Hola and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Today's stage is the first of three mountain stages in the north of Spain which are expected to shake up and possibly decide the overall classification of the Vuelta.
The stage is 200km long but includes 60km of climbing.
There are three main climbs: the mid-race 2nd category La Collada la Hoz (7.1km at an average gradient of 6%), then the the 21 km long climb of the Puerto de San Glorio (1st category after km 131), with the finish at La Camperona (1st category, 8.3km at an average of 7.5%).
Javier Guillén, general director of the Vuelta, describes La Camperona as a “bestial climb”. “This finale is part of our philosophy to create spectacular finishes,” he said.
As we join the race, the break of the day includes 23 riders and is on the first climb. The riders have a lead of 5:20 on the peloton.
Riders in the break include Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka), Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Oliver Zaugg and Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Yet again, race leader Alberto Contador has placed riders in the break, so that his teammates do not have to lead the chase behind.
117km remaining from 200km
Indeed the gap is rising and is now 5:30. The break could stay away today. We'll know in 115km.
From the Cyclingnews blimp we can see the weather is sunny and warm at the moment but there is a risk of rain showers later, perhaps as the riders hit the climb to the finish.
Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural) is in the break and was the first to the top of the Collada la Hoz climb.
The gap is still around 5:30 as the riders cover the descent.
The first climb to Collada La Hoz is where Alberto Contador turned the Vuelta upside down two years ago as he dethroned Purito Rodriguez.
“This is not a good memory for me”, said Paolo Tiralongo who was said to have helped his former team-mate Contador. “I wanted to win the stage and I finished exhausted. The downhill is awful. It’s very technical.”
Alberto Contador was more upbeat at the start.
“If I see an opportunity, I’ll try to win a stage but my priority is the overall classification.” He has a gear of 39x30 for climbing at La Camperona.
102km remaining from 200km
The break has reached the feedzone for a late lunch. The gap remains close to 5:30.
Sadly the IAM Cycling teams has lost two riders today with Dominic Klemme and Johann Tschopp abandoning the race.
None of the riders in the break are an overall threat to Contador's lead. However Tinkoff-Saxo is setting the tempo. Zaugg and Paulinho are in the break but could be useful to Contador if there are attacks on the second climb of the day.
As the break begins the Puerto de San Glorio clmib, the Caja Rural duo of Arrayo and Sanchez has accelerated away. The climb is 20.9km long and so will no doubt shake up the break.
The two Spanish riders have opened a 20-second gap after Jacques Van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) was unable to stay with them.
Behind the break has split but other riders are trying to stay in contact and perhaps form a bigger group on the descent and valley roads.
Arroyo and Sanchez lead the peloton by 8:00 with the 12 chasers at 40 seconds.
Behind the OPQS team has upped the pace for Uran but Contador and the other big names quickly get on his wheel. This is getting interesting.
The sprinters have been dropped as a consequence of OPQS upping the pace. John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) is one of them.
Cadel Evans (BMC) has also been dropped. So has Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
It seems that Peter Sagan (Cannondale) has retired and put an end to his Vuelta.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) shared his thoughts on today's climbs.
“We’ve got two hard days coming up. It’s going to be tough racing. I’ll ride the last two kilometers of the stage like a time trial again. In such a climb, it doesn’t matter which wheel to follow. You’ve got the legs or not. I remember Collada La Hoz when Contador attacked. But it can’t have the same impact on the race this time around. Even the second climb, with 70km to go, is too far away from the finish.”
The work of the OPQS team has cut the lead of the breakaways by a minute. The gap to Sanchez is down to 5:40.
Sanchez and Arroyo are about to be caught by the 12 chasers as they near the summit of the climb.
The peloton has crossed the summit of the climb, 5:00 behind the breakaway of 14 riders.
With just over 60km to go, the race is ready to explode. The break could stay away with the best climbers fighting for victory. However behind the overall contenders are ready for a fight too.
The riders in the break -now down to 13- are not working smoothly together and so the gap is falling rapidly. The break is falling apart because some riders don't want to work.
The OPQS team is still leading the peloton in pursuit of the break.
53km remaining from 200km
The roads are flat now as they head towards the foot of the final climb, with Boonen now on the front behind after dropping back from the break.
Rigoberto Uran seems keen to take on the race today. He may want to try to test Contador and Valverde on the final climb and extend his lead on Chris Froome (Team Sky).
There's lots of great racing going on around the world today, including the US Criterium championships.
You can watch the racing live on Cyclingnews here.
Alberto Contador looks cool and relaxed in the red leader's jersey. He's focused on the final climb and especially the final three kilometres that include the steepest sections.
The race is passing the stunning Riano reservoir but the mountains are looming.
Behind the hard racing has taken its toll on Lawson Craddock (Giant-Shimano), the talented young American rider, has abandoned the Vuelta.
37km remaining from 200km
The gap is back to 5:40 but the break is not working well together.
33km remaining from 200km
The OPQS chase seems to have lost its bite, with the gap now extending to more than six minutes.
The break could now stay clear and so fight for stage victory.
The break curves around the top of the dam and working much now. The gap is up to 6:30, with Tinkoff-Saxo now controlling the peloton.
Joaquim 'Purito' Rodriguez might try an attack today, to move past Froome overall and take fourth place.
“Today it’s a beautiful stage. It’s going to be the third fast day of racing in a row. The hard racing yesterday will make today a great race because some riders will feel it in their legs. Personally, I feel great. I think today’s stage is good for me. Moreover, I like to see that I have a super strong team supporting me,” he said.
Louis Meintjes is in the break and could use his climbing skills on the climb to the finish. Can he win for MTN-Qhubeka?
21km remaining from 200km
The clouds are gathering at the finish. Rain is not expected today but it cold play a huge part during Sunday's stage.
With 20km to go, riders are getting a last feed and some last tactical advice from their team cars. They look set to fight for the stage victory.
12km remaining from 200km
This is the quiet moment before the storm. The riders in the break are awaiting the start of the climb, while the peloton and GC riders are awaiting any attacks from their rivals.
The riders can see the mountains now. up front several riders are driving the break for their teammates. Europcar has Yannick Martinez riding for Romain Sicard, Arroyo is riding for Sanchez and Adam Hansen is riding for Bart De Clerq (Lotto Belisol).
Ryder Hesjedal is in the move and has so far ridden a clever stage. Can he win and take a big stage victory?
191km remaining from 200km
Here we go. The riders turn off the road and are about to begin the climb.
The early part is not too difficult but the gradient gets steeper and steeper in the final three kilometres.
The climb is officially 8.3km long and has an average gradient of 7.5%. However the last two kilometres climb at 19.5%!
Team Sky is driving the pace, with Pete Kennaugh on the front.
The break is just 3.6km from the finish now.
The break is still together but will surely explode on the steep section.
Here we go. The road is like a wall, with Louis Meintjes on the front. There only seven riders left in the break.
It's very steep but short. This final 2km is about timing your effort to the line.
Sicard is on the front, with Hesjedal in second place now.
And Hesjdal ups the pace with 1.8km to go.
But Zaugg has passed him and opened a gap.
He is sat in the saddle, grinding round his pedals.
Behind Valverde goes on the attack. He has a slight gap but Contador is going after him as is Rodriguez.
Froome is at the back of the peloton and is suffering.
Contador is dancing on the pedals but is suffering as the GC riders split under the effort.
Upfront Zaugg seesm set to win the stage if he can keep going. The climb is very, very steep, a leg breaker.
Zaugg has a 200m lead on Hesjedal but the lanky Canadian is fighting back.
Behind Contador has attacked, putting Valverde and Rodriguez on the ropes. Everyone else is further back and suffering even more.
Rodriguez has got back to Contador and seems like he will make some time on his GC rivals, especially Froome.
Aru is coming up to Contador and Rodriguez.
Incredibly Froome has also comeback with a late charge. He was at the back but has found some power and speed.
Zaugg is fighting on but Hesjedal is refusing to give up.
Here comes Hesjedal and he passes Zaugg!
He had something left and used it perfectly to win the stage.
Zaugg takes second at 8 seconds. Behind Froome is also on the attack as the gradient eases. He's got a gap on Contador.
Froome is spinning his gear as Aru and Rodriguez lead the chase.
They are 300m from the finish.
Rodriguez is trying to close the gap, with Contador on his wheel.
Froome brings them home, followed by Rodriguez and then at a few seconds Contador.
Valverde finished at least 20 seconds behind and so could have slipped from the top three.
Wow! What a finish! Hesjedal wins the stage with a perfectly paced effort, while Froome fights back in the battle for the GC. Contador stays in the race leader's red jersey.
Hesjedal punched the air with one hand but almost fell over as he tried to raise both hands, such was the steepness of the finish.
Valverde lost 29 seconds to Froome today and a slightly lesser amount to Contador, Rodriguez.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) extended his lead to 42 seconds on Valverde. Froome is now third at 1:13, with Rodriguez in fourth at 1:29. Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) is fifth at 2:07.
Thanks for joining us for live coverage of today's thrilling stage. We'll have more action from the Vuelta on Sunday with stage 15 from Orviedo to Lagos de Covadonga. It is another brutal mountain stage finish.
Check out Cyclingnews.com for a full stage report, special photo gallery and exclusive news and interviews from the finish.
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