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Vuelta a España 2012: Stage 3


Live coverage of stage 3 of the Vuelta a España, 155.3km into the Basque Country from the Faustino V wine cellars to the climb of Arrate at Eibar.

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The attacking began almost as soon as the flag was dropped this afternoon. Carrasco and Rollin jumped off the front of the peloton inside the opening kilometre of racing, and they were quickly joined by their six companions.

The octet covered 37.1km in the first hour of racing, including the 11km-long second category climb of the Alto La Aldea. Ligthart was the first to the summit of the climb, ahead of Philippe Gilbert and Andrey Zeits.

Although its average gradient is a very manageable 3.8%, the speed on the Aldea saw the peloton split briefly but there has since been a general regrouping behind.

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Castroviejo insists that he expects to lose his red jersey on the final climb of the Alto de Arrate this afternoon, but Movistar will be disappointed if the jersey doesn't stay within the team. The exciting Nairo Quintana lies second overall, while Alejandro Valverde and defending champion Juan Jose Cobo also ought to be involved at the business end of the action today.

The Arrate is a climb with a rich history, but one that has been absent from the Vuelta for the past 38 years. Thankfully, last year saw the Vuelta make a hugely successful return to the Basque Country after a 33-year absence, and this time around, the race visits one of the region's most enduring climbs. Alasdair Fotheringham traces the history of the climb at the Vuelta, Tour of the Basque Country and the Euskal Bizikleta here.

Today's stage is to all intents and purposes a summit finish, but after the top of the Arrate (5.5km at 7.8%), there are still two kilometres of false flat before the line, not unlike the climb to Lago Laceno at this year's Giro.

Before that, the peloton will tackle the 3rd category climbs of the Puerto de Vitoria (66km) and the Puerto de Campazar (120km), but expect the overall contenders to keep their powder dry for the day's final climb. As Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) pointed out to, "There will be no great differences today, but we will see who will not win the Vuelta."

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In spite of the searing temperatures, the break is setting a resolute tempo on the Puerto de Vitoria and stretching out its advantage over the peloton. Their lead is now 4:20.

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The peloton reaches the top of the day's second climb 4:09 behind the eight leaders.

As the race enters his native Basque Country, Igor Anton will be among the riders aiming to impress. Twelve months ago, the Euskaltel-Euskadi man took a stirring stage victory in front of enormous and passionate crowds in Bilbao. This time around, he has the

While the temperatures out on the course are touching a balmy 38 degrees, we're informed that it's mercifully cooler at the finish at Arrate. It's worth noting that in the years since its switch to the its Autumnal slot on the calendar in 1995, the Vuelta start has nudged further and further into August. Back in 1995, some wondered if the weather was impacting too much on the action when Laurent Jalabert, Abraham Olano et al had to battle some decidely wintry conditions in the gloom of the Pyrenees in the third week, but in recent seasons, the soaring temperatures of the opening half of the race have exacted a similar toll on the peloton's resources.

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The eight escapees are currently pedalling through some typically verdant Basque terrain en route to the day's third climb, the Puerto de Campazar, while Movistar continue to peg back the gap steadily, and the peloton is now 3:20 behind.

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All eyes will, of course, be on Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) this afternoon. Back in action after the expiry of his backdated suspension for his positive test for clenbuterol at the 2010 Tour de France, Contador set out his stall yesterday by snapping up a two-second bonus in an intermediate sprint. The Spaniard reckons that

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Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde, Juan Jose Cobo and Alberto Contador are all placed towards the front end of the peloton on this climb. The real blows won't be dealt until the final haul up the Arrate but the contenders are beginning the survey the battlefield nonetheless.

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Movistar continue to set the pace at the front end of the peloton, but there is a phalanx of Katusha riders on the right-hand side of the road shepherding Joaquim Rodriguez. The Catalan has some very solid support at this Vuelta in the shape of Dani Moreno and Denis Menchov.

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The lime green helmets of Movistar are the arrowhead at the front of the peloton, but there is plenty of jostling for positions in their slipstream on the run-in towards the day's final climb.

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Dominique Rollin (FDJ-BigMat) jumps away from his companions to pick up the bonus seconds at Zaldibar, but he doesn't continue in his effort afterwards, and the eight leaders continue to work together.

The pace has gone up a notch or three in the main peloton. As they swept through the sprint at Zaldibar, their deficit had been reduced to 1:36.

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No sooner do Sky marshal Froome to the front than a Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank delegation muscles its way into position at the head of the bunch in support of Alberto Contador. The shadow boxing commences in earnest.

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The narrow roads on this approach are hardly made any easier by the cars parked along the kerbside.

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Alberto Contador is sitting in second wheel now as the peloton is strung out in one long line. Froome is on his wheel, with Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez lined up behind him.

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Jonathan Castroviejo has been dropped by the leaders, and the front end of the peloton has been whittled down to just 20 or so riders, although the pace has steadied slightly.

Contador has dropped back into the relative sanctuary of the leading group. Sergio Henao leads Chris Froome.

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Froome and Rodriguez are both able to follow and it looks as though we might have a rather elite front group of four fighting for the honours.

The pace peters out when Froome hits the front and Igor Anton attempts to drag himself back on terms.

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Contador's move fizzles out, although he has shed more riders from the rear of the leading group. Nicolas Roche and then Igor Anton are the next take over at the front of the race.

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Inside the final kilometre, Contador launches yet another attack, but Valverde pegs him back.

With 400 metres to go, Rodriguez shoots off the front of the leading group in what looks to be the winning move. Only Valverde can follow, while Contador and Froome have been caught on the back foot...

Valverde pips Rodriguez at the finish line to take the stage win by the tightest of margins. The Spaniard will also move into the red jersey of overall leader.

That sprint was incredibly close and we're awaiting confirmation that it was indeed Valverde who took the win ahead of Rodriguez. Just behind them, Froome took the sprint for third ahead of Contador.

Confirmation: Valverde has won the stage, just ahead of Rodriguez. Froome and Contador crossed the line together in 3rd and 4th, while Daniel Moreno (Katusha) came home in 5th place, 6 seconds down, just ahead of Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale), Benat Intxausti (Movistar), Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank).

Froome's third-place finish sees him pick up four seconds' worth of time bonuses on Alberto Contador.

Stage result:

Valverde's 12-second bonus for winning the stage means that he will carry an 18-second lead over teammate Benat Inxausti into tomorrow's stage.

Overall standings:

Nicolas Roche, Rigoberto Uran and Igor Anton were also in that group that finished 6 seconds down on Valverde, Rodriguez, Contador and Froome. Juan Jose Cobo's Vuelta defence is in difficulty, however, as he couged up 50 seconds on the final climb, along with Maxime Monfort (RadioShack-Nissan). Damiano Cunego lost 1:28, Denis Menchov 1:52 and Thomas De Gendt 2:07. Other men to record surprisingly large losses include Nairo Quintana (2:57) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (3:23). The Vuelta hasn't been won on the Subida a Arrate, but for some, it has been all but lost.

Thanks for joining us for our live coverage of today's stage. A full report, results and pictures will be on Cyclingnews here, as well as all the news from a fascinating day's racing in the Basque Country. We'll be back with more from stage 4, which features a summit finish at the Estación de Valdezcaray.

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