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The BMC Teammachine of the American GC hopeful
Hyper-aggressive position for the sprint lead-out
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National theme bike for Tour's lone Japanese rider
Welcome to our live coverage from stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Today's stage takes us from Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén.163.7km of racing with another uphill finish.
After a year's absence, the Vuelta returns to one of its new favourite locations for a finish on the 'wall' in the centre of Valdepeñas de Jaén. The last two winners here were Igor Antón and Joaquim Rodríguez, and it would be no surprise to see another flyweight climber win on the 20 per cent ramps that make this finish so special. Although the countryside in deepest Andalucia is rugged, this stage is straightforward until its end. It bumps along to the third-category Fraile pass, which is not too demanding. The day's escapees should survive as far as the final ascent but past form suggests one of the GC contenders will sweep by them there.
You can see the profile of the stage and a route map, right here.
"You would expect one of the specialist climbers to come out on top here. It's certainly not a profile that will suit the riders in our team, although nothing is impossible. The final climb is very hard but if a group comes to it with a good gap, they might hold on."
To bring you right up to speed, we have a group of five riders up the road after 36km of racing.
Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Lloyd Mondory (AG2R), Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Anthony Roux (FDJ), and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) are the current leaders and they have an advantage of 6:45 over the peloton at the moment.
In terms of the battle for the overall in the race, the situation is delicately poised.
1 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 31:39:30
2 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:17
3 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:18
5 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:29
6 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:30
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:31
8 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:42
9 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:52
10 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:01:03
What's been interesting to see is who has been willing to race for the red jersey now, as opposed to waiting for the brutal final week. Are some riders holding back? We'll have to wait a few more days to find out.
Nibali, who lost the lead and some time yesterday, has tipped former teammate Ivan Basso as his main challenger in the race. Basso certainly looked strong yesterday and used his team to good affect during the lead up to the final climb.
BMC are on the front and they've reduced the lead group's advantage to five and a half minutes. They'll probably be looking to set Gilbert up for a stage win. He's slowly getting back to a decent level of form but he's still short of the condition that saw him win the rainbow jersey last year in Holland. He's got a few weeks left to improve but the course in Italy could be too hard for him. Time will tell.
Undulating terrain all day and the bunch have shaved another minute off the break's advantage. Perhaps the five leaders went too hard at the start and the peloton felt they needed to react early.
Race leader Nicolas Roche was of course more than happy with his race yesterday. The Saxo rider attacked and bridged over to a dangerous move. His aggression resulted in his first leader's jersey in a grand tour. You can read his reaction, right here.
As the leaders head through Lucena and their lead dips down to 4:15, you should take a look at Alasdair Fotheringham's excellent look at Caja Rural's transfer plans. A small Spanish team with a modest budget in difficult financial times.
As expected Astana played down Nibali's time loss on yesterday's final climb. The Italian is now fourth in GC.
The 2010 winner is still the favourite for the race though, and it will be interesting to see if he becomes more aggressive in the next few stages.
Our man on the ground, Alasdair Fotheringham has reached the top of the climb having driven most of the stage. Here's his view:
Basically it is very straightforward racing if undulating, until 56 kms to go when suddenly the race veers left onto real total backroads. The ascent to the Alto de los Frailes, the second cat. beforehand is different to previous years, then the drop down is the same - very dangerous, twisting before a little bit of flat.
CN's Alasdair Fotheringham:
"Philippe Gilbert told me the Mur de Huy is tougher than this one when we went up here in 2011, but I think it's pretty close."
52km of racing now completed and the leaders have 3;54 on the peloton, which is still being led by BMC.
There are just over 100km of racing to go and the peloton have the break at just under 4 minutes.
Here's what Nibali had to say about yesterday's ride:
"Everyone was watching me, so I decided that I wouldn’t chase everyone because the Vuelta is still a long way to go and there will be stages to make more differences. At the end, Rodriguez was marking Valverde who can 500 metres long sprints. I can’t do that! You’ve seen how strong Basso was yesterday. It means the focus might
change on different riders than me.”
And American rider Chris Horner was also in talkative spirits ahead of today's stage:
“I’ve never raced up to Valdepeñas de Jaén, but I know it’s important to start climbing in the first 15 positions. Then it’s kind of mountain biking. I don’t like the last corner to being a major decision in a bike race.”
Horner has had a sensational recovery since injury earlier in the year. He's still without a contract for next year though. Patrick Lefevere has been in the press this morning stating that he might have room for one more rider. However it's unlikely he'll move for another veteran American rider.
Now 96km to go and the leaders have been given a bit more room, their lead back up to the five minute mark. Mondory calls for the team car though, it looks like a mechanical issue for the Frenchman.
On the subject of AG2R today's finish looks perfect for their climber Pozzovivo. The Italian is 1'59 down on GC at the moment but he'll be looking at today's stage as a real opportunity to escape from the favourites and take a solo win. He's certainly due a win, he's not picked one up since 2012, although he's never won a pro race in Spain before either.
Daniel Moreno is another rider capable of winning today. Roche will have to mark him as he's just 17 seconds down on GC and he has an excellent kick on climbs like this.
Just over 90km to go and the bunch still have the leaders at around the five minute mark.
In the next twenty kilometres the bunch will start climbing. Not the official cat 2 climb but just a gentle rise in elevation. The five leaders have 4:35 over the peloton as things currently stand.
Rowe comes through and takes a turn. This is valuable experience for the 23 year old from Cardiff. He's making his grand tour debut here in the Vuelta and so far, so good. He's been near the back of the pack on most days in terms of results but his aims will be to support the team as and when he can. Madrid is still a long way off but he'll be taking it day by day.
This Mondory's fourth crack at this race though. The 31-year-old hasn't had much success in the event though, and his last win was back in 2010. That was the last year he rode the Tour de France coincidently.
Over half-way through the race now and the five leaders still with their advantage of around 4 minutes. The bunch probably won't really start to chase until the build up towards the second category climb.
Katusha have joined BMC on the front of the peloton now. The Russian team are looking for another stage, and possible the overall lead too. BMC, they'll be working just for Gilbert's stage ambitions.
Everyone compares Gilbert - perhaps unfairly - to his magical 2011 season. However the facts don't lie and his time at BMC has been somewhat of a let down in terms of results. The Worlds win last year makes up for a lot of missed chances and poor form but if you look at it this way, he won 32 races in his final two seasons with Lotto. In two years with BMC he's won four races (including crits).
72km remaining and the break have 3:15 over the peloton with Katusha and BMC still on the front of the main field.
The five leaders are now on an uncategorised climb, with the bunch at 3'24. The second cat climb on the stage is still some way off and the break may struggle to stay clear to that point.
That climb uncategorised climb has done some damage and the break have lost more time. They're now just 2'47 clear of the chasing pack.
The break have a chance to extend their lead a little bit here a fairly flat section of road before the climbing starts once more. With the lead less than three minutes their chances of a stage win are all but over at this point.
Just two minutes now for the leaders as BMC, Katusha set the tempo. To make matters worse for the break Lotto have joined the party and are chasing too.
The road begins to point upwards once more and the break continue to lose time despite their best efforts. The bunch are at 1'41.
The five riders up front are still co-operating well but with three powerful teams chasing them they're up against it. Hoogerland takes a turn on the front but the Dutchman will know that the writing is on the wall.
The five man group are about to crest the top of another uncategorised climb. They'll then face a sharp descent before an undulating section of road.
37km to go and the gap is down to just 1'06.
33km to go and the gap is down to 30 seconds for the leaders. They'll surely be caught in the next few minutes.
Racing towards the foot of the second category climb, BMC, Katusha on the front. Roche, Nibali, Valverde and Horner are all in the mix too.
The five leaders have been out there for a long time but it's almost all over now. They have just 12 seconds and the bunch are about to make the catch.
Roughly five kilometres from the foot of the climb.
Aramendia, he's pushed on and the bunch have let him go. He's got 17 seconds on the peloton at the moment.
It's a long flat section at the moment. As for the final climb of the day, the steepest part is around 700-600 metres to go, a mere 27 percent for about 100 metres
Netapp Endura are on the front now setting the pace. They'll be confident after wining a stage yesterday.
Remember Anton won here in 2010, Rodriguez in 2011, so the finish is perfect for the pint-sized climbers.
Already riders are being dropped from the back of the field, such is the pace and the heat. Aramendia, by the way, is about to caught. His day off the front over.
A crash in the bunch as the road narrows but everyone looks fine.
The road went from dual carriage way to one single lane. Riders are all over the road though as quite a few lost contact with the main bunch.
Amets Txurruka has attacked.
Pinotti has been dropped. Morkov too.
Amets Txurruka has a handful of seconds but FDJ and RadioShack are leading the chase.
Horner is third wheel in the peloton now. He looks strong but today will be test for him on the final climb.
Robert Kiserlovski has caught and passed the Caja Rural rider, with ease but he' only has a few seconds too. BMC now set the pace on the front of the reduced field. 19km to go.
Robert Kiserlovski has pulled out a few more seconds, he has around 10 on the field at the moment.
The RadioShack rider has 12 seconds now with 17.9km to go. He's nearly at the top of the second category climb.
Cancellara is dropping off the back of the bunch now, Roche, meanwhile, is nicely positioned near the front of the peloton.
Horner, Valverde ride closely together just off the front of the peloton that is still led by BMC.
Nine second for the lone leader now as Boasson Hagen attacks and he now leads the race.
In the saddle the Norwegian simply powers off the front. He has a good gap now but he needs to have at least 20-30 seconds by the end of the descent.
Boasson Hagen looks very strong and Movistar have now swarmed to the front of the peloton.
Boasson Hagen leads over the top but his advantage is less than 10 seconds.
Edet, from Cofidis, has attacked and is chasing the Sky rider.
Three Movistar riders on the front, Horner just behind them.
Flecha attacks but he's shut down. Luis Leon Sanchez then takes off but Boasson Hagen has 25 seconds at the moment.
The Sky rider is flying down the climb but Sanchez is closing, he's at 15 seconds.
Movistar still lead the peloton though and they'll be looking to shut it all down before the final climb.
Sanchez is at 9 seconds.
Boasson Hagen leads Sanchez by 10 seconds, the bunch another 10 further back.
Boasson Hagen looks to be tightening up but he's still clear.
The road levels off slightly but Sanchez is about to be caught with Katusha doing the work now.
9km to go for Boasson Hagen with his lead still at 10 seconds.
Moreno and Rodriguez are both up there. Can they go 1-2 today? It's certainly possible.
Boasson Hagen takes every corner with a perfect line but his lead still holds at 10 seconds.
13 seconds for the Sky rider but it's still not enough.
Just over 5km to go and Boasson Hagen closes in on the final climb. It's a real brute with stretches close to 30 per cent.
4km to go now and Katusha still in chase mode with Boasson Hagen off the front. The lead is still 10 seconds.
It's now just 7 seconds for the lone leader.
They're still descending but the final climb is coming.
Roche is riding on Nibali's wheel.
Boasson Hagen is now climbing but he's caught. All over for the Sky all rounder.
Roche is moving up.
Less than 30 riders left.
It's a huge fight for position at the front. Roche has to watch Moreno
Katusha still lead with 1.2 to go.
Astana lead into the final 1km
it's Basso who opens up the gas on the front of the peloton.
Moreno attacks and he's going clear
Rodriguez is third on the road
Valverde is second but Moreno is riding away
A huge gap already for Moreno.
Valverde looks to have cracked a bit
Roche is chasing but he's too far back
Moreno wins the stage. Valverde second and Rodriguez third.
Moreno is asking if he's taken the jersey. He doesnt know.
Roche comes over the line. 8 seconds down.
Time bonuses mean that Roche needed to finish within seven seconds of Moreno in order to keep the jersey.
No confirmation yet but Moreno is taken away to the podium.
Moreno just blew everyone away with that attack. Rodriguez let the gap open up and Valverde was forced to chase. Roche finished fourth and has lost his lead by just one second. Nibali finished a further second down. Basso lost 16 seconds on the stage. Horner lost some time too.
1 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 4:18:57
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:04
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:00:04
4 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:08
5 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:09
6 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:09
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:09
8 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 0:00:13
9 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Argos-Shimano 0:00:13
10 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:15
GC after stage 9:
1 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 35:58:34
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:01
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:20
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:22
5 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:28
6 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:00:56
7 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:01:09
8 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack Leopard 0:01:10
9 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:24
10 Ivan Santaromita (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:01:26
So Moreno now leads the race by a single second from Roche.
Thanks for joining us today. You can find our race report, images, and results, right here.