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Vuelta a España 2009: Stage 12

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Hello and welcome back to the Vuelta a Espana! We all had a nice long siesta on the rest day yesterday and we are now ready to heat up into the mountains. We are, at any rate. We don't know whether the riders are!

Today is the first of three mountain stages in a row. We go 179 km from Almeria to the top of Velefique. There are four climbs along the way. Well, actually only three climbs, but one of them is so neat that the peloton will be going over it twice, once at km 56 and then again at the very end – yup, a mountaintop finish!

130km remaining from 174km

Here's where we are right now: An escape group formed at km 29, and took off. The group with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin), Javier Ramirez (Andalucia), Oscar Freire (Rabobank), David Garcia (Xacobeo), Alexander Vinokourov (Astana), Bingen Fernandez (Cofidis), Borut Bozic (Vacansoliel), Julien El Fares (Cofidis), Julian Sanchez (Contentpolis), Pierrick Fedrigo (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Stuart O'Grady (Saxo Bank) have now turned that into a lead of over seven minutes.

Arkaitz Duran (Fuji) has been giving chase the whole time and is now only 26 seconds back.

They are on their way up the first climb of the day.

A number of riders decided to take off for home on the second rest day and not face the mountains. Among them were Tyler Farrar (Garmin Slipstream) and Linus Gerdemann (Milram). The German is still suffering from the aftereffects of his crash in stage 10, a team spokesman told Cyclingnews.

127km remaining from 174km

Duran has now caught the group on the ascent. David Garcia punctured, but was able to catch the group again. The gap is now down to 6:40.

Also not starting today were Marco Marcato (Vacansoliel), Vitaliy Buts (Lampre) and Alberto Fernandez (Xacobeo). That leaves us with 175 in the race now.

The first (and third) climb is the Velefique, a Category One climb. It offers a 13.3 km long climb with an average gradient of 7.5% and a maximum of 13%

Weather! Yes, we will have weather today. It will go from sunny to cloudy and from hot to cold. How's that for variety? We can expect up to 27° Celsius in the hottest areas (valleys) and down to 13°Celsius at the mountaintops.

120km remaining from 174km

Just before the top of the climb, Bozic attacks out of the group.

119km remaining from 174km

That was a short attack:  Bozic is already caught again.

118km remaining from 174km

This is how they went over the climb: Fernandez ahead of Bozic and Sanchez. And so we bid a fond farewell to the Velefique – NOT! We'll be back here in a couple of hours.

115km remaining from 174km

The lead group is going down the mountain now, and has pushed their lead back up to 7:10.

104km remaining from 174km

We have passed the first intermediate sprint of the day. Bozic took the points ahead of Garcia and Vinokourov.

Seven teams are still in the race with all their starters. Eight teams have lost one rider apiece, and six teams are two riders down. Hardest hit is Bbox Bouygues Telecom, which now has only six riders left in the race.

They don't expect any rain here today. In fact, they rarely expect any rain here. This is the driest region in all of Europe, averaging 330 days a year without rain.

90km remaining from 174km

The break group is approaching lunchtime – the feeding zone, that is – with a 6:50 lead.

Alejandro Valverde is determined to win the Vuelta this year, for the very first time. He has twice finished third and was second in 2006. He thinks the race will be decided in these mountain stages: www.cyclingnews.com/news/valverde-motivated-to-chase-vuelta-win

91km remaining from 174km

The gap is now 7:36.

Let's refresh our memories as to who is leading what classification in the race. Overall leader, in the gold jersey, is still Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne),with Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) seven seconds back and Rabobank's Robert Gesink third at 36 seconds.

93km remaining from 174km

The peloton has moved into the feed zone, and that alllows the gap to move up to 8:14.

Andre Greipel of Columbia leads the points ranking, with 99. Second had been Tyler Farrar (Garmin) with 92 points, followed by Tom Boonen (Quick Step) with 75.

95km remaining from 174km

Rabobank has moved up to help lead the peloton chase the large group which has an 8:14 lead.

 Looking at Simon Gerrans' kit, we suspect he hit the ground at some point during this stage.

77km remaining from 174km

Vinokourov has fallen back out of the lead group. He is finding his comeback to be perhaps a bit more difficult than expected.

His former breakaway mates are now on their way up the second climb of the day.

We go up in the big mountains this weekend, so we might well see a change in the rankings for the best climber. Right now the jersey belongs to David Moncoutie of Cofidis (86 points) ahead of David De La Fuente (Fuji, 72 points).

Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) is atop the combination classification, followed by Valverde and Damiano Cuenego (Lampre).

The second climb, at km 122, is another Category One, the Alto de Calar Alto. It is a 26.7 km climb with an average gradient of 4.4% and a max of 10%.

Paul Martens of Rabobank has now left the race.  The German rider has been suffering from a bronchial infection.

73km remaining from 174km

The top-ranked team belongs to the top-ranked rider: Caisse d'Epargne. They are 4:53 ahead of Astana, with Fuji third at 7:16.

And that top-ranked team is the one leading the peloton right now.

O'Grady and Freire are sitting at the back of the lead group, not taking turns to lead. They are letting those with younger legs do all that hard work.

A couple of days ago three-time former World Champion Oscar Freire of Rabobank said that he would retire at the end of the 2010 season when his current contract expires, as you can read here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/freire-to-retire-at-the-end-of-2010

Now, however, he seems to be changing his mind. Interviewed on the team's website, he said, “Hmmm, maybe not. I'm not sure about. It could, but my mind is really not definitely made up.”
 

Matteo Carrara of Vacansoliel has obviously gone down at some point today. He has quite a nice hole in his britches.

Vinokourov has been caught by the peloton and dropped by the peloton. That's how easy it is go from the very front of the race to the very back....

Dan Martin of Garmin-Slipstream is in his first Grand Tour, and quite enjoying his adventure. As one of the team's climbing aces, his expertise will be requested the next few days, and the young Irishman is up to the challenge, he tells us at www.cyclingnews.com/news/martin-ready-for-mountain-duty

The gap is falling slightly, down now to 6:52.

The gap is falling steadily now, down to 6:25, as Caisse d'Epargne continues to grind away at the head of the peloton.

Mori of Lampre and Milram's Ciolek are back among the team cars. Most likely they have been dropped on the climb.

We have another abandon today: Francesco Tomei of Lampre.

Several riders sprinted for the mountain ranking and are keeping on going. We will try to get their names for you.

It is Ramirez and Sanchez who have attacked.

Le Fares also jumped, and is in fact at the very head of things now.

It is a pretty steep descent, with all the usual turns and twists, but fortunately the road is relatively wide and looks like it has a good pavement.

The peloton hits the top of the mountain exactly 6:33 after the first rider to go over.

The field is flying down this mountain in single file.

The lead group has fallen into several smaller groups on the descent, but it is hard to tell who is where at the moment.

131km remaining from 174km

It looks like the lead group is back together again, and still has a gap of 6:36. And there are still two more mountains to climb.

The break group has hit bottom.  Well, so to speak -- we could also say that they have finished the descent.  Freire celebrates by dropping back to his team car for a moment.

We are in the Province of Andalusia, and what does one eat here? Gazpacho! That wonder cold vegetable soup made of tomato, cucumber, pepper, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Yum, now we are getting hungry

38km remaining from 174km

Caisse d'Epargne continues to work hard for its captain, overall race leader Valverde.

Riders are starting to fall off the back of the peloton.  This is a particularly up-and-down sort of section at the moment.

36km remaining from 174km

The gap is now down below six minutes, down to 5:46.

Bram Tankink falls back to the team car and delivers a load of dirty laundry. Well, it looks like vests that the riders no longer want to wear.

Carrara of Vaconsoliel jumps out of the head group in order to get the sprint points at the next intermediate sprint.

Philip Deignan of Cervelo TestTeam is in his second Grand Tour of the year, having also ridden the Giro d'Italia. “I think this Vuelta is going to be interesting, to try to go flat out for three weeks and see what happens,” the Irishman said. “I’ve done three grand tours so far in my career. I’ve always seem to have a really bad day or two, so I am not sure if I am up to that standard. I think it’s a learning curve. It takes a few tours to see what your body can withstand.”

Everyone is now working their way up the third climb of the day, the Alto de Filibres.

31km remaining from 174km

The gap continues to come down and is now 5:11.

29km remaining from 174km

The gap is now under 5 minutes for the first time in a long time.

The break group has crested the top of the third climb.  The gap is now about four and a half minutes.

Caisse d'Epargne has a secondary feeding station on the climb here, and the hard workers pick up a bag of goodies.

Michael Schäre of Astana has crashed, but is back up and going with no major damage.

Damiano Cunego's win in last Sunday's Vuelta stage to the Alto de Aitana was big confidence-booster. "It came at the right time. More so for me, my confidence, but also for the Italian team ahead of the World Championships. It gives 100 percent security that I will be one of the Italian leaders," Cunego (Team Lampre-NGC) told Cyclingnews. More here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/cunegos-confidence-high-ahead-of-worlds

The peloton flies along here in single file.

156km remaining from 174km

Xacobeo's Garcia has jumped out of the leading group. He goes through a sprint ranking and keeps on going.

Garcia continues on in the lead.

The UCI has just announced that it has suspended Manuel Beltran for two years after his positive test for EPO from last year.  We will have more on this story on Cyclngnews shortly.

Garcia's lead is said to be about 15 seconds.

12km remaining from 174km

Garcia and the break group are now on their way up the final climb.

Velefique is making its third appearance in the Vuelta, with the first visit being only in 2004,

Numerous attacks out of the break group, but they are unwilling to let anyone else get away.

There are a lot of Columbia riders at the very back of the peloton now.

Garcia has 46 seconds on the break group, and the peloton is 3:40 back.

Fabian Cancellara leads a group behind the peloton, taking the final climb at a more leisurely pace.

Rabobank moves to the front of the peloton, hoping to set something up for Robert Gesink.

The lead group has fallen apart and it looks like a number of riders will soon catch Garcia.

Hesjedal, O'Grady and Sanchez are those giving chase to Garcia.

Garcia is now 30 seconds ahead of his chasers, with the peloton 3:29 back.

Samuel Sanchez and Ivan Basso ride up the mountain next to each other, as do Robert Gesink and Tom Danielson.

The peloton has dwindled dramatically, it is now only about 40 men.  They catch Bozic who has dropped back from the lead group.

The first attack attempts out of the favourites' group -- but they aren't letting anyone go.

Valverde is nearer the midddle of his group than to the front.  The group has split again and is now down to 20 or so.

No real surprise here:  Vinokourov has abandoned the race.  As has his teammate Rubiera.

6km remaining from 174km

Garcia has a three minute lead over the favourites' group.

The ever smaller favourites'  group is now catching and passing those from the former escape group.

5km remaining from 174km

Hesjedal is the closest one to Garcia, (which isn't all that close), and Sanchez is quite a ways behind him.

Oops, we were wrong.  Hesjedal has now caught Garcia.

Cunego attacks out of the Valverde group.

Cunego and a Caisse d'Epargne rider have a small lead over the favourites. But no longer, they are caught.

Duran is the next to attack.  Are we the only ones who have music running through our heads when we see his name?

We once again have a group of 11 -- but this time is the group of favourites.

Oh bother, it is Mosquera and not Duran.  Cancel that music.

4km remaining from 174km

_______Situation________

David Garcia (Xacobeo) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin)
Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) 1:40
Valverde group at 1:50

4km remaining from 174km

Mosquera is trying to get up to the two leaders.

Mosquera looks forward and back:  where are the others?

Garcia and Hesjedal have a lead of a bit more than a minute over Mosquera, who is 20 seconds ahead of the Valverde group.

3km remaining from 174km

Hesjedal tries to take off, but Garcia comes with him.

3km remaining from 174km

_______Situation________

David Garcia (Xacobeo) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin)
Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) 53"
Valverde group at 1:10

They are all climbing up a long seemingly endless series of hairpin curves up this mountain.

46 seconds between the leaders and Mosquera, but only 13 seconds back to the Valverde group.

2km remaining from 174km

Only two km for the two leaders.  Will one of them try to get away from the other?

37 seconds back to Mosquera, and the field some 12 seconds more.

2km remaining from 174km

_______Situation________

David Garcia (Xacobeo) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin)
Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) 37"
Valverde group at 43"

Gesink attacks out of the field, and the remaining seven in the group give chase.  But the tall Dutchman has a few seconds lead.

Last km for Hesjedal and Garcia.

Gesink has caught and passed Mosquera at the 1 km marker.

Gesink goes all out.  He is 17 seconds behind the two leaders, and the field is 14 seconds behind him.

1km remaining from 174km

_______Situation________

David Garcia (Xacobeo) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin)
Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) 22"
Valverde group at 36"

As always, lots of people along the road, cheering them on.

Gesink and Mosquera come close, but they can't catch the leaders.

Hesjedal sprints for the win ahead of  Garcia.  Gesink is third, and Mosquera fourth.

Another stage win for the US team of Garmin-Slipstream!

Gesink and Mosquera finished six seconds behind the winner, with Cunego leading the Valverde group over the finish line 16 seconds down.

No change at the top of the leader board, but Gesink has managed to chip away at his deficit to leader Valverde.

That was it for the first of three big mountain stages.  Join us again tomorrow for some more climbing, and thanks for reading along today.

Valverde still the leader

1 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Slipstream
2 David Garcia (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
3 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 6
4 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia
5 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC 16
6 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
7 Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto
8 Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas
9 Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream
10 Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi

General classification after stage 12

Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne
Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence-Lotto 7
Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank 18
Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Slipstream 51
Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas 53
Samuel Sánchez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:03
Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-NGC 2:13
Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 2:14

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