¡Hola! and welcome back to the Vuelta. Today's 164km stage 7 from Huesca to Alcañiz - Motorland Aragón in Northeastern Spain is pretty straightforward, without any particular difficulties. Another one for Argos-Shimano's John Degenkolb?
90km remaining from 164km
The stage began at 1.30pm local time in Huesca, and attacks went from the gun. After only two kilometres, a four-man group was allowed to go: Pablo Lechuga Rodriguez (Andalucia), Javier Francisco Aramendia Lorente (Caja Rural), Frantisek Rabon (Omega Phrama-QuickStep) and Bertjan Lindeman (Vacansoleil).
After 20 kilometres, the break already had four minutes advantage, and Argos-Shimano took control of the peloton's pace in order not to let them gain too much of a gap. It is expected that German Sprinter John Degenkolb will again try to win the stage today and increase his tally to three victories here at the Vuelta.
In the very beginning of the stage, just after the breakaway formed, Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Arnaud Courteille (FDJ-BigMat) crashed but have continued the race.
Again, we have a hot and sunny day here at the Vuelta, with temperatures reaching almost 35°Celsius. Enough to make the riders feel like they have a hair dryer blowing in their faces.
The best-placed rider of the breakaway is Lechuga, but at over 26 minutes off the GC leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), he's still no threat to the overall favourites.
Aramendia is currently the "red lantern" of the race - the last rider on GC, over one hour down - and had been in an escape already on the second stage, taking two points for the mountains jersey.
Of course, the big news today is not Vuelta-related. The fact that Lance Armstrong has decided not to fight the charges brought against him by USADA anymore could mean that the Texan will be stripped off his seven Tour de France victories, and be banned for life by the American Agency soon.
@gallagherbren Fri, 24th Aug 2012 14:52:30
69km remaining from 164km
Back in the race, the feed zone has slowed down the pace somewhat, extending the break's advantage to 4:45.
The temperature on the road has also risen to 36°C.
Today's stage finish, the MotorLand Aragón just outside of Alcañiz, is a 5.344 km motorsport race track, built in 2009. Since its inauguration, it has been the venue for two MotoGP events and the Renault World Series.
Elia Viviani, the sprinter of Italian team Liquigas-Cannondale, was excited at the prospect of another sprint finish at such a well-suited location like the race track.
"The only time I've raced on a motorway circuit was in the Tour of Utah last year but it was an individual time trial. I'm really looking foward to race at the Motorland Aragón, where there are wide roads with lots of bends. I'll need a more organized team and I'll have to be more aggressive to get a good position. I'll try to get on the wheel of John Degenkolb," he said at the start.
Argos is still leading the bunch out, together with RadioShack-Nissan, who are working for Daniele Bennati.
The roads are wide, straight, and the horizon seems endless in the flatlands of Spain.
63km remaining from 164km
The gap is down again to 3:34.
Maaskant (Garmin) and Tony Martin (Omega-QS) just crashed, probably touched wheels. Both are getting back on their bikes.
Martin has some mechaical problems with his back wheel. He'll have to chase back for a few kilometres....
54km remaining from 164km
The gap is coming down fast now, already down to 2:20.
They are coming up to a brisge crossing a river, good to know that htere is some water in the region...
Today, Joaquim Rodriguez is beating his record of number of days as the leader of the Vuelta. On the three previous occasions (2003, 2010, 2011), he didn't exceed one or two days.
'Purito' is no stranger to cycling on a motor racing circuit. "In Barcelona, the circuit of Catalunya is open some evenings, so I've trained there sometimes," he said before the stage.
"A stage of the Tour of Catalunya that I won (2010) finished there. I like this idea of finishing today's stage on the Motorland of Aragon. I'm also a fan of [moto GP pilot] Dani Pedrosa. We know each other. He's come and trained with me sometimes."
Runner-up Chris Froome (Sky), who grew up in South Africa, already took part in the 94.7, a popular race that starts and finishes on the circuit of Kyalami near Johannesburg.
They are coming up to a bridge crossing a river, good to know that htere is some water in the region...
The four escape riders only have 1:24 left up the road. But the bunch won't want to catch them too soon and has taken some speed out now, as the race heads towards the intermediate sprint.
The four front riders don't agree anymore. Rabon signals the others to ride, but not all of them seem to have power left.
RadioTour tells us it's 38°C outside. That's the Vuelta as we know it.
Nacer Bouhanni, the French national champion, would also like to score for FDJ-BigMat today. "The team will protect me all day. Bonnet and Rollin will lead me out. If they can't, I want them to tell me before. The last curve is 400 metres before the line. I know what I have to do for winning but I've never raced on a Moto GP circuit before," he commented on today's stage finish.
There's some wind blowing on the riders again today. Daniele Bennati (RadioShack-Nissan) is not a fan of the hot gusts:
"I've only seen the circuit pictured in the road book. It seems wide and fast with a slightly uphill finish. Hopefully the wind will not create confusion today. If there's confusion, I won't even try to sprint."
Allan Davis, on the other hand, is no stranger to sprinting on a Moto GP circuit. "I did it at the Tour of Japan and I finished third," he said.
But he didn't call soon-to-be retired world champion Casey Stoner, who is a good cyclist himself and a good friend of Stuart O'Grady, to get further information on the MotorLand Aragón. On his motorbike, Stoner is a former winner of the GP Aragón.
Our reporter on the ground, Alasdair Fotheringham, has been trying to gather reactions to the USADA vs. Lance Armstrong case this morning, asking Vuelta director Javier Guillén for comment.
"We're in the Vuelta and I want to talk about the riders of the Vuelta. I do like debates about cycling but without prejudging anybody, I don't like the ones about doping."
Asked if this represented a step forward for the battle against doping, Guillén responded, "Cycling has already shown that it is making a big fight against doping, on all fronts. But there are still things to be sorted out, such as the times we take in these cases like this one, which is far too long. But cycling is the sport which has fought the most and which continues to fight the most against doping. But I'm not going to pass judgement on this particular case."
Race leader Joaquim Rodriguez also did not want to comment: "We're concentrating on the Vuelta and until we get more information out in the open I will have to reserve judgement."
With less than 30 kilometres to go, the break just has a little more than a minute left.
Rabon is attacking out of the break!
Lindeman has bridged up to Rabon, while Aramendia struggles. But the Spaniard manages to get across.
27km remaining from 164km
Lechuga has been dropped, there are three riders left at the front, still attacking each other.
Lindeman is in front now, with Rabon and Aramendia coming up again to join him. These three definitely don't get along.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step may have Rabon in the break, but team manager Patrick Lefévère will work for Gert Steegmans in the likely case of a sprint. Lefévère, however, wasn't sure Steegmans has what it takes to win a bunch sprint finish anymore.
"It's probably possible to lose the habit of winning. That's what came to my mind two days ago when Gert Steegmans got a perfect lead out but didn't use it. However, he has always been an unpredictable sprinter: sometimes he can do incredible sprints when we don't expect it, sometimes he he's invisible when we thinking he'll go for it. Maybe he takes less risks since he has become a father. We'll work for him with the hope that he wants to sprint."
20km remaining from 164km
The leading trio is working togather again. There's no real point in splitting up now, with the bunch only 24 seconds behind them...
@opqscyclingteam Fri, 24th Aug 2012 16:05:53
They have reached Alcaniz now. Aramendia is sitting up.
Ha, Aramendia came back to the two for the second intermediate sprint, but Lindeman finally took the points... there was some rivalry between the Spaniard and the Northern European riders of the break.
Rabon and Lindeman are not giving up, trying desperately to stay away.
15km remaining from 164km
But now they're caught, as the bunch rides hard for the finale.
A RadioShack rider is at the front, followed by three Katusha riders. They are really driving it now, getting on a motorway again towards the race track.
12km remaining from 164km
All the teams work on their positioning now. Let's see if Argos-Shimano can live up to today's expectations once again after having worked for Degenkolb all day today.
@TeamSky Fri, 24th Aug 2012 16:18:05
Another crash in the middle of the field! Clement from Rabobank is down, Niermann, De la Fuente... but all get up again.
Gerdemann from RadioShack also went down, as well as Markel Irizar. They are more or less unhurt, though.
8km remaining from 164km
So the bunch has split in two groups. We don't know if any sprinters have been trapped.
@TeamSky Fri, 24th Aug 2012 16:21:21
They have entered the Moto GP circuit now.
5km remaining from 164km
The peloton is strung out but they seem to have some side wind.
The second bunch is trying to come back, with Steve Morabito (BMC) hoping he won't lose additional time for the GC today.
BMC succeeded, they've rejoined the first bunch.
2km remaining from 164km
Another S curve with 2 clicks to go. And another one. They're pacing at 58 Km/h, should be fun!
Sky is working hard for Froome, there was a small gap but now they're back together.
And Degenkolb takes his third win!
He started his sprint from far out, and was able to fight off Bouhanni, as well as Viviani, who finishes second.
Davis finished third, Bouhanni fourth, and Bennati fifth.
Degenkolb is impressive: 3 victories out of 3 sprint finishes at this Vuelta!
1 John Degenkolb (Ger) Argos-Shimano 3:48:30
2 Elia Viviani (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
3 Allan Davis (Aus) Orica - GreenEdge
4 Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan
6 Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
7 Dennis Van Winden (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
8 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
10 Ben Swift (GBr) Sky Procycling
General classification after stage 7
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 25:53:04
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:10
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:36
4 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:54
5 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:54
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:04
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:12
8 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:17
9 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:37
10 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling 0:01:39
Thanks for having joined us again today. Tomorrow's stage 8 will be one for the climbers again, with a summit finish in Andorra. Adios!
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