Hola and welcome to the Cyclingnews live coverage of stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana from Oviedo to Lagos de Covadonga.
Today's stage ends with another tough mountain finish in the Asturias region of northern Spain. We will no doubt see more attacks in the fight for the stage victory and in the fight for the leader's red jersey.
As we join the action, the riders have covered 46km and despite several attacks, no break has managed to open a significant gap.
A crash after 25km left several riders in pain. Frenchman Anthony Roux (FDJ.fr) has been forced to abandon the race, leaving FDJ.fr with just four riders.
Samuel Sanchez was the big star at the start in his home city of Oviedo, surrounded by thousands of fans. He said he wants to repay them today for their affection and so we may see him on the attack on the climb to the finish.
The last winner at the Lagos de Covadonga was Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) two years ago.
“I’d love to repeat that”, he said. “With the GC riders, I have no chance, so I need to make the break. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too short today and the terrain isn’t as curvy as it was two years ago before the Lagos. But I’ll try!”
We have a break of five riders but they seem to thinking of the intermediate sprint coming up.
Degenkolb is in there to protect his green points jersey.
Also in there are John Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing) and Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural).
97km remaining from 152km
As expected, Degenkolb takes the sprint and the points ahead of Niemiec and Aramendia. The five have a lead of two minutes after the peloton eased up.
Today's stage has a nasty finish. The climb to Lagos de Covadonga is 12.2km long and has an average gradient of 7.2%, with the steepest part at 17.5%.
The gap to the five has opened to over five minutes.
Sadly Matteo Pelucchi (IAM Cycling) has abandoned the race. He was invovled in the start 12 crash that also affected Nacer Bouhanni.
Chris Froome claimed he is still trying to find his best form.
“Yesterday we had the first of three really hard days. I’m still trying to feel if my condition is coming up slowly. Going from the second to the third week, that’s when I wanted to know more about myself," he said.
"I’m glad that I’m not in the red jersey today. It’s Alberto defending the race. I don’t have that pressure. I also don’t have great memories from Lagos de Covadonga. When we did it two years ago, I was suffering and just trying to reach the top. Today again, I’ll just see how the legs feel.”
The peloton seems confident the break will struggle on the climb and so they have let the gap open to over eight minutes.
The sun is shining on the race at the moment but from the Cyclingnews blimp we can see that dark clouds are gathering at the finish. Rain could be a factor during today's stage.
With no chase from Tinkoff-Saxo, the gap has risen to over nine minutes.
This is a great opportunity for Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida). He is not an overall threat but could move up overall from 26th place and win the stage. He finished 15th in the 2012 Vuelta and sixth at the Giro in 2013.
The rain has started to fall at the finish and on the riders.
Ryder Hesjedal admitted that he will likely help teammate Dan Martin for the rest of the Vuelta.
“If I can win another stage, I’ll go for it but we focus on Dan (Martin) now. He can make the top 5 overall.”
His teammate David Millar suggested that BMC and may try and control the stage for Sanchez.
“Often at Lagos de Covadonga, the winner comes from the breakaway but today it’s a short stage. So many people want to make it! The longer it takes for the breakaway to be formed, the less chances it has to succeed today. It’ll be interesting to see if BMC brings it back for Sanchez to win in his region.”
79km remaining from 152km
After 73km, the break has reached 10:40.
The gap is close to 11:00 as they reach the feed zone.
Dario Cioni, the directeur sportif at Team Sky explained Chris Froome's state of mind and his goal for the Vuelta.
“Chris found it hard to admit he had a bad time trial. But after yesterday, he’s not bad even though he hasn’t had the ideal preparation for the Vuelta, which was a plan B. He fights for a good result but this race is the starting point of the 2015 Tour de France campaign.”
After two hours the average speed is 42km/h but the gap has fallen below 10 minutes.
While we focus on the action at the Vuelta, the Tour of Britain is now underway, with Bradley Wiggins (Team sky) out to win for a second time.
The Briton admitted in this video interview that he may no longer target stage races in 2015 as he further concentrates on his track career.
57km remaining from 152km
Not surprisingly, Degenkolb was first over the line at the second intermediate sprint. It will be interesting to see if he now sits ups and waits for the peloton.
We have another retiree as the racing continues to take its toll. Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) has abandoned.
46km remaining from 152km
There is only 46km of racing left on the stage but it includes the 12.2km climb to the finish and it continues to rain on the break and the peloton.
The five breakaways are now tackling the Puerto del Torno climb: 7.2 km at 8.2%.
Cameron Meyer is leading the break as the clmib begins to hurt. Behind the Movistar team is setting the pace before the peloton hits the clmib.
The gap is down to 8:00 as the peloton also starts the category 2 climb.
José Acevedo, DS of Katusha has defended his team leader Joaquim Rodriguez. He could be the winner today if he times his effort well.
“People say that Purito doesn’t win but he only had one occasion since the beginning of the Vuelta but at La Zubia, Valverde was super strong and Purito didn’t see the finish line very well. He attacked too early. But there’ll be other opportunities until we reached Santiago.”
A problem for Dan Martin. He gets a bike change and a push, with other teammates waiting to pace him back to the peloton.
With Movstar setting the pace on the climb, the gap is coming down quickly.
Race radio says that Martin crashed but it was difficult to understand what happened. He seems nervous as he takes off his cape and so could have crashed and swapped bikes with a teammate.
Garmin-Sharp has six riders helping Martin to chase back onto the peloton.
They are close to the split peloton and the gap is still making Garmin-Sharp nervous.
Martin is apparently now 1:28 down on the front of the peloton. This could actually be costly for Martin.
The break has reached the misty summit of the climb but behind Dan Martin is still chasing because he's stuck behind other riders.
Degenkolb has been dropped from the break on a second short climb.
The descent is very rough and narrow and the riders seem worried about crashes and gaps.
Sammy Sanchez (BMC) is leading on the descent and seemingly taking risks to try and get a gap on the wet roads.
Sanchez is seventh overall and keen to move up or even win so close to his home town or Oviedo.
Joaquim Rodriguez suffered a mechanical problem and has taken the bike of teammate Alberto Losada.
The road is slippy and dangerous. A Movistar rider has gone off the side of the road into the forest below.
The four leaders are still clear but their gap is down to just over 4:00.
17km remaining from 152km
After the nervous descent the peloton is coming back together but they are still 4:10 behind the break.
It is still unclear if Dan Martin has returned to the peloton. It doesn't look like it.
We hear that Martin is still 30 seconds behind.
Movistar is still leading the peloton as the start of the clmib to the finish nears ever closer. There are just 30 or so riders in the peloton.
The brief slowing in the peloon has allowed Dan Martin to get back on. However the climb will soon reveal how much of an effort it cost him.
Uran and Rodriguez are also back on before the start of the climb to Lagos de Covadonga.
Saturday's stage winner Ryder Hesjedal is also back in the peloton after helping Msrtin.
Here we go! the peloton begins the climb. Upfront the four breakaways are riding steady, waiting for the right moment to attack or defend their place at the front of the race.
The climb is 12.2km long with an average gradient of 7.2%. However at points it touches 17.5%.
The Movistar team is working for Valverde again but does he have the legs to finish off the the job?
And the attacks begin in the break, with Meyer and Niemiec going clear.
We have some early attacks by Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) and Winner Anaconda (Lampre-Merida) but only have a slight lead.
Giampaolo Caruso (Katusha) is also in the move.
Tinkoff-Saxo is now bossing the peloton, with Katusha behind them.
7km remaining from 152km
But Katusha refuse to let other riders set a steady pace. Moreno and Caruso have gone now. Will Rodriguez try to jump across?
Other riders are falling out of the peloton due to the high pace.
Barguil has joined the two Katusha riders but their lead is still limited.
Sanchez is suffering off the back of the peloton.
Upfront Meyer and Niemiec are still together but can they hold off the attackers with 6.5km to go? It will be difficult.
And Purito leads the peloton up to Moreno and Caruso. Valverde is now alone, as is Contador. Froome is a little off the back but again seems to be pacing his effort.
Uran is there, as is Aru.
As the speed eases, Barguil goes again. This is tactical stuff which will help the two breakaways stay clear.
Now Purito surges again. The fight for the overall placings is exploding.
Froome is spinning a gear but is off the back. Can he surge back up in sight of the line?
Contador attacks! Valverde goes with him.
Niemiec has now dropped Meyer but Contador & Co is only 1:00 behind now with 5km to go.
Contador makes another attack but he can't get rid of Valverde and Rodriguez.
Behind Aru is trying to get across to them. They clearly want to distance Froome.
Aru is no, making a quartet of attackers. But Froome is coming across because the four have eased. They're playing into Froome's hands.
3km remaining from 152km
Froome and other riders get back on and so Barguil attacks again!
Froome is distanced again as Contador again dances on the pedals.
Contador is pushing a big gear, with Valverde on his wheel. Froome is trying to fight back but the gradient as eased as the climb ends.
Niemiec is still clear but Rodriguez has attacked. Can they catch him? Meyer has been passed.
Froome is 25 seconds back. This time he seems unable to reply and fight back.
Yet Froome refuses to give up and digs deep, with Martin just off his wheel.
Niemiec has just 30 seconds now.
Fromoe is coming back again. He catches Aru and goes after Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez. But Contador kicks again!
Froome seems to be time trialing back to the trio.
Niemiec seems doomed. The final kilometre is very steep.
However is inside the final kilometre and might make it.
Indeed he wins the stage and take a big win for Lampre-Merida.
Valverde brings the GC contenders to the finish and opens a slight gap on Contador. Rodriguez was with Valverde and so Contador lost some precious seconds.
Froome failed to close the gap, losing some time and finishing sixth on the stage.
Froome finished 12 seconds to Valverde and Rodriguez, with Dan Martin a further 11 seconds behind.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) remains in the leader's red jersey. Valverde is second at only 31 seconds, with Froome at 1:20, with Rodriguez fourth in the same time.
Wow, what a stage. Yet again we saw another brave attack from riders going for the stage victory and a aggressive fight and tactical battle between the GC contenders.
Niemiec took a well deserved stage victory. Contador lost a few seconds to Valverde in sight of the line but seems to have a tight grip on the leader's red jersey even if his lead is only 31 seconds.
We will no doubt see another huge battle during monday's stage from San Martín del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona/Lagos de Somiedo.
The climb to the finish is 16.5km long and rises at a gradient of 6.2%. However it is the fifth climb of the day in just 160km of racing.
Join us on Monday for blow by blow coverage of the stage.
We will have a full stage report, huge photo gallery, news and interviews on Cyclingnews.com very soon.
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