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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 17

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100km remaining from 187km

Welcome to Cyclingnews' live coverage of stage 17 of the Vuelta a España, from Santander to Fuente Dé. As we pick up the action, an eleven-man break has a lead of three minutes over the peloton.

Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Danny Pate (Sky), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Bruno Pires (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucia) managed to break clear after 80 kilometres of racing and their advantage has quickly risen since they've been granted their freedom.

 

To borrow from Yogi Berra, it's déjà vu all over again the Vuelta today. Another flat start ensured another blisteringly quick opening to the action this afternoon. The bunch covered over 48 kilometres in the first hour of racing as escape attempt after escape attempt was thwarted by the speeding peloton. It was deep into the second hour before this current 11-man group managed to get its day pass stamped, and the pace in the main field has - mercifully - begun to drop off slightly. Even so, the average speed after two hours is an eye-watering 45. 4kph.

 

The déjà vu extends to the stage profile. A flattish opening half gives way to some lumpier terrain thereafter with the 3rd category Collado de Ozalba (after 124km) preceding the 2nd category Collado La Hoz 14km later. And, naturally, there is another summit finish to round things off - the ninth of this Vuelta.

As Alasdair Fotheringham explains

, however, the Fuente Dé should be slightly different to the veritable fiesta of Rodriguez/Contador slugging matches we've witnessed to date. Though 17.3km in length, the second category climb has an average gradient of just 3.9%, and so it seems unlikely that any of the top four will be able to make significant gains.

 

88km remaining from 187km

Garmin-Sharp have lifted the pace in the main peloton over the past ten kilometres, and the escapees' lead has been sliced to 2:03.

This was the lie of the land in the general classification before the resumption of hostilities after the rest day:

1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 63:38:24
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:28
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:04
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:04:52
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:06:58
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:07:28
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:08:28
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:09:00
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:09:11
10 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:11:44

Joaquim Rodriguez's overall lead may only be 28 seconds, but given the ease with which he has managed Contador on the steep summit finishes to date, the Catalan looks to be in a commanding position with just five days to go. Speaking during yesterday's rest day, Rodriguez acknowledged that his chances of victory were "considerable."

85km remaining from 187km

RadioShack-Nissan have now joined Garmin-Sharp on the front of the peloton in a bid to bring the break back, and they've shaved the gap down to 1:41. With this Vuelta ebbing away, RadioShack are keen to leave some kind of positive imprint on the race.

Indeed, due largely to the repeat wins of John Degenkolb, Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, there are plenty of teams out there looking to salvage something in the final week. Only eight teams have won stages at this Vuelta to date - Movistar, Katusha, Argos-Shimano, BMC, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Caja Rural, Astana and Orica-GreenEdge.

Alberto Contador is often a busy man on rest days, but he still found time fit a press conference into his schedule yesterday. The Spaniard, who returned from suspension at the beginning of August, vowed to keep battling all the way to Bola del Mundo, saying "I'd advise people to watch the stage."

75km remaining from 187km

Javier Ramirez (Caja Rural) had to sit out a couple of turns at the front of the break to visit the race doctor's care. According to lavuelta.com, a stone flew up and hit Ramirez in the nose, and the cut needed some attention. The Spaniard is now back with his breakaway companions, but their lead is down to 1:15.

68km remaining from 187km

The break is now on the climb of the Collado de Ozalba (5.9km at 6.6%) and their advantage has been narrowed down to 55 seconds.

67km remaining from 187km

Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) has been dropped by his breakaway companions on the climb.

David Moncoutié has jumped away from the main peloton and is attempting to bridge across to his Cofidis teammate Duque.

 

Meanwhile, Alessandro Ballan (BMC) attacks from the break.

64km remaining from 187km

The gap between the peloton and the break has dropped to scarcely 20 seconds as Moncoutie is swept back up. Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat) is the next to attack in attempt to bridge across.

Jeannesson gets significantly more purchase on his attack - the Frenchman has made it across to a thinned down leading group, which includes Terpstra, Pate, Ramirez, Pires, Ballan and Astarloza.

Meanwhile, the peloton has fractured on the approach to the summit of the climb and there is a group of 18 riders giving chase some 19 seconds behind our leaders. The main peloton is at 38 seconds.

63km remaining from 187km

Arnold Jeannesson led over the summit of the Collado de Ozalba, ahead of Niki Terpstra and Alessandro Ballan. Javier Ramirez, Danny Pate, Bruno Pires and Mikel Astarloza are the other four riders who have survived the climb in the leading group.

56km remaining from 187km

The gap between the break and that newly-formed chase group appears to have opened out on the descent of the climb. The second category Collado La Hoz (5.7km at 7.6%) follows almost immediately.

As the climb begins, the chase group is composed as follows: Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Sergio Luis Henao (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), David Moncoutié (Cofidis) Jesus Hernandez (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

The chasers have joined the break as the climb begins. The front group is composed as follows: Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Danny Pate (Sky), Bruno Pires (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM), Arnold Jeanesson (FDJ-BigMat), Javier Ramirez (Andalucia), Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD), Sergio Luis Henao (Sky), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan), David Moncoutié (Cofidis) Jesus Hernandez (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM), Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi)

53km remaining from 187km

It was interesting to note the presence of so many Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank riders in the leading group, and right on cue, Alberto Contador attacks from the main peloton on the climb of Collado La Hoz.

Contador has a lead of 16 seconds over Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde, who have set off in pursuit.

Contador is picking his way through the entrails of that large lead group and he will doubtless be hoping to join forces with his teammates Paulinho and Hernandez along the way.

Meanwhile, Alberto Losada (Katusha) has dutifully dropped back and is trying to help the red jersey Joaquim Rodriguez - and Alejandro Valverde - get back up to Contador.

Contador's lead over Rodriguez and Valverde remains pegged at 16 seconds, but Chris Froome (Sky) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) are among the riders struggling further down the road. They're currently 55 seconds down on Contador.

49km remaining from 187km

David Moncoutie (Cofidis) leads over the summit of the Collado La Hoz, ahead of Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat) and Alberto Contador. Rodriguez and Valverde reach the top 18 seconds later.

Froome and Gesink, meanwhile, have continued to concede ground on the climb. They begin the descent 1:18 down on Contador.

Contador is continuing to stretch out his advantage over Rodriguez on the descent of Collado La Hoz. His lead is now 20 seconds.

There are twelve others in the front group with Contador, and there's plenty of firepower in there: Alberto Contador, Sergio Paulinho (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Gorka Verdugo, Mikel Landa (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Paolo Tiralongo (Astana), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alexandre Geniez (Argos-Shimano), Sergio Luis Henao (Sky), Nairo Quintana, Benat Inxausti (Movistar), Arnold Jeannesson (FDJ-BigMat), Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and Jan Bakelants (RadioShack-Nissan).

30km remaining from 187km

According to the latest time check, Contador is overall leader on the road. He has 45 seconds in hand on the Rodriguez group...

28km remaining from 187km

While Sergio Paulinho sets a furious pace in the front group at the base of the descent, the red jersey of Rodriguez is in a smaller chase group 52 seconds behind: Joaquim Rodriguez, Alberto Losada (Katusha), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Bruno Pires, Jesus Hernandez (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) and Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi).

23km remaining from 187km

Contador's group now has 1:13 in hand over the Rodriguez group, six kilometres from the foot of the final climb. The peloton, which is now being led by Team Sky, is 2:42 down.

Contador's friend and former teammate Paolo Tiralongo attacks ahead of the intermediate sprint and Contador comes with him. The pair have opened out a ten-second gap over the rest of the break.

Contador famously granted Tiralongo a stage victory at Macugnaga at the 2011 Giro d'Italia. Tiralongo returned the favour by acting as a character witness for Contador at his CAS hearing last November, but the Sicilian is giving him another dig out here.

20km remaining from 187km

Contador picks up the six-second bonus for first place in the intermediate sprint, while the Rodriguez group is now 1:33 behind on the road.

Tiralongo and Contador are working smoothly together and have definitively broken from the breakaway group. As they approach the base of the final climb, Contador now has 1:41 in hand over Rodriguez, and the advantage seems to be growing.

17km remaining from 187km

Contador and Tiralongo begin the long climb to the finish, they have 1:50 in hand over the Rodriguez group.

16km remaining from 187km

Tiralongo is burying himself in the company of Contador. As the shallow climb begins, Tiralongo sits and sets a searing tempo while Contador bobs out of the saddle behind. 2:05 the gap to Rodriguez, while Froome is some 3:36 gap. Contador has blown the race to pieces the day after the rest day.

15km remaining from 187km

Tiralongo takes a bidon from the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank car as Contador comes through to take a turn on the front. The TVE cameras duly zoom in on the Saxo bidon in bottle cage in case we missed it.

Tiralongo and Contador have 25 seconds in hand on their erstwhile breakaway companions, but the time gap that matter is the one back to Rodriguez.

14km remaining from 187km

Now Rodriguez has a real problem - it seems as though Alberto Losada has been dropped out of his group and now Rodriguez must shoulder the pace-setting all by himself. The red jersey hits the front of the group with Valverde anchored to his rear wheel.

14km remaining from 187km

Alejandro Valverde is circling like a vulture. He attacks hard from behind Rodriguez's wheel. The red jersey gives chase but then sits heavily into the saddle and watches Valverde ride away from him. The Rodriguez group has splintered to pieces and the Katusha man's Vuelta challenge is in the balance now.

13km remaining from 187km

Contador jumps out of the saddle once again and eases away from Tiralongo. The Sicilian has done his bit and Contador now faces a solitary effort to the summit.

Rodriguez is in real difficulty and is now 2:20 down on Contador. To add insult to injury, he has Contador's teammate Jesus Hernandez weighing like an anchor on his rear wheel.

11km remaining from 187km

Alejandro Valverde is pulling well clear of the Rodriguez group, as his teammates Nairo Quintana and Benat Inxausti have dropped back to help pace him.

9km remaining from 187km

The green jersey of Valverde is now beginning to make some inroads into Contador's lead, but Rodriguez remains 2:25 behind and is watching his Vuelta hopes evaporate.

Quintana sits up, his job done, as Valverde moves up to pick off the remnants of Contador's former breakaway companions. Valverde trails Contador by 1:27.

7km remaining from 187km

Valverde has Geniez, Jeannesson and Inxausti for company, and they are the only chasers making inroads into Contador's lead. They trail by 1:15.

6km remaining from 187km

What a difference a rest day makes... Contador has taken flight while Rodriguez has had his wings clipped. The red jersey trails by 2:30 and is surely losing his chance of final overall victory.

Contador spent 6 months on the sidelines in the run-up to this Vuelta as he served part of his back-dated two-year ban for testing positive for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, but somehow he has come back to action almost without missing a beat.

5km remaining from 187km

Valverde, of course, is another man who retunrned from suspension in 2012, and he has bridged to the remnants of the earlier break. The second group on the road is 1:10 behind Contador.

4km remaining from 187km

Contador's face is betraying some signs of suffering and his advantage over Valverde is continuing to come down, but he continues to tap out a ferocious rhythm.

3km remaining from 187km

Valverde has barely relented all the way up this 17km-long climb. He is now drilling at the front of the second group, 43 seconds down on Contador. Rodriguez is slipping out of the top two positions and is 2:43 down on the road.

3km remaining from 187km

With 3km to go, Valverde is now just 30 seconds down on Contador, who is beginning to tie up. The Rodriguez group is 2:15 behind.

2km remaining from 187km

Valverde is riding as though he were on a motorbike. He has dragged his group up to within 25 seconds of Contador and barely seems to realise that Henao, Verdugo and Nocentini are hanging on to his rear wheel for grim death.

2km remaining from 187km

With a startling display, Valverde is only 15 seconds down on Contador with 2km to go, and looks set to catch him. Rodriguez's Vuelta hopes seem to be over, and the Bola del Mundo could instead stage a battle between Valverde and Contador.

1km remaining from 187km

Contador kicks once again as he comes within sight of the red kite, while Henao takes a quick turn on the front of the chase group.

The hyperactive Valverde takes over the chase once again, and he is just 12 seconds down on Contador, who is casting anxious glances over his shoulder.

Into the final 500 metres for Contador, who can sense Valverde closing in on him at the head of the chase group.

Contador looks set to take his first win since his return from suspension.

Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) takes the stage victory.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) wins the sprint for second place, 7 seconds down on Contador. Nocentini looks to have been third.

Alberto Contador will take control of the red jersey. Rodriguez is still out on the road and has already coughed up at least two minutes.

Rodriguez enters the finishing straight and grits his teeth. He's been totally isolated on this final climb.

A disappointed Rodriguez crosses the line 2:37 down on Contador, and he will now slip to 3rd overall.

Sergio Henao (Sky) was the man who finished third on the stage, ahead of Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel-Euskadi). The rest of the original break came home in ones and twos as the climb of Fuente Dé - or rather more accurately, the disquieting pace imposed by Contador and Valverde - did rather more damage than anybody anticipated before the stage.

 

Brief result:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 4:29:20
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
4 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
5 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:19

Andrew Talanksy (Garmin-Sharp) and Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) came in all of 4:48 down, while Chris Froome (Sky) lost 4:58.

Overall, Contador will now have a lead of almost 2 minutes on Valverde, almost 3 minutes on Rodriguez and over 9 on 4th-place Chris Froome.

Stage result:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 4:29:20
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
4 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
5 Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:19
6 Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:55
7 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:13
8 Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos-Shimano 0:01:40
9 Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:13
10 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:38

General classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 68:07:54
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:28

General classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 68:07:54
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:28
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:09:40
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:36
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:06
7 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:55
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:13:06
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:13:49
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:14:10

A bizarre day as Alberto Contador manages a remarkable transformation of his fortunes at the Vuelta a España to move into red, one month after completing his doping suspension. At 32 years of age and in his first season back after a two year ban, Alejandro Valverde rolls back the years with a startling showing on the shallow final climb to the line to move up to second place overall. Joaquim Rodriguez, seemingly impregnable thus far, suffers the dreaded jours sans when everybody was least expecting it. Elsewhere, the biggest time gaps of the Vuelta to date are opened on what was far from its toughest stage on paper.

Thanks for joining us for our live coverage, a full report will follow here, as well as all the reaction and news from Fuente Dé.

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