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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 20


Welcome to live coverage of stage 20 of the Vuelta a España, 170.7km from La Faisanera to Bola del Mundo.

115km remaining from 170km

110km remaining from 170km

Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) led the break over the day's first climb, the Navafría, after 39km, as he attempts to defend his lead in the mountains classification. The Australian had a two-point lead over Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) coming into today's stage, and the Catalan will surely be to the fore on the day's final climb, the special category Bola del Mundo.

The break's lead is up to 5:36 as they head towards the foot of the day's second climb, the second category Puerto de Canencia (9.8km at 3.9%).

The riders face no fewer than five climbs on today's mammoth stage - the aforementioned Navafria and Canencia, the two category 1 climbs of Puerto de la Morcuera (9.2 km at 6.9%) and Puerto de Cotos (13.8km at 4.9%) and, of course, the fearsome final climb to Bola del Mundo.

Alasdair Fotheringham sets the scene for the Bola del Mundo here. 11.5km in length with an average gradient of 8.6%, the sting cruelly comes in the tail, with slopes of up to 23% inside the final three kilometres. Alberto Contador may hold a healthy overall lead coming into today's stage, but today's ferocious finale leaves scope for twists and turns aplenty before the identity of the final overall winner is confirmed.

General classification ahead of stage 20:

102km remaining from 170km

The opening hours of racing today were beset by rainfall, although the break are currently riding over dry roads on the Canencia, with temperatures a pleasant 24 degrees. It's about 10 degrees cooler at the summit of Bola del Mundo, and there have been heavy showers there all morning.

98km remaining from 170km

Immediately after the descent of the Canencia, the riders head straight into the 1st category climb of the Puerto de la Morcuera, but there has been no reaction from the main peloton as yet and the gap is now out to 10 minutes.

While Simon Clarke has been battling to stock up on mountains points before Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez unsheath their swords later in the afternoon, Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) dismissed chasing the points as something of a fool's errand. 3rd in the mountains classification this morning, the Belgian had little inclination to try and win the competition outright. “I’m not interested,”  De Gendt said at the start. “I’ll stay quiet today. It’s worthless trying because Valverde and Purito will score more points at the summit finish. The king of the mountains will be between them.”

88km remaining from 170km

Euskaltel-Euskadi have now come to the front of the peloton and are helping Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank keep the break some way under control. It's interesting that Eusklaltel are working given that Romain Sicard is still up the road.

A steady drizzle is falling near the top of the Morcuera and a lot of the riders are wrapped up against the conditions accordingly.

Still no sign of life from Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, the only two men within 9 (!) minutes of Alberto Contador on the general classification. Rodriguez is all of 2:21 down but was determined to go out fighting this afternoon. “I want to win all classifications: points, mountains, combined… and the general as well," he said at the start.

80km remaining from 170km

The gap to the peloton is down to 8:22 as the break begins the slippery descent of the Morcuera. The GC contenders will need to be vigilant when they pass along here shortly.

Euskaltel-Euskadi are continuing to set the tempo on the front of the main peloton on the approach to the summit of the Morcuera. They trail the break by 8:10, and they'll need to start making significantly greater inroads into that advantage over the next climb if they are to haul Igor Anton back into contention for the stage win.

Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) has abandoned the Vuelta, just one day shy of the finish in Madrid. The German will doubtless be hoping to fine-tune his condition ahead of the world championships time trial over the coming ten days.

67km remaining from 170km

The men in the break have been taking it in turns to drop back to their team cars and relieve themselves of gilets and arm-warmers as they barrel along towards the foot of the day's penultimate climb, the Puerto de Cotos.

61km remaining from 170km

59km remaining from 170km

Gert Steegmans, not exactly noted for his climbing ability, is the man currently setting the tempo at the front of the break on the climb.

The pace is still quite sedate in the main peloton, in spite of Euskaltel-Euskadi's pace-making. Red jersey Alberto Contador sits up and languidly unfolds a gilet from his pocket and puts it on.

57km remaining from 170km

55km remaining from 170km

A number of riders are beginning to struggle in the peloton. John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) and Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) are among those grimacing at the rear, but as yet, there has been no major selection in the main field.

54km remaining from 170km

Contador and a platoon of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank riders are lined up behind the Euskaltel-Euskadi squad at the head of the peloton. A group of Movistar riders - Alejandro Valverde among them - are next in line, then Joaquim Rodriguez and a clutch of Katusha teammates.

51km remaining from 170km

David De La Fuente (Caja Rural) accelerates near the summit of the climb and eases clear to take the mountains points on offer. King of the mountains-elect Simon Clarke is happy to maintain a watching brief.

48km remaining from 170km

Before the descent starts in earnest, however, the break must first negotiate the 6km-long false flat that brings them to the day's first intermediate sprint at Puerto de Navacerrada.

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Euskaltel-Euskadi's tempo is beginning to make some inroads into the break's lead, and the gap is down to around 6 minutes. It's hardly been a resounding vote of confidence in Romain Sicard's form that his teammates have been drilling it behind for the last hour and a half, but at least the Frenchman has been able to sit on the break without having to share too much in the workload.

32km remaining from 170km

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Euskatel-Euskadi's pace-setting on the Cotos thinned down the peloton slightly but a number of riders have succeeded in making their way back on to the back on the long drop to the foot of Bola del Mundo.

20km remaining from 170km

17km remaining from 170km

Euskaltel continue to lead the peloton, but there is a notable Movistar presence towards the front end of the bunch now as they marshall Alejandro Valverde into position. The Spaniard spent 2011 and the second half of 2010 on the sidelines as he finally served a suspension for his dealings with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, but he returned in January of this year.

15km remaining from 170km

Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) puts in a testing injection of pace as the break tackles the false flat before the beginning of the final climb proper.

Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar), the first red jersey of this Vuelta, takes over at the front of the peloton as he and his teammates prepare the groundwork for Valverde.

Interesting to note Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) in amongst the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank riders surrounding Contador. The Sicilian had no reservations about helping his former team leader Contador when they found themselves in the break on Wednesday's stage.

12km remaining from 170km

Eros Capecchi is the first man to attack from the break, and he soon has Kevin De Weert and Maxime Bouet for company.

The stylish Capecchi sets a brisk pace, and then swing over to allow Bouet through.

Back in the main peloton, British champion Ian Stannard is drying to drag Chris Froome into position at the business end of affairs.

10km remaining from 170km

Kessiakoff's efforts took a little more out of him than he would have liked. When Richie Porte accelerates, only Menchov and De Weert can follow, while Kessiakoff  falls backwards with Bouet.

9km remaining from 170km

Porte and Menchov look relatievely comfortable, while De Weert grits his teeth on their rear wheel. Capecchi is within sight but not quite within touching distance.

8km remaining from 170km

Back in the main peloton, Alberto Contador is happy to bob up and down on the rear wheel of his principal challenger Alejandro Valverde.

7km remaining from 170km

The pace can hardly be described as relentless in the main  peloton as Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Bart De Clerq (Lotto Belisol) jump clear.

De Weert looks to be struggling in the lead group, and he is leaving the work to the considerable more fluid efforts of Menchov and Porte.

Ivan Velsasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi) is riding on the front of the main peloton, but as yet there has been no move from Valrerde or Rodriguez.

5km remaining from 170km

Porte and Menchov have done all the work, while De Weert has been happy to hold on to their coattails.

The red jersey group has been reduced to 25 riders or so, and the pace is beginning to take its toll. Robert Gesink (Rabobank) is near the front but he looks like he is suffering.

Benat Inxausti (Movistar) attacks with 6km to go, perhaps preparing the ground for Valverde to attack. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) moves across and shuts him down, but the pace is continuing to ratchet upwards in the peloton.

5km remaining from 170km

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Around a kilometre further back the road, Alejandro Valverde launches his first attack. Contador is smartly across to his back wheel, and Valverde opts to relent, swinging across the road and looking back at Contador as he does so.

3km remaining from 170km

Porte starts pressing as the road stiffens to 16%. Menchov is able to follow without undue difficulty. De Weert is clearly suffering but for now, he remains in contact.

Igor Anton remains just ahead of the red jersey group on the road, and Robert Gesink and Laurens ten Dam are trying to shut him down.

3km remaining from 170km

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Anton is trying to move past Andrew Talansky and Laurens ten Dam in the overall standings, but his task will become more complicated as the red jersey group hits the steep final 3.5km.

2km remaining from 170km

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank have taken over the pace-setting in the red jersey group now, but the Katusha duo of Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno are lining up with intent ahead of the steepest sections of this climb.

1km remaining from 170km

Moreno and Rodriguez set a fierce tempo and the red jersey group has been reduced significantly. Indeed, only Valverde and Contador can follow.

Moreno opens a gap to let Rodriguez through with a ferocious attack, but Contador is able to follow and Valverde drags himself across shortly afterwards. They're inside the final 2 kilometres and appear to have the measure of one another.

Rodriguez kicks again and brings Contador up to Igor Anton. Valverde has been distanced.

Rodriguez accelerates for the third time, and he has dropped Contador, albeit not by much. Contador has calculated that he cannot follow Rodriguez and he is looking to limit his losses.

1km remaining from 170km

Rodriguez is picking off the remnants of the break, while Contador is suffering behind. With 2:21 in hand and Valverde further behind, however, Contador can afford to concede some ground.

Menchov and Porte approach the final kick to the line side by side.

Menchov climbs out of the saddle with 200 metres to go and with a vicious dig, he opens an immediate gap. The Russian is set to take stage victory.

Denis Menchov (Katusha) wins the stage, 20 seconds ahead of Richie Porte.

De Weert is 3rd, 48 seconds down, but the focus now is further down the road, as Joaquim Rodriguez is streaking away from Contador.

Meanwhile, Valverde has found his way back up to Contador's rear wheel. They are around 25 seconds down on Rodriguez.

Danger here for Contador - the Spaniard has cracked and lost contact with Valverde's rear wheel. Surely he has enough of a buffer to retain his overall lead, but he is going to lose more time than he would have imagined.

Rodriguez crosses the line 3:34 down on Menchov. Valverde comes in 3:56 down, so he salvages his second place overall.

A tired Contador spills across the line 4:16 down overall. He will win the Vuelta a Espana from Valverde and Rodriguez after enduring a late, late scare on the Bola del Mundo.

Those final 3 kilometres have exacted a severe toll on the peloton. An exhausted Nicolas Roche crosses the line with one arm draped across the shoulder of his friend Simon Clarke.

Incidentally, Fredrik Kessiakoff took 4th hon the stage, ahead of Romain Sicard. Contador came in 12th at 4:15 and he retains red, 1:16 ahead of Valverde, 1:37 ahead of Rodriguez and 10:16 clear of Chris Froome (Sky).

It appears as though the top 10 overall will be unchanged after today's stage, although some of the time gaps will have contracted significantly.

Stage result:

General classification:

General classification:

Thanks for joining us for live coverage of today's stage. We'll be back with more tomorrow from the final day in Madrid, but before then, you read a full report and see full results and pictures here.

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