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Things are looking up today in the Vuelta: literally! Four ranked climbs, including one very nasty one at the end, are expected to turn the GC upside down.
Hello and welcome back! Things got underway about two hours ago and the action has been fast and furious.
Here's how things look now. Approaching the top of the day's first ranked climb, Heinrch Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) and Matteo Montaguti (AG2R) are in the lead. 1:10 behind them are Julien Fourchard (Cofidis) and Adrian Palomares (Andalucia Caja Granada). 4:05 back is Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano). The peloton is at 7:32.
Things have changed just before reaching the top of the climb. De Kort has been caught by the field, and the first two groups have come together.
Well, actually De Kort was caught just after the peak.
Montaguti took the mountain points ahead of Haussler, Fouchard, Palomares and De Kort.
Haussler and Montaguti took off at the 25 km mark. Palomares and Fouchard attacked about 10 km later, and De Kort went shortly thereafter.
The gap had at one time been over 8 minutes. It is now down to 6:30.
There were a number of escape attempts early on, including some very large groups. GC leader and red jersey Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) even tried to get away!
We have four ranked climbs today. The first one was the Cat. One Puerto de Mijares, followed by Cat. two Collado Mediano and Hoyo de Guija. Things end up with the Cat. Three San Lorenzo de El Escorial.
The San Lorenzo, which is hosting a finish for the first time, is a short but steep climb with ramps up to 27 and 28%. Ouch......
The four leaders have passed through the feed zone.
Today's stage ends in the shadow of El Escorial. As the Vuelta website describes it, it is an “incomparable Monastery, built by Philip II at the end of the 16th Century. It is the most grandiose building in the Community of Madrid and one of the most singular, not only in Spain, but of the entire European Renaissance.”
Nicolas Edet of Cofidis has just abandoned the race.
Oscar Freire has decided not to tackle the mountains. The Rabobank Spaniard is the next to abandon the race.
The first climb was the Cat. One Puerto de Mijares. It featured a 19.7 km long climb with an average gradient of 5.3%, starting at km 37,3 and finishing at km 57.
The next two climbs, according to the Vuelta website:
Alto de San Bartolomé de Pinares - cat. 2
Start: Km. 104.5 - Finish: Km. 120.7
Alto de Santa María de la Alameda - cat. 2
Start: Km. 141.2 Finish: Km. 145.6
80 km still to go, and the gap is holding steady.
The hero of the start line was Tyler Farrar. After yesterday’s crash, he intended to keep racing but as he felt bad again two hours before the start today, he was sent back to hospital and everyone thought he was pulling out of the Vuelta. But ten minutes prior to the start, he showed up on the start line, asked for a bike and a helmet and hit the road again! He was only able to go 35km, though.
Vincenzo Nibali was ok to keep racing. “I have bruises on my thigh and my back but I slept well”, he said. “I’d love if the rules of racing allowed us to lose time within three kilometres to go. If so, we could let the sprinters fight for the stage win and we could reach the finish line safely without the worry of avoiding a split and time losses.”
The gap has dropped to under six minutes. It is now 5:58. The temperature has gone up and is now at 28°C.
The lead group is within 5 km of the top of the day's second climb, and the gap has fallen to 5:40.
Euskaltel's Igor Anton and Gorka Verdugo are behind the field.
The Vuelta website tell us that Edet, who dropped out earlier, "has been transferred to the Hospital of Ávila, though he has nothing serious."
HTC-Highroad's Leigh Howard has punctured.
Michele Scarponi also didn’t have any consequence of yesterday’s crash. “Today, I think the finish suits me”, he commented. “I’ll stick on Purito’s wheel.”
Katusha is of course leading the chase. "Purito", or Joaquim Rodriguez, is THE top favourite to win today.
Looks like we have a split in the field. 15 or so rides look to be chasing the big group. There was a crash a little bit ago, they may have been caught up in or by that.
The gap continues to drop, and is now at 4:30.
The third group is larger than we thought (closer to 30 riders), and is 33 seconds behind the peloton.
Dan Martin said: “It definitely suits me. On the flat, I’ve showed at Sierra Nevada that I can beat Rodriguez, but uphill, I’m not sure if I can.”
The chase group is getting closer to the peloton. The gap is now only 11 seconds.
Lots of to-ing and fro-ing right now, with water bottles being in great demand.
The gap continues to fall and is now at 3:43.
We somehow missed the last ranked climb. Montaguti took it ahead of Fouchard and Palomares.
The pace has really picked up. The peloton is now strung out along the road.
50 km left -- a very bumpy 50 km, we might add -- and only 3.5 minutes for the leaders.
Super favourite “Purito” Rodriguez said: “I’ve slept very well, so I have no consequence after yesterday’s crash. I can’t say that I’m unbeatable in a stage finish like today. Last year, I only came 4th at Valedepenas de Jaén. Every bike race is a different one.”
Jakob Fuglsang said: “Rodriguez is the favourite, I can imagine Katusha putting pressure on Liquigas today because they also have Moreno who is almost just as good as Rodriguez for this kind of stage.”
The field is bunched up again.
Chris Anker Sorensen said: “It’s a day for riders like Rodriguez and me. In a finish like this, 9 times out of 10, Rodriguez wins.”
The gap is holding steady around the 3:30 mark.
Fredrik Kessiakoff said: “As a former mountain biker, I love uphill finishes like this. The stress generated by a stage like today’s is the only thing that I don’t like.”
Sky is now helping with the lead work -- Bradley Wiggins would like to make his mark today.
They are all approaching the next climb. It is shorter, only 4.4km but with an average gradient of 7%.
Fouchard falls back fro the lead group on the climb.
The gap is now under three minutes.
The leaders can look down the mountain and see the peloton.
Bradley Wiggins said: “I’ll try to limit the losses to Rodriguez and these guys. Only Philippe Gilbert is able to beat him in a Mur de Huy type of finish. Cadel (Evans) is also pretty good for that but he doesn’t have the acceleration.”
Katusha still pulling the field along. Quick Step is probably just as happy to let someone else do the work.
Rabobank's Carlos Barredo attacks out of the field.
Haussler too has now dropped out of the lead group. Behind them, the peloton is falling apart.
Barredo is back in the peloton.
Montaguti takes the points and thus takes over the mountain jersey. Palomares is second. Haussler is third, nine seconds back.
THe peloton crosses the mountaintop at 2:12 down.
Haussler now catches up again with the two leaders.
The gap is now under two minutes, at 1:58.
Montaguti attacks out of the group, and Palomares goes with him. Haussler, too.
Fouchard is still danglig somewhere between the leaders and the peloton.
The organisers squeezed in two intermediate sprints near the end today. The first is coming up.
That was it for Fouchard. He is now back in the peloton.
The three leaders are riding through a rare wooded and shaded section.
Martin Kohler (BMC) and Amets Txurruka (EUS) attacked out of the peloton.
Palomares takes the first sprint ahead of Montaguti and Haussler.
Kohler and Txurruka are less than a minute behind the leading trio, with the field at 1:17.
Txurruka takes off and leaves Kohler behind him.
Wout Poels said: “This stage today is a goal like Valdepenas de Jaén was and I finished 2nd. Our team will try to have one rider or more in today’s breakaway. We’ll decide during the stage about the strategy for me to do well again. I shouldn’t have been doing the Vuelta but my abandon at the Tour because I was sick after four days has changed the plans and I’m very happy. This is in reality my first Grand Tour and I believe I can do a good GC.”
Txurruka now only 30 seconds behind the leaders. Kohler is back in the field.
31 seconds back to Txurruka, 1:10 to the peloton.
16km to go, and the field is really flying along.
The gaps are actually not getting any smaller. 39 seconds back to Txurrukay, and about the same from him to the peloton.
THe peloton is no longer by full strength. Katusha has put uon such a high pace that the field has gotten much smaller.
so has the gap -- nly 22 seconds now.
Haussler has dropped back agai and is now with two riders who have attcked out of the onrusing peloton.
Taaramae has now jumped into the lead. Mathias Frank gives chase.
Taaramae pulls away.
The attacks are coming fast and furious now. Madrazo of Movistar is the next to come.
Madrazo has caught Taaramae.
The two have a nine-second lead over the field.
Madrazo drops Taaramae.
A Qzick Step rider and a Vacansoleil are the next to go.
Madrazo is rolling on alone.
Nice freshly paved road here.
Poels (VCD), Bakelants (OLO) and Moncoutie (COF) are the chasers. But the field is only 17 seconds behind Madrazo.
It looks like tehre is a fourth rider there .....
This is a very narrow, curvy, rolling road. And lots of shadows.
Madrazo's rear wheel slips on one of those curves, but fortunately he stays upright.
It is Taaramae who has joined the three chasers.
5km to go. Soon the final climb will be upon us.
The chasers now have Madrazo. The peloton isn't that far back.
Only seven seconds to the peloton.
Moncoutie tries to jump but can't get away.
Only a very few seconds' gap.
Taaramae gives it another go.
The field disappears ito a tunnel under some train tracks.
Taaramae (and the others) have been caught.
Another Cofidis rider tries his luck. He is caught o n the cobble stones.
Lampre jumps into the lead.
Rodriguez is safely tucked in tihs lead group.
Now it is steeeeeeep........
Still a fairly large group.
20 riders or so grind their way up, with Monfort in the lead at the moment
The Lampre takes off -- Scarponi, on an 18% secontion.
Rodriguez takes off!
21% and cobblestones and Purito is flying up it.
Scarponi is behind him
It is enough though, and Rodriguez takes his second stage.
In fact Scarponi was nine seconds behind him.
Chavanel is still on his way up. This should give Rodiguez the leader's jersey.
Chavanel comes in about a minute down.
That is Rodriguez' second stage win in this Vuelta, and the third for Team Katusha.
Nibali came in at 32 seconds down.
Rodriguez is indeed the new leader, ahead of his teammate Moreno, with Jakob Fuglsang third and Nibali fourth.
Chavanel has fallen to eighth place overall.
Top ten for the stage:
1 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:49:01
2 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:09
3 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:10
4 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:10
5 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:12
6 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:15
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:16
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC 0:00:16
9 Daniel Martin (Irl) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:16
10 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:16
And the new general classification after stage 8
1 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 1/1/1900 8:18
2 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:32
3 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek 0:00:34
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:00:45
5 Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD 0:00:51
6 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Pro Team Astana 0:00:54
7 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto 0:00:56
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quickstep Cycling Team 0:01:00
9 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:00
10 Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard Trek 0:01:01
That's it for today. Join us again tomorrow for another exciting day in the mountains!