bend, and HTC move back to the front and take a long pull. Now Footon come through. Less than 39km to go now and the break aren't too far up the road.
The break aren't giving up though, they're still sharing the work and trying to stay out there for as long as possible.
Bennati, who is back in the bunch, takes a drink and then pours some of it over his face. Walker, from Footon drifts to the back of the bunch, perhaps looking for a team car, while a Lotto jumps to the front and sets the pace.
The bunch are going full gas now as a number of teams move their GC riders and sprinters further to the front.
Walker has his bike checked by a team mechanic - at 30mph - and then rejoins the bunch.
The gap down to just over two minutes now.
Jufre comes through to the front of the break and takes a turn but with less than 30km to go and two minutes to the bunch it's going to be really hard for these guys to stay away. Almost impossible.
Rolling terrain now, with a few little rises. There's a dig around 7km to go as well as a climb on the finish. It's going to be an interesting finish today.
Cavendish in the middle of the bunch for now. Today will really test him. Perhaps Farrar and Gilbert and few others will have the edge on him with the uphill sprint? We'll see.
Nibali grabs a quick drink, still surrounded by a gaggle of teammates.
Just over twenty to go no and the break are looking like they're just going through the motions now. The end is near for the four riders. Jufre has taken a long pull and swings off.
The bunch just over 1 minute down now.
Caisse now moving to the front of the bunch but HTC still controlling affairs. The gap is under a minute now so the bunch can afford to ease off a bit.
17km to go and the gap is at 25 seconds.
The Saxo train move up. They'll be looking to give Haedo a good jump, as well as protect Frank Schleck. Their job will be even harder after Fabian Cancellara pulled out this morning.
Garmin near the front of the bunch for the first time today. We've not seen much of them so far.
Less than 100 meters for the break and they're about to be swept up. Roels wants to be the last man caught.
And is. End of the break.
Lampre coming to the front. A lot of teams fancy themselves for the win today.
Pozzato, watch out for him, he could dome something soon.
HTC, Quick Step, Lampre, Footon, Garmin, Liquigas all near the front and trying to set something up. Lotto there too, as well as Katusha.
A long switch back for the bunch, with just 9km to go.
They're all strung out out as Lampre take control.
8km to go and the bunch are still all together.
Nibali is near the front too, maybe in 9th wheel.
Hondo is setting the pace and then a Footon rider takes over.
The bunch is start to split a bit now. A few riders dropping off the back as Lampre continue to set the pace.
Very twisty roads now and there are a lot of nervous riders.
Just 4km to go and they're coming up to that short rise.
He cant get a gap but does hurt the field.
All back together but riders are struggling.
Another Quick Step rider it's Cataldo. and Sanchez goes with him.
Is that Roche trying to come across?
A few more attacks coming from the bunch.
Sanchez now taking charge and he's going clear.
A HTC rider with him though and the two have a small gap.
Sanchez and a HTC rider have a small gap now but the bunch are coming back.
The bunch are closing in on the pair. I think it was Van Garderen.
Less than 2km to go and they still have a gap.
All back together.
Over the cobbles but the bunch are splitting. Garmin doing lots of work.
Gilbert lurking. Millar is up there too.
Now Gilbert goes.
Gilbert opens up the sprint and Garmin and HTC are trying to come back.
Around the final bend and Gilbert or Farrar.
Gilbert takes the win!
Farrar takes second.
Pozzato took third Hinault next, then Peter Velits.
Nibali in the top ten too so he might get more time on his rivals. Smart riding by the Italian. Smart riding from Peter Velits who may have taken a time bonus too.
So two big winners today, Gilbert, great win, similar to his triumph at Amstel where he beat another Garmin rider into second place, and Nibali who with some canny riding, increased his lead on GC to 50 seconds. Stay tuned tomorrow for the crunch stage in this year's Vuelta.
Thanks for joining us.