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The ninth stage of the Vuelta stays in the mountains, with a whole multitude of category two and three ranked climbs, leading up to an unranked 1.5 km climb up to the finish line. Which of the climbing experts will take it today, or will an exhausted escape group come through to the end?
Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana. We have seven, count 'em, seven ranked climbs today! Good thing that tomorrow is a rest day for those tired legs.
We have a 15-man break: Oscar Pujol (Cervelo), Bela Kadri (AG2R), Javier Ramirez (Andalucia-CajaSur), Enrico Gasparotto (Astana);, Perrig Quemeneur (Bbox), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Roman Kreuziger (Liquigas), Jean-Christophe Peraud (Omega Pharma-Lotto); Jelle Vanendert (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Carlos Barredo (QuickStep), Dario Cataldo (QuickStep), Gianpaolo Caruso (Katusha) and Gonzalo Rabunal (Xacobeo Galicia).
They currently have a gap of 5:25.
Today's stage is called “medium mountains.” Things start off quietly enough, but then there is nothing but ups and downs in the last two-thirds. There are four category two and three category three ranked climbs, with the last one topping out only 6.6 km from the finish line.
And if that's not enough, the final 1.5 km are also ascending. Not seriously rough, but also not easy after all that other hard work today.
Three riders have abandoned today. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre), who crashed heavily early yesterday, and Freddy Bichot (Bbox) left the stage after riding only 50 km. Later, Mickael Delage of Omega Pharma-Lotto decided to give up, as well.
The leaders have now climbed the second mountain of the day. Rabunal took the points ahead of Moncoutie and Pujol. For the first climb, a bit earlier, it was Rabunal ahead of Moncoutie and Peraud.
27km into the stage, Moncoutie, Peraud and Kadri took off, and they were soon joined by 11 others. Javier Ramirez of Andalucia-CajaSur gave chase and caught up with the escape group at km 49.
The leaders are now going up the day's third climb, the Alto de Confrides (category three). It has an average gradient of only 3.47%.
All of the riders in the break group are doing their fair share of lead work, with the exception, of course, of Martinez. He is keeping an eye on things there for teammate Igor Anton, who just so happens to be leading the race.
There were no changes in any of the rankings after yesterday's first high-mountain stage. Oh wait, that's not right, is it? Igor Anton of Euskaltel is now in the leader's red jersey. Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha is second, with the exact same time. Third place belongs to Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas, who is a mere two seconds down.
The gap is now at 4:42. It is warm today, or even hot. Most of the riders have their jerseys wide open.
Everyone heading downhill again, with the gap down to 4:30.
The lead group is already on its way up the next climb, the Alto de Tudons, category two.
Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) still leads in the points ranking, ahead of Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Transitions) and Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre). Somehow we doubt that any of them got any additional points yesterday. Petacchi left the race today, so there will be changes there tomorrow.
The peloton is still quite large. Looks like everyone must stil be in there.
Serafin Martinez of Xacobeo Galicia managed to hold on to the mountain jersey, leading Cofdis' David Moncoutie by 10 points. Third is Dario Cataldo of QuickStep.
Bad news for Martinez, both of his rivals are in today's break group.
At the last climb, the Confrides, it was once again Rabunal ahead of Moncoutie and Peraud.
Barredo has now fallen back out of the lead group. He is 48 seconds down.
Barredo is now back by the neutral supply car, picking up some neutral refreshment.
Apparently Barredo decided to drop back to improve the group's chances. Only 2:49 down, he was a danger to the overall leaders. So he sacrificed his own chances to give the gorup a better chance to stay away until the end.
Rabunal takes off on his own. The peloton is now back at 5:00.
Rabual was first over the mountain ranking, with Moncoute second again. But those were enough points to give the Frenchman the mountain jersey!
The peloton crosses the mountain top exactly 4:31 behind Rabunal.
QuickStep denies that Barrredo has voluntarily dropped out of the lead group, and that he must just be tired.
Euskaltel has slowed things down a bit in the peloton. The gap is back up to 5:02. Up ahead, Rabunal is still in the lead.
The gap is now up to 5.12.
Rabunal has 48 seconds on the escape group.
And just like that the gap is now over six minutes.
Joaquin Rodriguez thinks he should be in red today – in first place and not second. He accepts the decision, but doesn't like it. Read more
Rabunal is flying! He is now 2:08 ahead of the break group, with the peloton another 4:18 back, for a total of 6:25.
With the gap at over seven minutes back to the peloton, another rider jumps out of the escape group. Others follow him.
The whole lead group falls apart as there is one attack after another.
The peloton has apparently given the green light for the group to get awy. The gap has now climbed to eight minutes.
Peraud may well be the next red jersey. He was only 6:59 down in GC.
The gap is growing by leaps and bounds. Nearly nine minutes now between Rabunal and the peloton. Meanwhile the chase group is still falling apart as they all try to move up in various combinations.
Will Rabunal be able to hang on to the end? He no longer looks as fresh as he did earlier.
Hushovd is at the back of the peloton, as might be expected.
Rabunal seems to have recovered and looks good again. He is no threat to GC.
The group of four chasers is now a group of 10.
There are still two ranked climbs to go, plus the finishing climb.
Many of the sprinters and non-climbers are beginning to fall off the back of the peloton now.
The Alto de Torremanzanas (category two) has been crossed. Rabunal was, of course, first, with Pujol second and Moncoutie third.
It looks like the chasers will get Rabunal, as his lead is now only 45 seconds.
And much further back, Barredo is now back in the peloton again.
There are only nine in the chase group, as Cataldo and Quemeneur have been dropped.#
Let's make that 10 in the lead group . They have now caught Rabunal.
Which of these 10 will take the win?
Rabunal attacks for the final mountain ranking, but this time Moncoutie is able to pull by him and take the maximum points.
Euskaltel continues to lead the peloton, with the gap now coming down to 8:49.
The leaders are now flying along. Each one wants to pull out the win for himself.
The gap continues to drop, now down to 8:10. Lots of games going on the lead group, with attacks and counter-attacks.
David Lopez of Caisse hs taken off out of the lead group, and is now joined by Moncoutie.
Moncoutie will be looking to take his second consecutive stage win. No doubt Lopez has other plans.
Moncoutie and Lopez have 17 seconds on their former companions.
The two leadrs have crosse the final mountain ranking, with three chasers only 11 seconds back.
Kreuziger has brought Caruso and Martinez up to the two leaders.
We now have four riders in the lead -- who has been dropped? Martinez.
But the Euskaltel rider is now back with them.
Another ranked climb! Tht really must be the last one of the day. Moncoutie grabs the points again.
It will be a close call now for Peraud. Will he get the red jersey or not?
Lopez has taken off in a solo effort.
Lopez looks determined to bring in his team's first Vuelta stage of this year.
Lopez followed by his chasers, crosses a very high bridge into the finish.
Lopez looks back to see he has the win. He can take it a bit easy on this closing ascent.
The 29-year-old looks back once again. They are getting closer!
But not close enough. Lopez takes the win!
Krueziger jumps out for second, and Caruso third.
Peraud crosses the finish line 54 seconds later. It probably won't be enough for him to claim the leader's jersey.
No leader's jersey for Peraud. But what will happen in the battle between Anton and Rodriguez?
Rodriguez attacked but Anton and Nibali went with him. Rodriguez crossed the finish line first, but Anton was right behind him. So there is no change in the lead.
That's it for the first week of the Vuelta! Everyone gets a well-deserved rest day tomorrow, before the action picks up again on Tuesday. Thanks for reading along and be sure to join us again later in the week.