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Hello and welcome to our live coverage from stage 14 of the Vuelta from Palas de Rei to Puerto de Ancares.
The Vuelta takes on a much tougher complexion in its final week. The decisive action begins with an extremely tough stage to the Puerto de Ancares, which appeared for the first time in the race last year. Back then, it featured in the middle of the stage won by Michael Albasini but even though it was some way from the finish, it was clearly tough. This year, four climbs precede the Ancares, each one more difficult than the last. Rated by some as the most beautiful pass in Spain, the Ancares averages 8 per cent and is extremely tough in its mid and final sections. There will be no holding back here.
"Ancares is one of Galicia’s toughest passes and this is a leg-breaker from start to finish. Because it’s short, it will animate the race and the speed will be high. A really strong group will get away at the end and the last 3km are hard."
Three riders didn't start today's stage. Rojas crashed in the finale of stage 13 and as a result has gone home to recover. Nothing too serious, not like the Tour when he fractured a collar bone in three place. Jurgen van den Broeck has also quit the race, along with his Lotto teammate Jens Debusschere.
Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel), Dario Cataldo (QuickStep) and Blel Kadri (AG2R) escaped after just 4 kilometres of racing but were quickly brought back.
After 19km a new break formed, with Laurent Didier (RadioShack-Nissan), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), Juan Manuel Garate (Rabobank), Simon Clarke (GreenEdge), Serge Pauwels (QuickStep), Dario Cataldo (QuickStep), Maciej Paterski (Liquigas-Cannondale), Alberto Losada Alguacil (Katusha), Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel) Rudy Molard (Cofidis), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Adrian Palomares Villaplana (Andalucia), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Ben Gastauer (AG2R) and Javier Moreno Bazan (Movistar) on the move. They currently have a 45 second lead on the Saxo Bank led peloton.
The break have passed over the Alto de Castro, with Moncoutie taking maximum points as he starts his bid to win another KOM title in the Spanish grand tour.
Are you expecting a four-way battle between Contador, Rodriguez, Froome and Valerde today? Let me know via Twitter.
We've raced 45km and the gap to the bunch is at 1:46. The 16-man break is going to struggle to create sizeable gap over a stage of just 149km, especially with this being the first serious test within the Pyrenees as the GC favourites will want to set a difficult pace all the way to the final climb
In other news, Sheryl Crow has apparently testified in the Lance Armstrong/US Postal case. Well if it makes her happy, it can't be that bad (sorry).
Saxo Bank, say they're standing by Bjarne Riis after Tyler Hamilton claimed that the Dane had introduced him to Fuentes.
But if you've missed the main chunk of the Hamilton story you can read it here. The book 'The Secret Race' is out on Sept 5, Pat McQuaid's birthday.
Saxo Bank continue to set the pace on the front of the peloton with Rodriguez and his Katusha team able to sit back during the early stages of the race. The gap to the break has gone out to 2 minutes.
Ballan took the maximum points on offer at the intermediate sprint but back to Katusha, with a man in the break they don't have to set the pace on front of the bunch. Same with Valverde's men. We should see Sky pitch in at some point though. Sky will have to use different tactics to the one that served them so well at the Tour. They don't really have the strength to simply ride on the front all day and ride everyone into the ground here so they have to far more selective as to when they use their energy.
That's an interesting last point. Typically, the longer climbs do suit Froome and Contador but Rodriguez has been impressive and he was more than capable of handling the longer mountains at the Giro earlier this year too. I expect him to hold his own today, and who knows, maybe even put more time into his rivals. It's one thing having a route that suits you but the Katusha climber has excelled at nearly every turn in this year's race, and pulled out a more than handy ride in the TT earlier this week.
We've just had this from our man on the ground, Alasdair Fotheringham: "Just had one of the worst transfers of my life. Climb if you are interested is very steep at last km. Other than that goes up in steps. Warm but not excessively so at finish, very twisting descent before hand. Really, really difficult drive to get to. Best bit was when I was told the best way to get to the finish was to drive up a riverbed!"
Saxo Bank's work is paying off to some degree with the lead now down to 1:24.
We're over half-way into today's stage, and the gap to the break is 2:03. Saxo Bank continue to set the pace on the front for their man, Alberto Contador.
Even though Rodriguez is in the lead there's perhaps more pressure on Contador today. This is the first serious mountain stage since his comeback. He's looked fairly sharp in the race so far but hasn't been as dominant since his ban for a doping violation.
Over the top of Lago and I think Clarke takes the maximum points on offer, ahead of Moncoutie.
The bunch close in on the top of the climb and the gap is up to 2:35.
The break is starting to split with Ballan on the attack with Molard and one of the RadioShack riders. Bakelants.
Ballan is leading the trio on the descent of the climb.
It's not going to work and Kadri leads the rest of the break up to the Ballan group.
The gap is up to 3:00 as Contador organises his team on the front of the peloton. The break are still working to some extent but a lot of riders are along for the ride and not coming through.
The break and the bunch are still on the descent to the foot of the penultimate climb.
Contador's foot soldiers continue to monitor the front of the field but they've increased the pace, reducing the gap to 2:30
The break are now on the climb, with 34 km to race.
Clarke is near the back of the break but he'll be looking to gain maximum points at the top as he's now the virtual leader of the KOM competition.
Contador is sitting third wheel. He's not thinking about attacking this early is he?
Kadri has been dropped by the break by the way.
Saxo Bank have strung the entire bunch out on the climb and they'll have Kadri in their sights soon enough.
Clarke is at the very back of the break at the moment.
Contador still has five men with him, but Katusha and Rodriguez are waiting in the wings.
Sky are following Katusha, and Valverde (without teammates) is following Sky. Rabobank have their top ten riders, ten Dam, Mollema and Gesink are near the front too.
And Ballan has been dropped. The gap is now 1:30
Molard has been dropped from the break too.
The gradient rises to 7 per cent and more and more riders are being distanced out of the back of the break. Clarke and Moncoutie are both still there.
Contador continues to sit in third wheel in the peloton.
Contador hands out a few more orders to his teammates on the front of the peloton. He's welcomed the challenge from Katusha after they placed a man in the break and he's not showing any weakness at the moment.
Pires pulls over after a long pull on the front of the bunch and now it's Paulinho's turn.
And Contador needs a front wheel. He's had a wheel from a teammate and he's chasing now.
Contador is coming back to the peloton with a teammate helping him. The pace has eased off at the front with everyone grabbing a drink.
And Clarke has attacked from the break and Moncoutie is going after him and will take second.
As Contador makes it back to the bunch without too much fuss and Saxo Bank carry on where they left off...
So now just the fast descent onto the foot of the final climb of the day.
There's a slight climb just before a flat section, and then the final uphill battle to the finish. The break are on that first bump with Clarke and Moncoutie suffering or easing up.
Didier is about to be caught by the Saxo led bunch.
Gastauer crashes but he's up on his feet as quickly as he fell.
The break is down to 6 to 8 riders though with Pauwels, Garate and Clarke still in contention.
Just 15km remaining with the gap still around the 1:30 mark. Losada is out on his own but with 6-7 riders chasing behind him.
The gap is 1:50
Losada is doing a good job of acting as marker for Rodriguez.
And Clarke has sat up.
Losada has 1:54 on the bunch.
10km to go and Losada is still holding that advantage.
Losada is on the final climb of the stage. Contador and his Saxo teammates are too.
Contador has dropped back, probably to mark Rodiriguez on the lower slopes of the climb and to watch how his other rivals are finding the pace.
The gap to Losada is down to 1:20
And Gesink has been dropped. That's a surprise, especially as we've just uploaded an article about Gesink possibly attacking today.
7km to go for Losada
The remnants of the break has been caught, but Losada is still out on his own.
Saxo Bank still on the front, Valverde and Rodriguez are both there too.
Anton is at the very back of the Saxo group though, and that's not a good sign.
Froome is still there, with teammates too.
The gap to Losada is at 58 seconds with 6.2km remaining.
Losada is certainly cracking though and it's only a matter of time before he's caught too. Anton is still holding on at the back of the peloton, which is down to less than 15 riders.
Monfort, Roche, Moreno , they are still in the mix too. T cant see Talansky though.
The American is there with Anton at the back.
We're at 8 per cent with Losada close to the 5km to go banner.
Saxo forcing a summit finish shakedown, 6km to go. Climb flattens out soon before we get the double-digit gradients and Contador's attack.
@inrng Sat, 1st Sep 2012 16:24:08
I think all of the Rabobank riders have been dropped actually.
Contador has one man left at the front.
Contador is on Valverde's wheel.
Losada's lead is down to 31 seconds.
The gradient starts to kick again though, it's back up to 9 per cent.
Rodriguez looks very strong and Contador seems to be flagging a little bit.
te Dam is back in the group for Rabobank.
It's becoming more of a three-man race with Gesink out of the picture.
Just 4km remaining. And Saxo increase the pace for Contador.
And Contador is clear with Valverde, Rodriguez can;t follow at first.
Now Sky have to chase. Henao leading Froome and Uran.
And Valverde attacks and Moreno and Rodriguez go with him. Contador at the back of the group.
And Valverde is clear. Now with Contador, who comes over to him very quickly.
Rodriguez is almost to them but then Contador goes again.
Contador, Valverde, and Rodriguez together.
Froome has been dropped and with Roche, Anton and a handful of other riders.
The leading trio have 19 seconds on Froome but they're just watching each other, which just plays into Rodriguez hands.
Moreno has made it to them and sets the pace.
Talansky makes it over to them.
Just 2 km to go and Froome and co are back.
And now a big attack from Contador.
This is the biggest attacks we've seen today, Rodriguez 60 meters down already.
1.5km to go Moreno leading Valverde and Rodriguez.
Contador is pushing on as Froome catches the Valverde group.
Contador is still clear but I dont think he's got a huge gap and now Froome attacks.
The Sky rider already has a gap and he's chasing Contador. Where did that come from?
Valverde and Rodriguez catch Froome and now the race leader attacks, Valverde goes with him and Froome is struggling.
As Contador gets out of the saddle with 800 meters to go
Contador keeps looking back, the gaps is less than 5 seconds.
They're catching Contador, and Rodriguez has dropped Valverde.
Contador and Rodriguez are together.
Contador launches the sprint.
But Rodriguez goes and takes the stage. Contador is second Valverde third, and then Moreno, then Froome at 38 seconds down.
Talansky is next.
Despite the main attack from Contador he wasn't able to generate enough of a gap, and Rodriguez raced intelligently to limit is loses and then drag back Contador before the finish. As soon as the catch was made there was only one outcome with Rodriguez sprinting clear with 100 meters to go to take the win, the time bonus and surely put a dent in Contador's confidence.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
2 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
4 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
6 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp
So Rodriguez extends his lead in GC over Contador, Froome and Valverde again and takes his third stage win of the race.
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
2 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:22
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:01:41
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:04:16
6 robert gesink 0:05:07
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:05:51
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:06:13
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:06:34
10 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:07:16
Thanks for joining us today. You can find a complete report, images, and results, right here.
See you tomorrow.