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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:

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 40:26:15
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:01
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:16
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:59
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:27
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:54
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:39
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:04:08
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:04:22
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:05:10

 

91km remaining from 190km

With just over 90 kilometres to race, however, a four-man break is five minutes clear of the peloton. Amael Moinard (BMC), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) jumped away 75 kilometres into the stage after a rapid start.

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

As the break passes through Queiruga, they have a lead of 5:04 over the peloton, where Katusha are riding tempo. The average speed after two hours of racing was a stiff 46kph.

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

The break's advantage has now yawned out to 7:10 as the peloton catches its breath ahead of the inevitable rapid approach to the finishing climb.

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

Chris Froome (Sky) began the day 16 seconds down on Rodriguez in 3rd place overall. The Briton would surely have seen yesterday's time trial as a real opportunity to put significant time into Rodriguez, but instead he unexpectedly finds himself on the back foot. “Looking at the results sheet this morning, it looks like we’re back to Pamplona”, he said at the start. “We start everything from scratch again. My form is not as good as at the Tour and the Olympics but I’ll try to ride smartly. Team Sky will not do all the work like on stage 8 to Andorra but we might try echelons again if it’s windy one day.”

70km remaining from 190km

There are a number of changes in direction in the final 70 kilometres of racing, as the peloton sweeps along various outcrops of the Galician coast, and that could provide fertile terrain for the formation of echelons given the windy conditions. In particular, the approach to the second sprint at Muros with 30km to go might see ripples in the main field. For now, though, the peloton is still together, and Katusha's tempo has trimmed the break's advantage to 6:30.

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

Astarloza leads the four escapees through the day's first intermediate sprint at Noia with an advantage of 6:18 over the peloton.

60km remaining from 190km

The pace is gradually beginning to pick up once more in the main peloton as the break's lead falls slightly to 5:48.

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

Inside the final 50 kilometres and the lead slips inside 5 minutes. Katusha are right on target to bring the escapees back ahead of the finale.

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

Contador, of course, has only recently returned to action after sitting out the previous six months as part of his suspension for a positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, and Miguel Indurain reckons that he was a little too eager in his efforts during the opening half of the race.

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 pace in the peloton is brisk but the gap remains close to 5 minutes inside the final 40 kilometres.

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 seems to the worse affected of the two. He has a cut on his forehead and is having his wound attended to as he sits on the road.

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

Surprisingly, Katusha have stopped making real progress in chipping away at the break's lead in the past 10 kilometres or so. With 26km still to race, the four escapees still have 4:20 in hand.

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

The four leaders are continuing to collaborate very smoothly but there has been a discernible increase in the pace behind. 3:15 the gap.

16km remaining from 190km

Cameron Meyer puts in a mammoth turn at the front of the break. The Australian is determined to keep them clear until the final climb and then take his chances there.

15km remaining from 190km

Movistar take over from Katusha at the front of the main peloton and Valverde's men are beginning to make serious inroads into the break's lead.

13km remaining from 190km

Movistar have injected considerable urgency into the peloton's pursuit of the leaders and their advantage is beginning to crumble. It's now fallen away to 2:25.

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

With 10 kilometres to go, the break's advantage is down to two minutes and the peloton is travelling at a hyper-active pace.

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

A swathe of orange Rabobank jerseys drift towards the front of the peloton in a bid to put Robert Gesink into the box seat ahead of the final climb.

6km remaining from 190km

With 6km to go, the peloton has reduced the gap to 1:20, but since Movistar swung off, no one team has managed to take control of the main field.

4km remaining from 190km

Meyer again puts in an enormous effort in a bid to keep the break's dreams alive but their lead is dropping fast. It's now 58 seconds.

3km remaining from 190km

The gap is down to 40 seconds inside the final 3 kilometres as the four leaders begin their approach to the final climb. Sky are setting the pace in the peloton.

2km remaining from 190km

Cameron Meyer leads the break onto the climb with just 25 seconds in hand on the bunch.

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

Anton jumps past Kevin de Weert and he is now bridging up towards his teammate Astarloza.

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:

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:24:32
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:08
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:13
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:20
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:23
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
7 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:27
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:31
9 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD 0:00:33
10 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:36

Stage result:

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 4:24:32
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:08
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:13
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:20
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:23
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team
7 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:27
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:31
9 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre - ISD 0:00:33
10 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:36

General classification:

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 44:50:35
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:13
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:51
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:20
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:59
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:03:29
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:04:22
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:05:17
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:05:18
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:06:01

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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