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There is some major climbing on tap, and the mountains this weekend are expected to decide the Vuelta. Will today's stage give us a major change in the leadership? Who will crack, who will shine and who will hang on by the skin of their teeth?
As Het Nieuwsblad put it, the Vuelta starts today and ends tomorrow. We have some very serious climbing before us, and many expet to know the name of the overall winner by Sunday evening.
Once again we have a big escape group. Today' selection is: Guilluame Bonnafond (AG2R), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Jonas Aaen Jörgensen (Saxo Bank), Lloyd Mondory ( AG2R), Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Cervelo), Alberto Benitez (Andalucia-Caja Granada), Karsen Kroon (BMC), Yohan Bagot (Cofidis), Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), Inaki Isasi (Euskaltel), Jorge Azanza (Euskaltel), David De La Fuente (Geox), Leigh Howard (HTC-Highroad), Aliaksandr Kuschynski (Katusha), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Francesco Bellotti (Liquigas), and Daniele Righi (Lampre).
Leigh Howard was the first to go, taking off about a half a km into the stage. he was soon joined by the others, and after giving chase for nearly 30 km, the peloton finally decided to let them go.
Right now the gap is at its highest, 7.38.
There are only three climbs in today's stage: the category two Puerto de la Ventana at km.111.1, the category one Puerto de San Lorenzo at km 142.1 and then to top it all off, the mountaintop finish at La Farrapona, Lagos de Somiedo.
We have already had the first intermediate sprint today. Mondroy won it ahead of Bonnafond and Sanchez.
180 riders signed on today. We had two abandons yesterday, Taylor Phinney (BMC) and Andres Klöden (RadioShack). And we already have one today, Michele Scarponi of Lampre.
Scarponi finished second on the eighth stage, which moved him up to fifth overall. Things went downhill from there, and he lost an astonishing 21 minutes yesterday.
San Lorenzo is an easy climb, right? Well, except maybe for that 11% average gradient over the last 5km .....
The final climb may not have the bone-breaking high gradients, but does include some nice little 10 to 13 percent sections. And it is some 17 km long. Should be fun to tackle that at the end of the stage!
The leaders are now approaching the top of the day's first ranked climb. The two Euskaltel riders, Isasi and Azanza, are leading the way.
The gap is dropping slightly on this climb, now at 6:48
There was no real race for the mountain points, they just sort of rolled through.
They are flying down this descent, at 70km/h. The gap is down to 6:08.
And the gap continues to fall as the peloton hits the top of the mountain only 5:28 behind the leaders.
De La Fuente took the mountain points, ahead of Bagot and Howard.
Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) went to reconnoitre the final climb “It’s a large road like at the Tour de France”, he said. “The last seven kilometres are really hard. There’s nowhere to take a breath.”
Azanza has a few nervous moments after he drops his chain, but he is able to get it back.
With 50 km to go and a five minute gap, we would ordinarily start debating whether this group will come through to the end. But they have lost so much time in the last few kms, and the upcoming kms are going to be very difficult, so our gut feelilng right now is: not a very good chance of it.
52km to go, and exactly five minutes.
oh this is not good. A rider has gone over the edge. Someone from Garmin. It is a wooded section. He is walking and looks pretty shaken up, we hope that is all.
It is Sep Vanmarcke of the lead group. He is limping.
Another one! Karsten Kroon of BMC! He too is climbing up.
I do so hope there are no more down there....
Kroon's shorts suffered greatly. He too is quite shaken up, naturally enough.
The race is of course still going on,and the gap has dropped to 4:00.
No word yet on Vanvmarcke and Kroon.
Today’s hot favourite “Purito” Rodriguez has put a special gear for La Farrapona: 36x27. “This is a hard climb”, the green jersey said. “The race is gonna be a mess. Today and tomorrow, it’s not impossible for me to recover the three minutes deficit I’ve got on GC.”
The gap is melting quickly now.
Righi must also have gone down. He has some nasty looking cuts on his right forearm.
We hear that Vanmarcke is back on his bike. haven't heard a report on Kroon.
Katusha is really turning on the pressure. They want Rodriguez to win today and move up in GC.
Howard has dropped out of the lead group.
They are now heading up the day's second climb, the fearsome Puerto de San Lorenzo.
Losado of Katusha jumps from teh field. A Movistart rider follows, as does Sylvain Chavanel.
Six riders in this little group, which is maybe two or three seconds ahead of the field.
Kroon has abandoned the race.
Intxausti and bruseghn of Movistar have now attacked out of the field. The gap is now 2:46.
The two movistars have 16 seconds over the field.
Taaramae has attacked out of the lead group, with De La Fuente chasing.
This climb has lived up to its expectations. The lead group is falling apart, and the peloton is moving closer. At least some of it is, it too is getting smaller and smaller.
De La Fuente has finally caught Taaramae.
The two Movistars are doing well. They are 2:35 behind the leaders, and the field is at 3:05.
The examples of Mollema and Nibali who went for hot spot sprints in the past two days don’t seem to inspire the other GC contenders. “I’m not up for it”, said Jakob Fuglsang. “My tactic is simple: it’s suffering. I’m prepared to go as deep as I can.”
The two leaders are both up out of the saddle as they hit a 9% section.
The peloton has really shrunk. The main group is notably smaller.
3 km to go to the top for Taaramae and De La Fuente, who are still up out of the saddle.
Wiggins looks to be riding easily near the front of the chasing peloton.
Fabian Cancellara pulls the peloton up this fierce mountain.
3:25 for the peloton, as Moreno attacks out of the field. And no one chases.
Moreno is currently ninth overall, only 1:52 down.
And Purito Rodriguez sneaks up the left side and tries to get away. Cancellara doesn't like that idea and picks up the speed.
That was enough for Cancellara. He drops out of the lead.
Rohregger has moved into the lead work, with Fuglsang on his wheel.
Moreno catches and passes Howard, who has dropped out of the lead group.
Liquigas moving into the head of the field.
RadioShack's Brajkovic has dropped out of the peloton.
Moreno is now riding together with Kuchsynski and Bagot.
10 points for Taaramae atop the mountain, with six points to De La Fuente.
Rodriguez tries again. Menchov goes with him, and another Geox rider.
Seven riders in the Rodriguez group, which has a slight gap on the field. Let's see if we can't get those names.
NO matter, they are caught again. Wiggins isn't going to let this race slip away so easily.
Moreno is alone again and crosses the mountain at 2:21 behind Taaramae. But the field is only 13 seconds behind him.
Taaramae takes off on the descent, with De La Fuente riding a bit more conservatively.
Moreno is fiving his all, and hs now nearly caught Intxausti and Bruseghin.
This threesome is 2:16 behind the leaders.
Taaramae and De La Fuente are together.
The peloton is strung out flying down the hill. Wiggins had fallen back but now joins them again.
The Wiggins group has maybe 40 riders in it.
Moreno and the two Movistars have now caught up with Vorgondy, out of the former lead group.
Taaramae takes off again and tries to drop De La Fuenta.
The two leaders have 2:09 on the Moreno group, with te Wiggins group another 29 seconds back.
The Moreno group goes carefully around some curves, with Moreno actually seeming to have some problem staying with the other three.
Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack): “Everyone must be tired after yesterday. I’m ready for a hard day but I’m motivated as well. I’m not talking about targeting the top 3 anymore. I prefer to look for the top ten, and maybe the top five in a couple of days if everything goes well.”
The two leaders are together again, with the Cofidis car pulling up to give Taaramae some bottles.
Rabobank has moved into the leadwork of the Wiggins group.
The Moreno group is now five, as they have caught Righi.
The two leader just went through the second intermediate sprint. They have 1:38 on the Moreno group, which looks to have lost someone -- Vorgondy, most likely.
The Wiggins group is 46 second behind Moreno.
Less than 20 km to go. Won't be long until the final climb starts.
The Moreno group catches more of the former lead group. And it looks like Vorgondy is indeed still there.
About 30 riders in the Wiggins group.
And maybe 10-12 in the Moreno group?
1:13 to the Moreno group, wit the Wiggins group 0:48 behind them.
The two Movistar riders are doing the majority of the leadwork in the Moreno group.
A tunnel for Taarame and De La Fuente.
Enough for Intxausti. He has done his duty and drops back.
Everyone is climbing now. No one is having any fun.
Bruseghin suggests that Moreno do his share of the lead work. Moreno turns the offer down. Hmm, interesting.....
The Bruseghin-Moreno group is 1:02 behind the leadng duo.
Again, Rabobank is at the head of the Wiggins group. They are 2:05 behind Taarame and De La Fuente.
The three Rabos at the head of things are Mollema, Sanchez and Barredo.
Bruseghin continues to do all the work.
A Euskaltel rider takes off out of teh Wiggns group, Gorka Verdugo.
But he doesn't get away. Or sees that it is pointless.
The Wiggins group is less than a minute behind the Moreno group.
Verdugo pulls the field up the mountain at a fast pace.
All the work is taking its toll on Bruseghin. But Moreno still hangs on his wheel and won't take a turn.
The two leaders still look relatively fresh.
Righi drops out of the Moreno group.
Liquigas now at the head of the Wiggins group, followed by Euskaltel and Rabobank.
This is a nice, newly asphalted road.
De La Fuente shakes his legs.
The two leaders have 10 km to go. What will the gap be?
It is 57 seconds. Will they catch the two in front?
And the Wiggins group is at 1:41.
Bruseghin continues to pull Moreno up the mountain. They still have trees around them. But they won't have any at the finish, it is above the tree line.
1:23 for the Wiggins group at the 9km marker, only 20 seconds behind the Moreno group.
Taaramae and De La Fuenta are on a relatively flat section at the moment and can turn up the speed.
57 seconds to Moreno and Co., with the Wiggins group only an additonal 13 seconds down.
The Wiggins group catches the Moreno group.
They are 59 seconds behind the two leaders.
Perhaps the Moreno group could have stayed away if Moreno and the others had shared in the lead work?
Euskaltel attacks out of the Wiggins group. It is Txurruka.
He pulls away from the group.
10 percent now for the leading duo.
Txurruka has a decent lead over the field.
Rodriguez is on Wiggins' wheel. The group is getting smaller.
With 5 km to go, Txurruka is 58 second down, with the field at 1:12.
Wiggins still has Froome with him. There are 4 or 5 Leopards in the group.
Four km for the two leaders. Will they stay together, or will one take off?
Txurruka hits the 4km marker at 1:01.
The group is not far back, at 1: 21.
Moeno atttacks, with Cobo going with him.
Cobo now alone!
Three km for De La Fuente and Taaramae.
Txurruka s back in teh group, and Cobo is the closest chaser, at 45 seconds.
The Wiggins group just keeps on getting smaller and smaller....
Rodriguez has dropped out of the Wiggins group.
Nibali is having problems too.
De La Fuente vritually stops. He is apparently waiting for Cobo. Taraamae keeps on going....
Cobo and De La Fuente, the two Geox riders, take off after the leader.
Froome now does lead work, with Wiggins on his wheel.
Cobo of course is 8th overall and looks to move up.
Now Wiggins is doing the lead work.
Final km for Taraamae. he has 24 seconds on the Geox riders, with the Wiggins group another 24 seconds behind them.
Cobo goes, to try to pick up as much time as possible.
Froome again pulls for his captain.
Taarame heads towards his first Vuelta stage win.
He looks back to make sure he really is alone.
He has a big grain on his face as he finally crosses the finish line. And why not?
Cobo flies over the line 25 secnds down, with De La Fuente close behind.
Wiggins leads his group over the line at 44 seconds.
Cobo will pick up bonus secons in addition to the time he gained on Wiggins, so he will move up.
Nibali and Kessiakoff will have lost time and will fall back. That leaves Wiggins and Froome pretty much alone at the top.
Kessiakoff loses 1:58, while Nibali and Rodriguez lose 2:05.
Mollema has moved up to third place, with Cobo now fourth.
Here's how they finished today:
1 Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne 4:39:01
2 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:25
3 David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:29
4 Wout Poels (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team 0:00:40
5 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:45
6 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC
9 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:55
10 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:01:00
And our new GC:
1 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 55:54:45
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:07
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:36
4 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Geox-TMC 0:00:55
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:58
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:01:23
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:01:25
8 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:37
9 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:02:16
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:24
That's it for today! This stage lived up to expectations.
Tomorrow should bring us more of the same, along with a lot of suffering. Be sure to join us again for that.