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More mountains and an even more difficult climb up to the finish line. Add the high summer temperaturs and humidity to that and you have today's stage!
Welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana! We head north today, up from the coastline into the mountains. We have a brand new finish today, with three ranked climbs and one unranked but very nasty climb up to the finish line.
We must start the live report today with the sad news that Laurent Fignon lost his battle with cancer and died earlier today. The Frenchman won the Tour de France twice and the Giro d'Italia once in his long career, and remained active in race management after his retirement. He announced his cancer in June 2009, and up until this summer continued to commentate the Tour for French television.
Cyclingnews expresses its sympathy to his family.
After 85 km, we have a four-man break with a nearly six minute gap. Guillaume Bonnafond ( AG2R), Sergio Carrasco (Andalucia-CajaSur), Dario Cataldo ((Quick Step) and Dominik Roels /(Milram) got away only 16 km into the day.
194 riders were at the start today. Team Sky lost two riders during the stage yesterday to the intestinal infection that has hit the team.
And Bernhard Eisel of HTC-Columbia abandoned today.
The first ranked climb of the day was the Alto de Zafarraya, category two. The points went to Cataldo ahead of Carrasco and Bonnafond.
The first intermediate sprint went to Roels, followed by Carrasco and Bonnafond.
Today's stage started out flat, for all of about 25 km. Then it started going up, and from there it is nothing but ups and downs. We have three ranked climbs, two Category 2 and one Category 3 along the way.
The gap had gone up to 6:07, but has now dropped down to 5:43.
The real fun of today's stage, though, is the finish. Remember yesterday's short but steep climb up to the finish line? Today's is even more so. Rumours about the gradient range from 10 to 27 percent.....
Team Sky has an interesting take on today's course, calling it “a lumpy old stage”.
Jean Francois Quenet is at the race. He tells us it is very hot again today, and that the finish is --- oops, we can't use that sort of language -- let's just say it will be an extremely difficult one!
The leading quartet is heading towards the day's second climb. Meanwhile, Leif Hoste (Omega Pharma-Lotto) has paid a visit to the team doctor.
Joaquin Rodriguez is the hot favourite to win today. . “Look at him, he’s only 40 kilos”, said Andy Schleck. “For sure, Purito will win”, echoed Luis Leon Sanchez. “The finish is much harder than yesterday’s.”
This is the first leader's jersey in a Grand Tour for Philippe Gilbert, and needless to say, the Belgian is quite happy with it. You can read more about it here.
Xavier Tondo was the first Cervelo to cross the finish line yesterday, as 12th, moving him up to eighth overall. “I felt really good. I started too far behind in the final climb. I passed a lot of riders and I am happy about my form,” he said. “I haven’t raced in awhile so I need a few days to get my legs going again. I am satisfied with today’s performance and it’s a good signal for the coming days in the Vuelta.”
His teammate Carlos Sastre finished 11 seconds later and is now 14th. “It’s never easy. It was hot again today but I was able to stay at the front of the race. We have to take it day by day, because I can see there are others who are fresher than me. The ones who haven’t raced as many days as me,” Sastre said. “It’s important to not lose time in the first climb, so we got through the day in good shape.”
Cataldo sprints out of the lead group to take the points for the second ranked cimb of the day. The gap is now 4:45.
Here's one alternative to Rodriguez as a winner today: Footon-Servetto’s Josean “Matxin” Fernandez chooses Igor Anton of Euskaltel. “He’s also very explosive in such a hill."
Sky is suffering in this race, quite literally. An intestinal illness has swept through the team, taking out John-Lee Augustyn and Ben Swift yesterday, and weakening two other riders, as well as several support persons.
One of the other affected riders is Simon Gerrans, who was nevertheless at the start today. “I’m back, a couple of kilos less of a man than I was, but I’m back all the same. Expecting another tough day again today…” he tweeted.
Philippe Gilbert was shining with the red jersey on his shoulder. “I can’t say this win takes any pressure off me since I didn’t have much of that”, he said. “Today we’ll try to let a breakaway go with riders who are far down on GC. That would be a way for me to keep the jersey. The hardest will be to survive in the 2nd category climb with 7km to. But I also know that Rodriguez is very motivated for taking the jersey. Today’s uphill finish seems steeper than yesterday’s but it can suit me as well.”
Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha took second place yesterday and is a favourite for the win today. “I tried to win the stage but Gilbert was stronger and chose the best timing in the final,” he said. “Well, I'm happy with my condition and tomorrow (today) I will try to do my best to win seconds in the final. My goal is to win a stage and to do a good classification.”
Omega Pharma-Lotto contnues to lead the chase. With 47 km to go, the gap is at 4:43.
There's just not much happening so far in this stage. We imagine that all the action today will come at the very end.
The gap is coming down ever so slowly, now at 4:33.
Andy Schleck finished second in the Tour de France, but he sure isn't going to finish that high in the Vuelta. He feel off the back of the peloton early yesterday, and finished up 14 minutes down. “No excuse officially I m not on top, guess I got not the shape from TDF” he tweeted. Now he will concentrate on supporting brother Fränk.
Inigo Cuesta is still racing with Cervélo at the age of 41. “This my 17th Vuelta and I don’t say it’s my last one”, he acknowledged in Malaga. “For now I remain focused on my job alongside Carlos Sastre. He was very satisfied with his race yesterday. I’m convinced that he can win this Vuelta.”
The gap is now under four mintues, at 3.53. Bonnafond has been the virtual leader most of the day, as he is only 2:59 down in GC.
Mark Cavendish of HTC-Columbia pays a visit to the race medical car. That may be the only time we see him, as it would be a huge surprise to see him near the front at the finish today.
Carrasco takes the next intermediate sprint, ahead of Cataldo and Roels.
The gap has dropped to less than three minutes now.
Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) moved up to ninth place yesterday after finishing only 19 seconds down. “Very hot hard start 2day, was far behind for the finish climb made it up to 13th.i m satisfed.the legs are coming and getting better day by day,” he tweeted.
There is a split in the peloton. Or the sprinters have already started falling back.
Cataldo takes off, as the gap drops to 2:09. Bonnafond does with him, and the other two are a bit behind.
There is a definite break in the peloton. Thomas Löfkvist of Sky is in the wrong part of the field.
Bonnafond and Cataldo pull away from their two former companions. We doubt, however, that they have a chance. And now Carrasco and Roels have not only caught but passed the other two.
Oops. all together again.
The four leaders descend on a narrow street in a town. Could be fun when the peloton is there.
Quite an interesting descent here, as they approach the final ranked climb of the day.
The peloton is strung out single file, flying along here. Things are a bit slower up front, as the four leaders start the climb.
Carrasco tried to attack, and there are now constnt attacks out of the lead group. Roels has problems staying with the others, and now Carrasco falls back, too.
The leaders will not be happy to see the race and team cars pulling by them. That means that the peloton is not far behind.
A puncture for Andy Schleck. The Saxo Bank team car nearly blocks the whole narrow road as it stops to provide him with a new bike.
Roels has already been caught by ghe field. We are shown a time of 1:27 to the lead, but doubt that is correct.
The peloton has fallen apart on this climb. Katusha leads the way up, hoping to bring in the win and leaders jersey for Joaquin Rodriguez..
Fränk Schleck and Gilbert are still in the small lead group, of maybe 15-20 riders.
Katusha really picked up the speed, and successfully dropped much of the field.
That's it for the break. Only 13 km to go, and Cataldo and Bonnafond are caught on the climb.
Katusha is tireless in pulling this group up the mountain.
Katusha's Caruso hs to drop out of the lead work with a puncture. Sastre is in a chase group.
Vladmir Karpets leads the way. HIs group is eight seconds ahead of the Sastre group.
Sastre and his companions shouldn't feel compelled to catch the next group on the climb. We have a descent coming up they can use, too, and let us not forget the closing climb which will toss everything upside down, with its ramps up to 27%.
Kreuziger, NIbali, Menchov, Van Garderen, are all in the lead group. Gilbert too, but he is not doing particularly well.
Still two km to go to the top.
Sastre is at the head of the chase group. They are more than willing to let him do all the work.
The Sastre group has now dropped to 32 seconds back.
There are 13 riders in the Sastre group.
The lead group is: KARPETS Vladimir (186), BRUSEGHIN Marzio (052), KREUZIGER Roman (125), NIBALI Vincenzo (126), RODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin (181), ARROYO DURAN David (051), SANCHEZ GIL Luis Leon (058), MOSQUERA MIGUEZ Ezequiel (211), ANTON HERNANDEZ Igor (071), TONDO Xavier (009), ROCHE Nicolas (011), VELITS Peter (179), SCHLECK Frank (209), MENCHOV Denis (157), VAN GARDEREN Tejay (177), NIEVE ITURALDE Mikel (075), PERAUD Jean-Christophe (137), TEN DAM Laurens (158), PLAZA MOLINA Ruben (057), GILBERT Philippe (134), URAN URAN Rigoberto (059), GARCIA DA PENA David (214), DANIELSON Thomas (101).
And they hit the top. There is no competition for the mountain points.
Sasare finally has help with the lead work, but the group is now 44 seconds back.
NIbali leads the way on the descent. This descent is supposed to be a tricky one, too.
Sastre goes all out on the descent.
Who is the CN staff picking today? Peter Hymas has chosen Rodriguez, while Steve Farrand likes Nibali.
Kreuziger has dropped out of the lead group.
They are still descendind and haven't hit the final climb yet.
Arroyo breaks out from the lead group.
CN's Barry Ryan picks Gilbert to repeat today.
That is of course not Arroyo but Luis Leon Sanchez! Who has now been caught.
It is flat here, and then goes up. No, Sanchez wasn't caught..... He is still ahead.
Too confusing -- that is Rigoberto Uran. And he is going UP a very steep section.
The streets are lined with fans.
A very narrow, very steep road.
Rodriguez, Velits and Nibali move up to Uran. Also Gilbert is in this small group.
URan is caught and now Anton goes.
Gilbert can't hold on to the group. A Euskaltel rider takes the win, but we don't know who!
The riders are still climbing their way to the finish line.
We are now pretty sure that the winner is Igor Anton, which would be logical....
Looks like Nibali too second and Rodrguez perhaps third?
Can you tell this is a confusing finish?
There will definitely be some interesting gaps today.
Sastre will be one of the losers today. He finished 1:30 down.
Third place went not to Rodriguez (who was fourth), but to Peter Velits of HTC-Columbia.
Gilbert manages to hang on to his red jersey, with Anton now second overall and Rodriguez third.
That's it for today. Sorry for all the confusion at the end. Give us another chance and read along tomorrow!