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Stage 11 of the Vuelta a España, a 38.8km individual time trial at Tarazona.
In a race of eleven summit finishes, including a grandstand finale on the Angliru on the penultimate stage, there is a certain irony that the Vuelta's lone individual time trial could ultimately prove the difference between the main overall contenders. Red jersey Chris Horner's win at Alto Hazallanas aside, substantial gains have been hard to come by for the principal overall favourites, with just 1:40 separating the top five riders in the general classification in the middle of the second week, but today's stage offers scope for significant changes in the overall standings.
Alasdair Fotheringham reconnoitred the time trial course yesterday evening, describing it as "18 kilometres of very gentle climbing - apart from one steeper ‘ramp’ of around two kilometres - and 18 kilometres of very gentle descending, made for out-and-out time triallsts who can handle a bit of a gradient." He notes that the climbers will "have a tough time holding their own" in spite of the presence of the climb of Moncayo on the parcours and suggests that Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) will fancy his chances of landing stage victory. You can read Alasdair's preview in full here.
Indeed, as we pick up the action, Martin is scorching his way around the course. The German has reached the 26km point already some 1:55 up on the next best rider, Marco Pinotti (BMC). After cruelly missing out on stage victory in Caceres last week, it's going to take something very special to deny Martin here.
Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM) holds the current quickest time at the finish line, but it is simply a matter of time before he vacates the hot seat, with Pinotti and Martin both on course to better his time of 54:22.
Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard), the man whose late turn proved ruinous to Martin's chances of holding off the peloton in Caceres, is one of the very few riders who might keep him off the podium this evening. The Swiss rider set off a short time ago, and is yet to come through the first time check (11km).
Andriy Grivko (Astana) reaches the finish with the quickest provisional time, 20 seconds quicker than Westra, but his joy is short-lived. Marco Pinotti (BMC) has just finished in a time of 54:01 to set the fastest of the day so far.
Andriy Grivko (Astana) reaches the finish with the quickest provisional time, 10 seconds quicker than Westra, but his joy could yet be short-lived as Marco Pinotti approaches the finish.
A full list of start times for today's stage is available here. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) is the last man off, and he is due to roll down the start ramp at 4.50pm local time.
Pinotti reaches the finish two seconds down on Grivko, who remains in the hot seat - though surely not for very long. Martin is already in sight of the red kite.
As expected, the world time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) has smashed the previous quickest times at the finish line. The German crosses the line 2:35 quicker than Grivko, 2:37 faster than Pinotti and all of 2:45 up on Westra.
In spite of the presence of the 3rd category Alto del Moncayo on the parcours and the fact that the road climbs for 18 kilometres of the course, Martin recorded an average speed in excess of 45kph. A remarkable performance.
Meanwhile, Fabian Cancellara has reached the 11 kilometre point with just the fifth best time and is already 46 seconds down on Martin. The Swiss rider looked in impressive shape on the climb of the Monachil on Monday, however, and it seems increasingly apparent that he is targetting the road race, and not the time trial, at the world championships in Florence.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) will be hoping to repeat the kind of performance that carried him to a dominant victory in the tough Polsa time trial at the Giro d'Italia in May. The Sicilian's afternoon has had an inauspicious start, however. According to Quique Iglesias of the Cadena Cope radio station, Nibali suffered a wasp sting during his reconnaissance of the time trial course this morning and has "swollen eyes" as a consequence.
It remains to be seen what impact Nibali's wasp sting will have on his performance. Speaking on Monday, Horner said that he expected to lose the red jersey to Nibali (although he did note that "sometimes, sometimes, I do a good TT though). The gap between the two in the overall standings is 43 seconds.
General classification ahead of stage 11:
1 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 40:29:14
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:43
3 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:53
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:02
5 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:01:40
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:02:04
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:02:20
8 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ 0:03:11
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:16
10 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:28
A remarkable turnaround could be on the cards from Fabian Cancellara. He was 46 seconds down on Tony Martin after 11.5 kilometres, but we are told that he came through the 26km point 34 seconds up on the German and is now storming towards the finish line.
Cancellara pulled a stunning performance out of the bag over the middle section of the course and has held his rhythm over the finale to clock the new best time at the finish. His time of 51 minutes flat is all of 37 seconds quicker than Martin.
After a decidely steady start, Cancellara put his foot down on the Alto del Moncayo, and he put over 1:15 into Tony Martin on the climb. Cancellara may have his heart set on winning the road race at the world championships, but after a performance like that, it's easy to see why he wasn't ruling out a very serious tilt at regaining his time trial title too.
The most recent of Cancellara's four world time trial titles came in Geelong in 2010, and that was also, I believe, the last time he beat Tony Martin in a long time trial at a major race.
Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is the next man to start. There are just 20 riders left to start after him, and the overall contenders are currently warming up near the start area in preparation for their efforts.
Meanwhile, Evald Boasson Hagen (Sky) has come across the finish line at the end of a low-key performance, some 6:46 down on Cancellara.
During yesterday's Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) admitted that he has been a little disappointed with his Vuelta to date, but the Catalansounded an optimistic note about his chances of limiting his losses in the time trial
. Since his disastrous showing at Penafiel three years, Rodriguez has made huge strides against the watch and he needs to pull out a good ride today to stay in the hunt for the red jersey.
Eros Capecchi, lying a solid 12th overall, is the next man to start. The stylish Capecchi's Movistar leader Alejandro Valverde is confident that the hilly time trial course gives him more than a fighting chance of limiting his losses, and he warned that the course could throw up some surprises.
There has been some confusion from the race organisation regarding the first intermediate time check. We were initially told that Cancellara had the fifth fastest time after 11km, 46 seconds down on Martin. That was then upgraded to the second fastest time, though still 46 seconds down on Martin. Now, we are told that Cancellara in fact had the quickest time at that first check, 14 seconds up on Martin.
The only time that truly counts is at the finish line, however, and Cancellara put 37 seconds into Martin to clock the fastest time so far.
We're into the last tranche of starters, as Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), currently 8th overall, starts his effort, while Ivan Basso (Cannondale) readies himself in the start house.
Pinot is far from a natural time triallist, but under the guidance of his brother Julien, he has made a concerted effort to improve his technique against the watch, and he is looking relatively smooth thus far.
After Basso, former race leader Dani Moreno (Katusha) is the next man to start. With two stage wins to his name already, this has been a successful Vuelta to date for Moreno, who could prove a very valuable domestique indeed to Joaquim Rodriguez in the second half of the race.
Ivan Basso enjoyed a brief purple patch as a time triallist in 2005 and 2006, prior to his suspension for his links to blood doping doctor Eufemiano Fuentes, but has never hit the same heights against the watch since. He will simply hope that the presence of the climb on today's stage allows him to limit the damage.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) rolls down the start ramp and began his effort. Solid but unspectacular thus far, Rodriguez knows that this time trial can set the tone for the remainder of his race. Meanwhile, Bauke Mollema, all hopes of a high GC finish behind him, rolls across the finish line some 6:22 down on Cancellara.
After Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) kicks off his effort, Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) begins his time trial. Just Nibali and Horner are left to start.
A determined-looking Vincenzo Nibali is now out on the course. His Astana teammate Janez Brajkovic has just reached the finish line with the fifth-best time to date.
Dressed in an all-red skinsuit, Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) rolls down the start ramp, the last of the day's starters. The 41-year-old has exceeded all expectations at this Vuelta a Espana, but he has predicted that he will lose the overall lead to Nibali this afternoon.
There have been some unexpected performances at this Vuelta, and Domenico Pozzovivo's showing over the first 11 kilometres of this course comes under that bracket. According to the organisers, the diminutive Italian has the second quickest time, 5 seconds down on Cancellara.
Front wheel puncture for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) as he begins the climb. This is not the kind of start he wanted to his afternoon and the change of wheel was not the smoothest either.
According to Luca Gialanella of Gazzetta dello Sport, Nibali's wasp sting incident in fact took place yesterday and that he would this morning with a swollen forehead. As Astana is a member of the MPCC, Nibali has been unable to treat the wasp sting with cortisone, and so he is apparently in some discomfort. So far, Nibali has looked quick smooth out on the course, but we'll get a better indication when he hits the first time check.
Ivan Basso has come through the first time check with the 9th best time, 42 seconds down on Cancellara. The more relevant references, of course, will be to the GC men who are still to follow.
According to Luca Gialanella of Gazzetta dello Sport, Nibali's wasp sting incident in fact took place yesterday and that he woke this morning with a swollen forehead. As Astana is a member of the MPCC, Nibali has been unable to treat the wasp sting with cortisone, and so he is apparently in some discomfort. So far, Nibali has looked quite smooth out on the course, but we'll get a better indication when he hits the first time check.
Sergio Henao (Sky) crosses the finish line 5:32 down on Cancellara.
Joaquim Rodriguez has conceded 1:03 to Cancellara over the first 11.5 kilometres of the course, 21 seconds to Ivan Basso and 40 seconds to an impressive Thibaut Pinot. Rodriguez will need to pull out the stops when the gradient stiffens in a couple of kilometres' time.
Alejandro Valverde hit the first time check 37 seconds down on Cancellara, but the best performance of the general classification contenders so far is from Nicolas Roche, who has conceded just 17 seconds to Cancellara over the first 11km.
Nibali is the next man through the first time check, and he is dead level with Roche - 17 seconds on Cancellara but gaining on his GC rivals.
There is more scope for the climbers to make a difference in the kilometres that follow this first time check. Unofficially, Pozzovivo has the best time at the 18km mark atop the Moncayo, 13 seconds up on Cancellara.
13th quickest time for Horner at the 11.5km mark, 42 seconds down on Cancellara and 25 down on both Nibali and Roche.
Nibali is on course to take the red jersey back from Horner, although there is still a lot of road to be travelled this afternoon.
Slightly more normal service has been restored at the second time check. After 26 kilometres, Pozzovivo is 30 seconds down on Cancellara, but the very fact that the Italian has the second best time at that point is indicative of the difficulty of this course.
Nibali's style is perhaps not quite as silken as it was at the Polsa time trial at the Giro d'Italia, but he is turning his legs over well and appears relatively comfortable.
Pinot has slipped to 8th after the second time check, 1:31 down on Cancellara. The descent back towards the finish does not favour the climbers.
Rigoberto Uran (Sky) reaches the finish with the 9th best time, 2:42 down on Cancellara.
Ivan Basso is looking increasingly ragged as he reaches the 26km point some 1:48 down on Cancellara.
Nibali crests the summit of the Moncayo and begins the descent back towards Tarazona.
Nibali is hurtling down the descent, though it's neither steep nor especially technical, so his full repertoire of descending skills will not necessarily be on show her.
Valverde has the fifth best time at the second time check, 1:02 down on Cancellara.
Who would have predicted this beforehand? Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) has the third best time at the finish line, 1:24 down on Cancellara and just 47 seconds down on Tony Martin.
Nicolas Roche, meanhile, is just ahead of Valverde at the 26km point. He comes through 1:01 behind Cancellara.
Fourth-best time for Nibali at the 26km point. He's 50 seconds down on Cancellara but gaining time on all of his GC rivals, although not as much as he might have anticipated.
Joaquim Rodriguez, incidentally, was 2:01 down on Cancellara at the 26km point, and he thus trails Nibali by 1:10.
Joaquim Rodriguez, incidentally, was 2:01 down on Cancellara at the 26km point, and he thus trails Nibali by 1:10.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) meanwhile, has limited his losses well, and crosses the finish line 2:32 down on Cancellara.
Chris Horner is also struggling. He hits the 26km point 1:47 down on Cancellara, and he is set to lose his red jersey to Nibali this evening, while with 12km still to go, Roche is on course to move up to 2nd place overall.
Ivan Basso records the 15th fastest time so far at the finish. The veteran Italian is 2:43 down on Cancellara and is set to concede ground to Nibali, Roche and Valverde.
Nibali certainly appears to be riding more smoothly than Roche over the final section of the parcours, but how style translates into seconds won and lost remains to be seen.
A low-key showing from Dani Moreno, who will slip further down the GC this evening after he loses four minutes to Cancellara in the time trial. His teammate Rodriguez is the next man to finish...
17th place so far for Rodriguez, 3:01 down on Cancellara. Rodriguez will be a little disappointed with that showing considering how some of his GC rivals are faring.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) comes home with the fifth-best time so far, 1:52 down on Cancellara. He gains ground on Rodriguez and Basso.
Nicolas Roche winds his way through the final kilometre. The Irishman could well better Valverde's time and he should move up to second place overall this evening.
Roche will be pleased with that showing. He finishes just 1:48 down on Cancellara and four seconds up on Valverde. He is set to gain on all of the other GC contenders bar Vincenzo Nibali.
Nibali crosses the finish line 1:25 down on Cancellara to take fourth place on the stage and, it would appear, move back into the overall lead.
Chris Horner is the only rider left out on the road, and the American approaches the final kilometre battling to limit the losses, in the knowledge that he has already lost his red jersey.
Horner takes 20th place on the stage, 2:54 down on Cancellara.
Horner loses 1:29 to Nibali, 1:17 to Nicolas Roche and 1:13 to Alejandro Valverde, who all leapfrog him in the general classification.
1 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack Leopard 0:51:00
2 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step 0:00:37
3 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:24
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:25
5 Dario Cataldo (Ita) Sky Procycling 0:01:41
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:01:48
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
8 Jerome Coppel (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:01:52
9 Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team 0:01:53
10 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:02:13
“On the end, when you win, it’s always a big satisfaction. I’m really happy about the performance and I’m on the good way to where I want to achieve the biggest thing,” says Cancellara, with perhaps a world championships double in his sights. “The parcours is really different [from the Worlds time trial course] with a lot of uphill and downhill, but on the other hand, I showed that I was up there with the good climbers like Nibali because to my mind, I thought he was up there with Tony Martin and me as a contender to win the stage today."
General classification after stage 11
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 41:22:22
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:33
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:46
4 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:46
5 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:33
6 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:44
7 Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling 0:02:55
8 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ 0:03:35
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:46
10 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:03:56
Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage from the Vuelta a España. We'll be back with more tomorrow, as the race heads into Catalonia, but in the meantime, stay with Cyclingnews for a full report, pictures and results, as well as all of the reaction from a one of the Vuelta's defining days.