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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 12


190 kilometres of racing along the Galician coast separate the start at Vilagarcía de Arousa from the finish at Mirador de Ézaro, but the final 1.5km or so look set to be decisive on stage 12 of the Vuelta a España, as Alasdair Fotheringham explains.

The searingly steep final kick up to the line should be the battleground for a ferocious four-way tussle between the men at the head of the general classification - Joaquim Rodriguez, Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde - who are still separated by less than a minute even after yesterday's time trial.

The top 10 of the general classification is as follows ahead of the real hostilities later in the afternoon:

91km remaining from 190km

The peloton covered a stinging 45 kilometres in the opening hour of race in spite of a headwind as a string of prospective breakaway groups were hoovered back up by the field as soon as they had begun to find their feet out front.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Rabobank were especially vigilant early, and they were replaced by Movistar at the front when a group featuring Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky), David Moncoutie (Cofidis), Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ-BigMat) and Steve Cummins (BMC) drifted away after 65 kilometres.

Shortly after that group was swept up, the quartet of Meyer, Astarloza, De Weert and Meyer went away, and they have been steadily building up a lead ever since.

85km remaining from 190km

Mikel Astarloza is riding the Vuelta a España for the first time since 2008, a hiatus explained largely by his two-year suspension for a positive test for EPO at the Spanish championships in 2009. His Euskaltel-Euskadi team re-hired him as soon as his ban expired last August.

80km remaining from 190km

Joaquim Rodriguez's Katusha team continue to ride on the front of the peloton, albeit without any great urgency for now. Even though his lost the pink jersey on the final day in Milan, Rodriguez showed significant signs that his time trialling had improved at the Giro d'Italia and he confirmed those impressions with a solid ride yesterday to retain the red jersey in spite of Alberto Contador's (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) stiff challenge.

75km remaining from 190km

70km remaining from 190km

Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol) has already completed the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France so far in 2012, and the Australian is on course to complete the hat-trick at the Vuelta. “I feel good and I intend to finish this one too”, he said at the start . “Here we’ve been helping Gianni Meersman a lot. He can win a stage. My season won't be over after the Vuelta. I’ll do the world championships, some one-day races and the Chinese races in October.”

Of course, Hansen and the WorldTour peloton will now only take part in one Chinese race this October, the Tour of Beijing. The UCI announced on Tuesday that the Tour of Hangzhou, which was supposed to debut this year, has been postponed because "not all the general conditions necessary to guarantee that the race would fulfil the UCI WorldTour quality criteria had been met."

62km remaining from 190km

60km remaining from 190km

Katusha will certainly want to bring the break back before the foot of the day's one and only climb. The slopes of up to 29% should suit Joaquim Rodriguez better than anyone, and with a 12-second time bonus on offer for the winner, it's another chance for him to stretch out his lead.

50km remaining from 190km

On the subject of time bonuses, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank directeur sportif Brad McGee admitted that the system suits the punchy Rodriguez far better than Alberto Contador, although he was hoping his leader could make a difference in real time when the race reaches Lagos de Covadonga. "Time bonuses are crucial in this Vuelta," McGee said. "Fortunately, there aren’t 20 seconds for the winner every day but today, the 12 seconds seem to be going to a rider other than Alberto Contador but he’s got the legs to chase 8 or 4 seconds. It adds stress to our race. We constantly have to look at the time bonus. But hopefully in the Asturias, we’ll talk about minutes, not about seconds.”

46km remaining from 190km

Nonetheless, Contador came away with the feeling that his glass was half full after yesterday's stage. Although he fell just short of stage win and red jersey, Contador did manage to put 22 seconds into Chris Froome.

39km remaining from 190km

The day's sole climb is the short, sharp haul to the finish at Mirador de Ézaro. Just 1.9km in length, it has an average gradient of 13% with a stretch of 29%, so gear selection is going to be crucial. Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) is arming himself with a 36x28 gear to get up it. "If I happen to start the final climb at the front, I’ll give it a try but I won’t take any risks," he said earlier. "I’m more focused on the three mountainous days in Asturias."

A crash in the main peloton as it separates around a traffic island. Xavier Zandio (Sky) and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ-BigMat) are the two fallers.

28km remaining from 190km

Zandio is back on his feet to applause from the fans on the roadside, but his Vuelta appears to be over.

26km remaining from 190km

Xavier Zandio has withdrawn from the Vuelta due to his crash. Morris Possono (Lampre-ISD) was also caught up in the crash and he is receiving treatment from the race doctor behind the main peloton.

A clutch of Movistar riders is grouped around Alejandro Valverde as he moves up towards the front end of the peloton. Positioning will be crucial in the approach to the finale climb.

19km remaining from 190km

16km remaining from 190km

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13km remaining from 190km

Meyer is the man putting in the longest turns in the front group, but he's getting some solid support now from De Weert.

Jose Joaquin Rojas sets a fierce tempo for Movistar, while Katusha, Saxo Bank and Sky look to marshall their men into position behind Valverde's armada.

10km remaining from 190km

While the climbing comes in earnest in the final 2km, the approach to the final ascent takes in some rolling roads that are taking their toll on some riders who are being shelled off the back on twos and threes.

Sky are attempting to muscle their way to the front in the hope of dictating tems on the Mirador de Ézaro.

7km remaining from 190km

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The break fragments as soon as the climbing begins, with Astarloza pulling away in slow motion.

Ian Stannard leads the main peloton on the opening slopes of the climb with Chris Froome on his wheel.

Astarloza is alone in front as he tackles slopes of 16%. His teammate Igor Anton tries to attack from the main bunch.

1km remaining from 190km

Joaquim Rodriguez attacks and bursts past Anton and Cam Meyer. He has Contador locked on his rear wheel as the gradient hits 23%.

The pair have a gap of 5 seconds or so over Sergio Henao, but the Colombian is bringing Dani Moreno and Valverde back up to them. Froome is a little further back.

After a brief respite, now it's Contador's turn to attack, gradually forcing the pace and only Rodriguez can follow. They have distanced the group behind but Valverde is attempting to limit his losses. Froome is 22 seconds down. The pair passed Astarloza earlier while reeling in Anton, by the way.

Inside the final 400 metres, Joaquim Rodriguez accelerates past Contador and he is going to win the stage and extend his overall lead...

Joaquim Rodriguez wins the stage, while Contador comes across the line 8 seconds back.

Valverde did well to limit his losses in the final push to the line, and he finishes 3rd, 12 seconds down on Rodriguez. Robert Gesink is 4th, 20 seconds down.

Chris Froome was unable to respond when Rodriguez and Contador shot away, but he didn't concede too much more ground in the finale. He comes home 22 seconds down.

Rodriguez was far more explosive than Contador on the final climb, and particularly inside those final 300 metres or so. He left Contador standing and when time bonuses are factored in, he will have a lead of 13 seconds overall. Froome will stay 3rd, but his deficit stretches out to 51 seconds.

Contador did manage to drag Rodriguez clear of Valverde and Froome when he put in his long, more gradual acceleration on the final climb, and he will be hoping that augurs well for the longer climbs in Asturias. On the short, sharp climbs to date, however, Rodriguez has been largely untouchable.

Stage result:

Stage result:

General classification:

Thanks for joining us for live coverage on Cyclingnews this afternoon. For full results pictures and an in-depth race report, check back here.

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