Stage 16 of the Vuelta a España, 146.8 kilometres from Graus to Aramón Formigal.
The final instalment of the Vuelta's Pyrenean triptych sees the race revisit the site of its first ever summit finish, the category 1 Formigal (15.8km at 4%). Over the past two days, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has affected the air of a man utterly at ease with the burden of race leadership but has yet to garland his race with a true show of force. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) remains just 50 seconds behind, while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) lingers in third place, at 1:42.
97km remaining from 146km
It's been a rapid start to proceedings on stage 16. An early eight-man move featuring Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) shot away after 5 kilometres but a stiff chase from Movistar ensured that they were never fully out of the peloton's sights.
The eight had 42 seconds at the foot of the day's first climb, the category 3 Puerto de la Foradada. There was plenty of movement in the main field on the climb, however, as first Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) and later Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) led sizeable delegations off the front of the peloton and across to the escapees.
Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) led Hansen over the top of the climb, and by the time they reached the bottom of the descent, there were some 23 riders together off the front of the race, including Scarponi, Majka, Uran, Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Boasson Hagen, Flecha, Benat Inxtausti (Movistar) and Eros Capecchi (Movistar).
Mindful of Movistar's emissaries in the break, Astana diligently set about shutting down the move and the race all came back together after 50 kilometres. All of this took place at a leg-searing pace, of course, and the bunch covered a remarkable 46 kilometres in the first hour of racing.
93km remaining from 146km
At the first intermediate sprint in Boltaña, Alejandro Valverde gave an indication of his willingness to carry the fight to Nibali by claiming first place and picking up a three-second time bonus for his troubles. The Spaniard beat Andriy Grivko (Astana) and Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
85km remaining from 146km
Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) has been an aggressive presence at this Vuelta, and the veteran has led another breakaway attempt off the front of the peloton.
80km remaining from 146km
Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Dominik Nerz (BMC), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Nico Sijmens (Cofidis), Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura), Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Martin Kohler (BMC) are clear of the peloton with a lead of 1:05. It looks as though a move has finally gained some traction, although Movistar are maintaining a presence at the head of the peloton for now.
76km remaining from 146km
This is a very solid breakaway group but Movistar are refusing to allow them too much of a gap. The break are heading towards the second category Puerto de Cotefablo, which begins with 58 kilometres to go, although the road rises steadily before the climb begins in earnest.
The 12km-long ascent of the Cotefablo is followed by a rapid descent before the race reaches Biescass and this is where things start to get very interesting, and our man Alasdair Fotheringham has alerted us to a potential ambush climb before the summit finish to Formigal. With 25 kilometres to go, the race swings left off the main road and onto a narrow, twisting road up through Tramacastila de Tena. Although uncategorised, this is very steep and potentially very difficult little climb, and it’s followed by a sinuous descent back down to the main road.
The final climb to Formigal is far from the toughest in this Vuelta, although it is not without its difficulties. After a steady start on the main road, the race will cross a dam and tackle on four kilometres on a steeper, narrower road. With 11 kilometres to go, it settles into a somewhat steadier climb, although the road surface poses its own difficulties. An easier section follows, before the final 6km-long kick up to the ski station at the top. Again, the gradient is not the hardest in and of itself, but the road surface makes things a little tougher than they otherwise might be.
68km remaining from 146km
Flecha, Txurruka, Martinez, Uran and company have stretched their lead out to 1:22, but it seems clear that they won't be allowed any great leeway, even though the best placed man on general classification - Chris Anker Sorensen - is 22:17 down in 20th position overall.
The general classification picture before today's stage is as follows:
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 60:20:21
2 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:50
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:42
4 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:57
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:43
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:49
7 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:04:59
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:06:18
9 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:07:46
10 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:09:11
59km remaining from 146km
On the early slopes of the Cotefablo, the break has a lead of 1:20 over the main peloton.
56km remaining from 146km
After yesterday's stage, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) admitted that Nibali and Horner were stronger than him and appeared almost to rule himself out of the running for overall victory. The other man charged with leading the home challenge, Alejandro Valverde, was a little more bullish about his chances, and the Spaniard is clearly feeling confident this afternoon. His Movistar team continues to work at the head of the peloton and they have cut the break's lead to 40 seconds.
Thanks in no small part to the stiff pace being imposed in the peloton, the average speed after two hours of racing was some 44kph. On paper, this may be far from the toughest mountain stage in this year's Vuelta, but there will be some very tired legs in the red jersey by the time it hits the final ascent.
50km remaining from 146km
Movistar duo Benat Ixtausti and Sylvester Szmyd have attacked from the main peloton and bridged across to the leaders. The onus to lead the chase will now pass to the Astana squad of Vincenzo Nibali.
48km remaining from 146km
Bolstered by the Movistar pair, the break's lead stretches out to 1:20, and a number of riders are trying to bridge across from the main peloton, including Vladimir Gusev (Katusha) and Jorge Azanza (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
46km remaining from 146km
The break hits the top of the Cotefablo with a lead of 30 seconds over a while a sizeable chase group featuring Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano), while Astana leads the main peloton to the summit around 45 seconds down.
43km remaining from 146km
There may well be a conflation of the two leading groups on the rapid descent of the Cotefablo, but Astana are also pushing hard to plug the gaps a little further behind.
40km remaining from 146km
For the record, Nico Sijmens led Txurruka and Martinez over the summit of the Cotefablo.
There are a dozen riders or so caught in the no-man's land between the red jersey group and the leaders, but it does not appear that any of Nibali's red jersey rivals have managed to leap aboard that chasing group.
33km remaining from 146km
The leading group has swollen to 20 riders or so at the base of the descent, as the chasers have latched on. Both Chris Anker and Niki Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff) are in this leading group, as well as the Movistar pairing of Szmyd and Inxtausti, and the onus is very much on Astana to shut this move down.
30km remaining from 146km
Astana have relented their pace at the front of the main peloton, and the large leading group is now stretching its lead out in excess of two minutes.
The escapees include Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural), Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM), Dominik Nerz (BMC), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff), Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Nico Sijmens (Cofidis), Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura), Rigoberto Uran (Sky), Martin Kohler (BMC), Sylvester Szmyd (Movistar), Benat Inxtausti (Movistar), Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge), Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano), Vladimir Gusev (Katusha), Niki Sorensen (Saxo-Tinkoff), Ben Gastauer (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Juan Manuel Garate (Belkin). There's a good mix of climbing talent and raw horsepower here as the road begins to climb gently towards the foot of the final climb to the finish.
27km remaining from 146km
2:30 is the gap between the peloton and the break, as Astana set a steady tempo on the front of the bunch.
Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) is full of confidence after his fine stage win on Friday, and the French youngster is setting a determined tempo at the head of the race on a long, steady uphill section.
Ahead of the sharp uncategorised climb through Tramacastilla de Tena, the break has three minutes in hand on the peloton. Incidentally, Mikael Cherel, and not Ben Gastauer, is the Ag2r man in this move. Gastauer is in a small chase group some 50 seconds down on the leaders.
24km remaining from 146km
Joaquim Rodriguez remains in the red jersey group for now, but the Catalan might be tempted to try and jump away on the final climb. For a closer look at Rodriguez's Canyon and all of the other pro bikes on show at the recent EuroBike fair, click
23km remaining from 146km
Astana seem happy to allow the break build on its lead ahead of the final climb, and Euskaltel-Euskadi have now taken over the reins in the main peloton. 3:12 the gap.
20km remaining from 146km
The orange jerseys of Euskaltel-Euskadi have massed at the head of the peloton, and they are beginning to whittle away at the break's lead.
20km remaining from 146km
The break has swung left onto the deceptively tough uncategorised climb through Tramacastilla de Tena, and this could see the strongmen begin to emerge.
Once again, Barguil is the man on the front of the break when the gradient begins to bite, and the break is starting to fragment under his forcing.
Rigoberto Uran (Sky) and Juan Manuel Garate (Belkin) are also among the strongest men in this break, at least on the evidence of this brief stiffening of the gradient ahead of the climb proper.
17km remaining from 146km
The break was stretched taut on that "ambush" climb but it seems that the elastic is unbroken and all are still aboard as they drop down over the other side. Their lead also remains more or less intact, as they hold an advantage of 3:05 over the Euskaltel-led peloton.
16km remaining from 146km
The descent is a technical one, and a rider willing to take a risk or two might be able to open a gap here.
Juan Manuel Garate (Belkin) attempts to open a lead on the descent,b but he is soon brought to heel. Once the road starts to climb again, however, a split appears in the break. Barguil, Uran, Txurruka, Garate, Kohler, Cherel, Inxtausti and Martinez have a small lead over the rest of the break.
15km remaining from 146km
Barguil can't resist showing off his good form every time the road rises, and he has idenitified himself as one of the real danger men in this breakaway. Uran has been less conspicuous, but the Colombian appears comfortable nonetheless.
The break regrouped just as the final climb to Formigal began, but the attacking will surely splinter its unity once the climb begins in earnest.
13km remaining from 146km
Juan Manuel Garate jumps clear on a false flat and opens a small gap, but not surprisingly, Warren Barguil is leading the chase behind.
12km remaining from 146km
Garate, Barguil and Mikael Cherel have gone clear at the head of the race, while the remnants of the break chase in ones and twos behind them. Three minutes down the road, Euskaltel-Euskadi continue to wind up the pace in the main peloton.
10km remaining from 146km
The trio of Barguil, Garate and Cherel is brought to heel as the gradient begins to stiffen, while the peloton chases 2:45 behind.
9km remaining from 146km
As soon as he is reeled in, Warren Barguil jumps clear again. The Frenchman has been very, very aggressive today and has built up a decent gap over the rest of the break.
9km remaining from 146km
Barguil reaches the 9km to go banner with a lead of 13 seconds over the first of the chasers, Rigoberto Uran and Dominic Nerz.
Barguil is in full flight and pedalling with considerable fluidity here but there is still a long way to the finish and there are some quality riders giving chase just behind.
8km remaining from 146km
Barguil is streching out his lead. He has 20 seconds over a five-man group including Txurruka, Uran and Nerz.
Uran is looking around for help in the chasing group, which now contains ten riders or so. The stylish Barguil casts a glance over his shoulder to gauge the progress of the chasers, who are a couple of bends below him on this climb.
7km remaining from 146km
Barguil continues to tap out his rhythm and his lead continues to grow over chasers who are unable to organise a cohesive pursuit. His gap is now 34 seconds.
6km remaining from 146km
The road flattens out briefly at this point, and Barguil tucks himself into a more aerodynamic position in a bid to maintain his advantage.
6km remaining from 146km
Barguil's margin remains 34 seconds at the 6km to go mark, while Txurruka, Cherel and Inxtausti lead the chase behind.
5km remaining from 146km
Barguil is eating up the ground and has even added another handful of seconds to his lead on a flatter section that ought to favoured the chasers behind. Barguil's lead now stands at 38 seconds.
4km remaining from 146km
Rigoberto Uran (Sky) makes his mvoe and rips clear of the chasing group. Dominic Nerz (BMC) digs in and follows at a close distance.
4km remaining from 146km
Uran cuts the gap to 30 seconds with 4 kilometres to go, while Nerz continues to dig in a little bit behind him. Euskaltel still lead in the main peloton, but no move from the overall contenders as yet.
3km remaining from 146km
As the gradient kicks up once again, Nerz joins with Uran and Barguil maintains a lead of 34 seconds over the pursuers.
3km remaining from 146km
Barguil is clearly suffering but so far, the youngster is not flagging. This is a fine showing from the Frenchman but the pursuit will be ferocious behind.
2km remaining from 146km
Uran kicks again and drags Nerz with him. They are closing in on Barguil.
Back in the red jersey group, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) launches his long-awaited acceleration. Nibali doesn't bat an eyelid and lets his Astana team shut down the move.
1km remaining from 146km
Up front, Barguil is rocking from side to side as he desperately seeking to hold off the chasers.
Nicolas Roche is the next man to attack in the red jersey group, and as soon as he is caught, Joaquim Rodriguez rips his way clear and opens a small gap. The red jersey group is two kilomerres from the finish.
Up front, Barguil appears to be suffering with cramp and Uran is closing alone as they approach the red kite.
1km remaining from 146km
Uran accelerates fiercely and catches Barguil just as they enter the final kilometre. Barguil puts in a big effort and latches onto his wheel.
Behind, Horner goes after Rodriguez and Nibali appears to be in difficulty. He is unable to follow Horner and struggles when Valverde puts in a big acceleration.
As Uran and Barguil play cat and mouse in the final 500 metres, Nerz and Bartosz Huzarski (Net App-Endura) arrive at their coattails. This could be a four-man sprint for the line...
Uran opens the sprint and that's enough to hold off the two chasers. It's Uran versus Barguil...
Warren Barguil (Argos-Shimano) wins the stage, just ahead of Uran. What a dramatic finish, and there are plenty of fireworks in the fight for red too...
Valverde, Horner and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) have left a struggling Nibali behind and are bridging up to Rodriguez.
Horner and Valverde and opening a decent gap on Nibali, who is showing weakness for the very first time in this Vuelta a Espana. The red jersey group completely fragmented in these final two kilometres and Nibali has been left isolated.
Rodriguez crosses the line 1:43 down on Barguil, while Horner, Valverde and Pinot come home just three seconds further back.
The remants of the red jersey group are edging up the finishing straight in ones and twos, and a tired Nibali crosses the line 2:08 back on Barguil. Nibali defends his red jersey, but Horner appears to have slashed 25 seconds or so off his lead.
In the overall standings, Horner has closed to just 28 seconds behind Nibali.
1 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Argos-Shimano 3:43:31
2 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling
3 Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:03
4 Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team 0:00:08
5 José Herrada Lopez (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:20
6 Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:37
7 Maciej Paterski (Pol) Cannondale Pro Cycling
8 Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Por) Caja Rural 0:00:40
9 Amets Txurruka (Spa) Caja Rural 0:00:42
10 Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:45
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 64:06:01
2 Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:28
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:14
4 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha 0:02:29
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:03:38
6 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:03:43
7 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ 0:04:37
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura 0:06:17
9 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:07:33
10 Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team 0:09:21
Thanks for joining us for our live coverage from the Vuelta a España today. A full report, results and pictures will be available here in due course, and stay with Cyclingnews for all the reaction to a fascinating afternoon that saw Vincenzo Nibali offer some hope to his rivals as the Vuelta heads into its second rest day.
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