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Hello and welcome to the Cyclingnews coverage of stage 8 of the Vuelta a España. Today's stage is a testing 190 km from Villena to Xorret de Cati.
The final climb of the day, the Alto Xorret de Cati, has been the scene of some memorable Vuelta moments in the past and should shake up the general classification.
As we pick up the action at the top of the Puerto de Tudons climb, a five-man breakaway has a lead of 5:22 over the peloton. Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) led David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and Johan Tschopp (Bbox-Bouygues Telecom) over the summit. Jose Luis Arrieta (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Assan Bazayev (Astana) are the other members of the lead group.
The main news at the startline this morning was Team Sky's decision to withdraw from the Vuelta as a mark of respect to the late Txema Gonzalez. The Sky soigneur passed away in Seville on Friday as a result of a bacterial infection which developed into a sepsis blood infection.
David Millar wrote this moving tribute to his friend and colleague, a man who "transcended cycling and it's fickle tribe-like behaviour."
A minute's silence was observed in honour of Txema Gonzalez at the start in Villena.
When the racing got underway, David Moncoutie was one of the first aggressors, as he pursues a third consecutive King of the Mountains title at the Vuelta. He was third over the first climb of the day, the Puerto de Onil, behind Oscar Pujol (Cervelo) and Serafin Martinez. After that move was reeled back in, he attacked in the company of Johan Tschopp 48km into the stage, and they were eventually joined by Martinez, Arrieta and Bazayev up front.
The beginning of the stage was also marked by a number of crashes. Race leader Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) was among the fallers in the first crash, along with David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne), Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) and Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia). Gilbert seemed to be the worst affected, but he rejoined the peloton relatively quickly. It could be a long day for the red jersey, however...
Speaking at the start this morning, Gilbert was bullish about his chances of defending his lead, in spite of the difficulties to be encountered today. “It’s a hard stage but we’ll try to control it again today," he said. The Belgian has been in fantastic form thus far in the Vuelta, and looks set for another grandstand finish to the season, just like in 2009.
After that initial crash, Christophe Le Mevel was next to go down. Before the start, he reminisced about his first Vuelta in 2005. “It was an extremely fast race and I suffered a lot. I feel better now. I’m here to enjoy racing and make my team happy too,” he said. He may well have a difficult day ahead of him.
Coming through the feedzone and the peloton seems content to let the break stay out front a little while longer as their advantage stretches back out to 5:50.
The breakaway has started the climb of the Puerto de Torremanzanas. After three hours of racing, the average speed is 37.4kph.
Branislau Samoilau (Quick Step) has abandoned the race ahead of the climb of the Torremanzanas.
US sensation Tejay van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) could be one of the men to watch today. “It’s gonna be a hard day”, he said at the startin Villena. “It should be a small group coming to the end. I suspect that Katusha will try something for Rodriguez. Anton and Nibali are the other favourites to take the jersey today. As for myself, I’m a little bit nervous to go too deep. I yet have to see the response of my body in a three-week race. This is my first Grand Tour.”
Van Garderen has been a revelation this season, with a fantastic 3rd place at the Criterium du Dauphine to his credit. The American has also impressed off the bike, penning a fine blog for Cyclingnews, which you can read here.
It already looks as though the mountains classification at this Vuelta will be a battle between Serafin Martinez and Moncoutie. Martinez currently holds the jersey and was straight on to Moncoutie's wheel when he attacked this morning.
Omega Pharma-Lotto are leading the bunch in defence of Philoppe Gilbert's red jersey.
There's no threat to Gilbert's lead in this breakaway. The closest man on the general classification is David Moncoutie, who is all of 13:48 back in 60th place.
Serafin Martinez led Moncoutie over the top of the 2nd category Torremanzanas and has extended his lead in the mountains classification. He's just that bit more explosive than the Frenchman in the sprint and that can make all the difference in this classification.
Meanwhile, the break's lead is back out to 6:24.
The final climb of the Xorret de Catì is only 4 kilometres in length but has an average gradient of 12%. If this breakaway survives that far, Tschopp and Moncoutie would probably fancy their chances of distancing their companions, although Serafin Martinez is very clearly in great form at this Vuelta.
Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo Galicia) won on the Xorret de Cati last year and he explains how hard it is: “I won from a breakaway of six riders with Rein Taarämae who attacked from the bottom of Xorret de Catì but made a mistake in choosing his gear, that’s how I managed to overtake him. 39x27 or 28 is the recommended gear for this climb. I’m well but I have allergies these days, it happens to me all the times the weather is beautiful. I guess Katusha, Euskaltel and Liquigas will control the race today.”
Inside the final 50km and the break is stretching out its lead again ahead of the climb of the Puerto de la Carrasqueta. They now have 7:40 over the peloton.
The pace is quite sedate in the peloton for now. It's been a tough opening week of this Vuelta and the extreme heat in Andalucia really took its toll on the riders, so it's hardly surprising that a temporary truce appears to have been called until the final climb.
Jose Luis Arrieta is leading the break now on the foot of the Puerto de la Carrasqueta. If the quintet up front work together and play their cards right they could well go the distance.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) is looking very uncomfortable in the peloton. The man from La Spezia fell early in today's stage. His shorts are torn and his right arm is heavily bandaged. It's been a rough period for Petacchi and yesterday's stage win offered only temporary respite it seems. Back in Italy, he could well be facing into disciplinary procedures that could compromise his career.
The pace is beginning to pick up ever so slightly in the peloton and an autobus is beginning to form around Mark Cavendish, who is in the green jersey. One man who found himself in the bus while back fetching bidons was Segei Renev (Astana) and he's sprinting to try and make up the gap.
That injection of pace came about because Cervelo TestTeam went to the front in place of Omega Pharma-Lotto and they've already shaved almost two minutes off the gap to the break. It's down to 6 minutes.
Xavier Tondo is lying in 7th place overall and Cervelo are keeping tabs on things for him and for team leader Carlos Sastre, who is 2:15 down at the moment.
Sastre's brother-in-law, the late Jose Maria Jimenez won at Xorret de Catì in 1998. The magical El Chava lit up the Vuelta in the late 1990s and the early part of this decade with his mercurial performances in the mountains. That win at Xorret de Catì was the first of four for Jimenez at that explosive Vuelta, where his rivalry with Banesto teammate and eventual winner Abraham Olano led to arguably the most dramatic (or perhaps melodramatic) Vuelta of that decade.
Cervelo are stringing out the peloton now. They're shredding the gap to the leaders, and have taken over three minutes out of them since hitting the front. The gap is now down to just 4:10.
Martinez outsprinted Moncoutie once again at the top of the Carrasqueta but the five breakaways are all working together in a desperate bid to hold their advantage.
Ireland's Philip Deignan is riding on the front for Cervelo now, it's good to see him back at the head of the peloton after what's been a difficult season. Deignan was a fine 9th overall in last year's Vuelta and took a stage win for good measure.
Deignan is driving the peloton down the descent. He's been on the front for quite some time and is eating up the breakaway's advantage.
The peloton has spread back out across the road again. It seems as though Cervelo are content for now to have brought the gap down under 4 minutes and are looking for help from some of the other teams.
The break have pushed their gap back out to 4 minutes now as they tackle the fast run-in to the foot of the climb of Xorret de Catì.
There's disagreement in the main field over the chase and the break is benefiting accordingly. It has stretched its lead back out to five minutes again.
None of the contenders' teams want to take charge of the chase on these flat 12km to the foot of the final climb. If anything hammers home the difference between the Tour de France and the Vuelta it's a situation like this. In general, teams aren't at full strength as they are at the Tour and it all makes the Vuelta a notoriously difficult race to control.
The breakaway will survive up front at least until the final climb and now have every chance of carving up the stage win between them. That said, the peloton's pace on the final climb should be significantly quicker than the five men up front, but will it be enough?
A pair of Astana riders have come to the front of the peloton, presumably to hinder the chase, seeing as their teammate Assan Bazayev is up front.They needed have bothered mind, the chase behind is now non-existent. The peloton seem to have called a truce until the final climb.
Serafin Martinez stretches out his legs, he'll be looking to slip clear of his companions on the climb but he'll have his work cut out. David Moncoutie is always good when the road goes uphill while Johan Tschopp is a proven climber.
Jose Luis Arrieta has been putting in some massive turns on the front. On paper he shouldn't be able to match Moncoutie et al on the final climb, but he has been riding very strongly today.
A few Saxo Bank jerseys moving towards the front now. They'll be working for Frank Schleck, although the short steep slopes of the climb of Xorret de Catì may not necessarily be to the Luxembourg champion's liking.
10km to go for the breakaway and they have five minutes over the peloton. Liquigas-Doimo are starting to get bodies up near the front now in defence of Vincenzo Nibali. There's a bunch of about 70 riders here, and competition for places on the front at the foot of the Xorret de Catì will be fierce.
Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crashed at the rear of the peloton, but he's back on his bike quickly.
The roads are getting narrower now in the run-in to the climb. The approach to the foot of the climb should be something akin to the Poggio at Milan-San Remo, expect some elbows to fly...
The breakaway hit the foot of the climb with four minutes in hand over the peloton.
Jose Luis Arrieta is setting the pace at the front of the breakaway with Tschopp on his wheel.
The gap is down to 3 minutes as the peloton approaches the foot of the climb.
Arrieta has been in front all the way from the foot of the Alto Xorret de Catì.
Meanwhile in the peloton, Liquigas are setting the pace. Vincenzo Nibali could be looking to lay down a serious marker here.
Rigoberto Uran (Caisse d'Epargne) attacks out of the peloton on the climb and immediately opens a decent-looking gap.
Oliver Zaugg had been setting the pace for Liquigas before that attack.
Arrieta is dropped by the breakaway as Tschopp puts the pressure on up front.
Serafin Martinez is also suffering now in this lead group.
Moncoutie has attacked at the front of the race and is inching away from his companions on the steep slopes of the Xorret de Catì.
Carlos Sastre (Cervelo) attacks from the peloton but he's chased down immediately. Most of the favourites seem to be up here, including red jersey Philippe Gilbert. No sign of Denis Menchov, however.
Gilbert is suffering now and has been dropped by the overall favourites. A pretty select group has formed here with Nibali, Rodriguez, Sastre, Nicolas Roche and Frank Schleck.
Joaquin Rodriguez attacks and Vincenzo Nibali follows comfortably. Igor Anton and Xavier Tondo are trying to hang on, while Sastre and Nicolas Roche chase a little further back. Frank Schleck seems in difficulty.
Up front, Moncoutie looks set to hit the summit first.
Rodriguez kicks again but Nibali is able to match him again. Anton follows and attacks himself!
Nibali is looking very comfortable. Rodriguez is the main aggressor but Nibali is matching him every time. Anton and Tondo are up there with them, while Sastre is chasing alone.
Moncoutie leads over the top of the climb and has a rapid 3km descent to the line.
Sastre joins the Nibali group and almost immediately, Nibali goes to the front and drives on the pace.
Moncoutie is racing to victory on the day.
Moncoutie takes the win. Fantastic win for the Frenchman, he attacked his companions on the steepest section of the final climb. Bassayev was the last man to go.
The sprint for second 53 seconds down goes to Johann Tschopp ahead of Martinez and Arrieta.
Rodriguez sprints home in 5th ahead of Nibali, Tondo, Sastre and Bazayev, and will take over the race leadership tonight.
Nibali will be very pleased with his day''s work however, he's looking very strong.
Tejay Van Garderen leads the Frank Schleck group over the line almost 1:30 down on Nibali and Rodriguez.
Gilbert crosses the line 3:34 down. He loses the red jersey but he has been a gallant leader of the race this week and put up a great fight again today.
In fact, Igor Anton will take over the red jersey tonight. It appeared on the run-in that he had just lost contact with Rodriguez and Nibali, but instead he's been awarded the same time and holds lead of one second over Rodriguez overall.
When Rodriguez crossed the line, he must surely have thought he'd done enough to take possession of the red jersey.
Provisional stage result
1. David Moncoutie (Cofidis)
2. Serafin Martinez (Xacobeo Galicia) at 0:54
3. Johann Tschopp (Bbox)
4. José Luis Arrieta (AG2R)
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) at 1:29
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas)
7. Igor Anton (Euskaltel)
Provisional overall standings:
1 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 32:28:49
2 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:02
4 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team 0:00:42
5 Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Caisse d’Epargne 0:01:10
6 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:01:15
7 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:01:18
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:01:19
9 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:01:26
10 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC-Columbia
Euskaltel will be delighted to take the red jersey with Igor Anton, while Joaquin Rodriguez will doubtless worry that he missed his chance today. Vincenzo Nibali is in the perfect position, just two seconds back. Meanwhile, Nicolas Roche and Tejay Van Garderen can be pleased with their day's work, as they hold positions in the top ten overall.
Thanks for joining us for today's coverage of a dramatic day at the Vuelta a España. Full results, pictures and detailed stage reports will be online in due course, while we'll be back with more live coverage of the great race tomorrow. A tough day of racing along rugged terrain between Calpe and Alcoy awaits and any potential breakaways will have to know how to climb.