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Vuelta a España 2009: Stage 11

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12:55 CEST

Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta. We are halfway through today, and our 11th stage takes us exactly 200 km from Murcia to Caravaca La Cruz.

The peloton seems to be taking it a little easier today, there is still no successful escape so far today.

Here's the first action of the day. Andalucia's Xavier Tondo was making what seems like his daily visit to the team doctor's car when a sidewind came up and split the peloton. Some 20 riders got dropped, and of course Tondo was among them.

So maybe that wasn't really the first action of the day: we have already had the first intermediate sprint on the stage. Columbia's Andre Greipel cemented his lead in the points category by taking the sprint, ahead of his teammate Greg Henderson and Silence-Lotto's Philippe Gilbert.

All of the dropped riders, including Tondo, have now gotten back to the peloton.

We are down to 183 riders in the race, having lost a total of 15 so far. Bbox Bouygues Telecom is the hardest hit, having lost three of its nine riders. Three teams have lost two riders each: Andalucia-Cajasur, Contentpolis-AMPO, and Quick Step.

There are two climbs in today's stage. The first one comes early, at km 50.8, and is the Category 1 Alto Collado Bermejo, which tops out at 1200 metres. The second one comes nearer the end, at km 150.7, and is the category two Alto Campo de San Juan.

With the first climb looming ahead, Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel), Xavier Florencio (Cervelo) and Amael Moinard (Cofidis) tried to make a break for it. No deal – they were soon gobbled up again.

The field starts up the first climb of the day, and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel), Pierrick Fedrgo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Adrian Palomars (Contentpolis) take off on an escape.

Those three riders have become seven. They have now been joined by Arkaitz Duran (Fuji), Ludovid Turpin (Ag2r), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoliel) and David Garcia (Xacobeo).

No word yet on what the gap is.

This is a rolling stage, which is another way of saying its not steep enough to be a mountain stage. Not a heck of a lot of flat out there today.

We're not getting any news from the course at the moment, so we can't say what is happening with the break group.

Team Sky has announced the first six riders to its new team, to start racing next season. “The team aims to: create the first British winner of the Tour de France within five years; inspire people of all ages and abilities to get on their bikes, through the team’s positive profile, attitude and success; and add further support to competitive cycling in Great Britain,” the team said. Who are those six riders? Look here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/team-sky-unveils-first-six-riders

Today's course takes us to the west. After 125km, the peloton crosses the finish for the first time, but then takes of for a 75 km circuit which includes a category two climb at km. 150. Will that be enough to tire out the sprinters, or will they be able to come back?

We now hear that the break was caught shortly after it had formed, but we are still suffering from a lack of information from the race. Sorry!

We didn't have to wait long for the next attack. Amets Txurruka and Johnny Hoogerland took off again, and were joined by David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and David De La Fuente (Fuji) and they quickly built up a one-minute lead.

You may remember that Moncoutie and De La Fuenta are battling it out for the KOM classification.

Now things are happening fast and furious. Michael Albasini (Columbia) and John Gadret (Ag2r) have called it quits for the race and abandoned.

Up ahead Tuxurraka and Hoogerland dropped the two mountain ranking candidates De La Fuente and Moncoutie. Moncoutie caught up with them again, but De La Fuente was not able to.


The seemingly-tireless Hoogerland attacked out of the group, but was caught again.

Fredrik Kessiakoff of Fuji has attacked out of the peloton.

Here's how they came over the top of that first climb. That will give the KOM jersey back to Moncoutie.

1st MONCOUTIE David
2nd TXURRUKA Amets
3rd HOOGERLAND Johnny
4th DE LA FUENTE RASILLA David
5th KESSIAKOFF Fredrik
6th GARCIA ACOSTA José Vicente
7th ZANDIO ECHAIDE Xabier
8th KIRYIENKA Vasili
9th VALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro

Txurruka, Moncoutie and Hoogerland have built their lead up to 8:40.

De La Fuente waited for his teammate Kessiakof, but both have been gathered back into the peloton.

Will we see a mass finish today, or will the expected escape group make it through to the end? Share your thoughts on the matter in our forum at : forum.cyclingnews.com/showthread.php

The gap is now up nearly 10 minutes.

That huge gap means that eternal-escapee Johnny Hoogerland is now our virtual race leader. He came into the stage only 4:41 down, in 16th place.

One big name will be missing for the final week of the Vuelta. Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck will fly home on tomorrow's rest day for knee surgery on Friday. He banged the knee up in his Amstel Gold Race crash back in April, and it just hasn't been right since. It also looks likely that he will miss the World Championships later this month: www.cyclingnews.com/news/frank-schleck-out-of-vuelta-and-worlds-with-knee-surgery

It's going to be another hot one today. The coolest temps will come atop the climbs, but other than that the riders can expect more scorching temperatures up to 29°C. And sunshine pure.

Caisse d'Epargne finally decided that both Hoogerland and Moncoutie (only 6:45 down) were too much of a threat, and have started the chase. The gap has now dropped to 8:40.

Jose Rubiera of Astana has called for the help of the race doctor.
 

We've been having some technical problems today, but think we finally have cleared them up.

We had thought that Saxo Bank's Fränk Schleck would start this stage, but we now see that in fact he is listed as DNS.

119km remaining from 200km

Txurruka, Moncoutie and Hoogerland are holding on to a pretty steady lead of just under nine minutes.

Let's take a look at who is leading which rankings. Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) is in the leader's gold jersey, seven seconds ahead of Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto). Rabobank's Robert Gesink is third 36 seconds, down, followed by Tom Danielson (Garmin) at 51 seconds and Ivan Basso with 53 seconds.

David De La Fuente (Fuji) finally took over the mountain jersey yesterday and now leads by a mere four points over David Moncoutie (Cofidis). Further back are Pieter Weening of Rabobank and Julian Sanchez of Contentpolis.

Andre Greipel of Columbia continues to hold the points jersey, with 83 points. Tom Boonen (Quick Step) is second with 75 points and Garmin's Tyler Farrar is third with 67 points.

106km remaining from 200km

The gap had gotten up to 9:22, and is now at 9:11.  Caisse d'Epargne is still leading the peloton and keeping an eye on the three in front.

95km remaining from 200km

The gap is now down to 8:32. Meanwhile, Francisco Jose Pacheco of Contentpolis has gone to the race doctor for a short visit.

Let's get back to those rankings. Cadel Evans has lost the overall lead but can still wear the combination classification jersey. He leads in that ranking ahead of Valverde and Damiano Cunego (Lampre).

Best team so far is that of the race leader: Caisse d'Epargne. Astana is second, at 4:32, with Fuji third at 7:04 down.

Milram's Linus Gerdemann got hit in the face with one of those “life-lessons” we all hate so much yesterday afternoon. He was happily alone in the lead on the final descent, looking to to go on to the stage win, when, bam! A flat tyre. Being as he was on a narrow and twisting mountain road, he had to wait forever for a neutral material vehicle. And when one finally came by and helped him, it didn't work out – the new material caused him to crash on the very next curve. You can read more here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/mechanical-stops-gerdemann-in-final-descent

Astana's Alexander Vinokourov has faced the fact that he won't win this race this year, but that won't stop him from trying his best. “Yesterday I saved some forces with the intention to do something today.” he said on the team's website after Tuesday's stage. “When there were four of us at the end I knew Gerrans was the man to beat. I had to try to get away from him. I tried four times—what more could I do? Anyway I am really back now and of course I will try again!”

76km remaining from 200km

The gap has now dropped to 7:50 as both Liquigas and Rabobank have moved up to help with the lead work.

71km remaining from 200km

At the second intermediate sprint of the day, Hoogerland took the points ahead of Moncoutie and Txurruka.

Milram has now joined in the chase and the lead is continuing to come down slowly but surely, now at 6:50.

Caravaca de La Cruz is celebrating only its second Vuelta stage finish ever. The first wasin 2004, when the win went to a totally unknown rider after a 162km long solo escape – Dave Zabriskie of then-team USPS. The American isn't here today, but perhaps one of his Garmin-Slipstream riders will be inspired to follow his example?
 

66km remaining from 200km

The lead is plummeting now, and is just 4:38.

None other than the great Miguel Indurain is at the stage today.

Who is Milram riding for today? No doubt captain Linus Gerdemann would like to have a chance to make up for his misfortunes yesterday, if he could get away before the end. But if he can't, then his co-captain Gerald Ciolek ought to have good chances in a sprint. The young German is more of a Classics sprinter, than a pure sprinter, and should have no problems on this anything-but-flat course.

58km remaining from 200km

The gap is just about at the three minute mark now.  The peloton isn't even moving along all that fast.  No doubt all are suffering in the high heat today.

57km remaining from 200km

The field is approaching the second climb of the day, and the gap is nearly at 2:30.

56km remaining from 200km

And just like that the gap is under two minutes.

55km remaining from 200km

The peloton is falling apart on this climb, with the trio's lead down to just barely a minute.

54km remaining from 200km

This climb isn't that tough, but the riders are really dropping off like flies. Liquigas pushes the tempo at the head of the field.

Oliver Zaugg and Sylvester Szmyd lead the way for Liquigas.

50km remaining from 200km

The first big names are falling back now:  Fabian Cancellara, Oscar Freire, Tom Boone, David De La Fuente.

49km remaining from 200km

The leading trio hits the mountain top, with a 1:03 lead over the remains of the peloton.

Liquigas is really stepping on the -- no, we won't make that joke.  They re really pulling the remnants of the peloton along at a high pace.

The race is now in the "brown" part of Spain -- there is a certain monotony in the landscape.

Caravaca de la Cruz is in the northeast region of Murcia, and has more than 25,000 residents. It is well-known as a pilgrimage destination. It features since 1231, the Vera Cruz, or “lignum crucis”, said to be a piece of wood from the pole on which Jesus was crucified. It is considered the fifth-most important site in the Roman Catholic church.

The trio in front has now only a 23 second lead over a group of 40-50.  Cancellara leads a small group some 15 seconds behind the chasers.

43km remaining from 200km

Caisse d'Epargne now has the lead of the first chase group, ahead of Liquigas.

43km remaining from 200km

Only 10 seconds for the leaders now.

AS the three are caught, Remy de Gregorio of FdJ takes off in counterattack.

Di Gregario builds up a slight lead.

Valverde may be happy to arrive in Caravaca hale and hearty today. He doesn't have the best memories of the place. When the Vuelta was last here in 2004, he crashed early in the race, coincidentally, just as Zabriskie took off in what was to be the winning effort. The peloton was faced with the decision of chasing the American or waiting for Valverde, who was at the time in second place overall, only nine seconds down on Zabriskie's teammate Floyd Landis.

The peloton decided to wait, Zabriskie won the stage, and Valverde went on to finish fourth in the overall GC.

41km remaining from 200km

Di Gregario grinds his lead out second by second, and is now up to 20 seconds.

39km remaining from 200km

Liquigas continues to lead the peloton on the descent.  Di Gregario's lead is now 27 seconds.

There's a beautiful blue sky today, with barely a white wispy cloud.  And the road looks to be freshly paved.

Here's how they came over the last climb:


1. MONCOUTIE David (071)
2. TXURRUKA Amets (009)
3. HOOGERLAND Johnny (203)
4. FERNANDEZ BUSTINZA Bingen (076)
5. TAARAMAE Rein (079)
6. SZMYD Sylvester (138)

Valverde has a late-stage snack, as he is tucked in safely amongst his teammates.

35km remaining from 200km

Caisse d'Epargne and Liquigas continue to lead the way,  They are keeping Di Gregario on a long line, as his lead is now up to 37 seconds.

Yesterday's stage win makes Cervelo only the second team to have won stages in all three Grand Tours this year (Columbia-HTC is the other one), and elevates Gerrans to the elite group of those who has won a stage in each the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta.

“This is kind of like a hat-trick in football,” Gerrans said. “It really rounds things out for me. I’ve had a good season and I am feeling strong, so I hope to have a good world championships to cap off the year.”

32km remaining from 200km

The Cancellara group has caught the peloton.  We also see Andre Greipel of Columbia in there, in case it comes to a sprint.  LInus Gerdemann was also spotted.

Di Gregario's lead is now only 18 seconds.

Was Simon Gerrans happy to win the stage yesterday? Well, of course he was! “It’s great to win at the Vuelta. I came here with two objectives, to prepare for the world championships and to win a stage. So I have accomplished one of those goals and now I’ve just got to polish off my form before Mendrisio,” he said on the Cervelo website.

28km remaining from 200km

More and more riders are now catching back up with the peloton. 

World Champion Alessandro Ballan is also in the main group.  We see him now right before Valverde.

25km remaining from 200km

Di Gregario has managed to up his lead some more.  Now it is up to 46 seconds.

Liquigas does a team time trial at the head of the peloton, followed by Ballan.  Now Rabobank's Oscar Freire moves up to join in on the fun.

The cars start moving past De Gregario and he starts looking back to see where the field is.

19km remaining from 200km

The end is in sight for Di Gregario, as the peloton can now see him.  They promptly pick up their speed to catch him.

Di Gregario fights on valiantly. but it won't be long now.

He is caught and who attacks?  Who else but Linus Gerdemann!

It doesn't look like the Milram rider is really goitn to get away, though.

15km remaining from 200km

Gerdemann holds on to a very narrow lead.

A Rabo rider, who we suspect is not actually Freire, leads the chase and catches Gerdemann.

It looks like we will have a mass sprint after all.

Six neon-green Liquigas riders lead the way, broken up only by one Rabo rider.

12km remaining from 200km

Greipel slowly moves his way up to the front of the group.

Team Columbia is showing up near the front of the field now.  We are not sure whether Gerald Ciolek is in this group.

The field is staying together.  No one is trying to get away.

7km remaining from 200km

Still 7 km to go.

There shouldn't be any difficulties setting up sprints today.  The last 1400 metres are straight out.

The riders who wil not be involved in the sprint trains are having a comfortable ride at the back of the field.

5km remaining from 200km

Time for people to start getting into position.

4km remaining from 200km

Columbia doesn't look to have enough people in this group to set up the train for Greipel, so he has picked out the rear wheel of Ballan as the right one to be on.

Liquigas continutes to lead the way,

Greipel on second wheel.  Cancellara attcks.

Lars Boom ledas the Rabo train as Cancellara falls back.

Tyler Farrar takes it!

It was an unorganized sprint, with everyone pretty much on their own.  Greipel got caught too far back and couldn't get to the front.

Second place went to Philippe Gilbert of Silence-Lotto, and third to Marco Marcato of Vacansoliel.

The finale was supposed to have a climb of two percent, but it looked to be a bit more.  That hurt many of the sprinters.

Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his overall lead today.

Thanks for reading along with us today.

Tomorrow is a well-deserved rest day, and after that we head up into the mountains again!  Be sure to join us then.

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