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Vuelta a España 2014: Stage 16

Live coverage of stage 16 of the Vuelta a España, 160.5 kilometres from San Martín del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona.

The peloton is making its way through the neutralised zone for the Vuelta's third successive summit finish and, arguably, the toughest stage of the entire race. There are five climbs crammed into just 100 miles of racing, including four category 1 ascents.

The war of attrition begins early, with the peloton reaching the base of the Category 1 Alto de la Colladona (7.4km at 6.7%) after just ten kilometres. After a descent and 40 kilometres of valley, the road pitches up once again for the category 2 Alto del Cordal (7.6km at 5.5%), followed in rapid succession by the category 1 Alto de la Cobertoria (10km at 8.8%). Next up is the category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo (10.1km at 8.5%) before the final haul to La Farrapona (16.5km at 8.5%).

158km remaining from 160km

Rohan Dennis (BMC) opens the attacking in the opening kilometre of racing, and the Australian has brought two riders with him. The trio has a small lead on the peloton.

154km remaining from 160km

Rohan Dennis is still in the leading group, which has swelled to 13 riders. His BMC teammate Philippe Gilbert is also in there, along with Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural), Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Peter Kennaugh (Sky) and Adriano Malori (Movistar). They have a lead of 15 seconds over the peloton.

Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo) is also in this leading group, meaning that Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde all have representatives up front. There is nobody from Katusha involved in the move, however, and Joaquim Rodriguez's men are at the head of the peloton trying to bring it back.

150km remaining from 160km

Comienza puerto. And so it begins. The 13 leaders hit the lower slopes of the first climb of the day, the Alto de la Colladona (7.4km at 6.7%). They hold a lead of 33 seconds over the peloton.

The baker's dozen at the head of the race are: Rohan Dennis (BMC), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Sander Armee (Lotto-Belisol), Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros), George Bennett (Cannondale), Adriano Malori (Movistar), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Yaroslav Popovych (Trek) and Koldo Fernández (Garmin-Sharp).

 

147km remaining from 160km

The leading group is splintering on the climb and the pace remains very high indeed in the peloton just behind. There are now just six riders left in front - Kennaugh, Rovny, Luis Leon Sanchez, Malori and Stef Clement of Belkin, who was presumably misidentified as Laurens ten Dam by race radio. They only have 12 seconds in hand on the peloton after three kilometres of climbing.

The riders dropped from the early break have been swept back up by the peloton on the upper slopes of the Colladona, and the selection is coming from behind. Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo squad are imposing a fierce tempo on the climb and riders are being jettisoned off the back. There were still 175 riders in the Vuelta peloton this morning, but many of their number could be struggling to make the time cut this afternoon.

A remarkable scene near the summit of the day's opening climb. The top three on general classification - Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome - have broken away from the main peloton and have set off in pursuit of the front group.

That leading group has reportedly swelled to 12 riders again on the climb, with Alessandro De Marchi and Wouter Poels among those to make it across. They have 14 seconds in hand on Contador, Valverde and Froome, while Joaquim Rodriguez is still in the main peloton, 26 seconds behind.

141km remaining from 160km

The break is over the summit of the Colladona with a lead of 20 seconds over the Contador-Valverde-Froome group, while Joaquim Rodriguez is 18 seconds down on that trio.

132km remaining from 160km

Joaquim Rodriguez's brief scare is at an end. Katusha have brought the Contador group to heel on the way down the Colladona. The general classification contenders are all together once again, 25 seconds down on a 13-man break.

The baker's dozen in front is comprised of: Rohan Dennis (BMC), Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Johan Le Bon (FDJ.fr), Wouter Poels (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Peio Bilbao (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros).

After that rapidfire start, there is finally a semblance of order to proceedings as the race hits the long valley between the Colladona and the Alto del Cordal. The 13-man break has stretched its advantage out to 40 seconds over the main peloton.

As a temporary détente breaks out in the peloton, it's as good a time as any to remind ourselves of the general classification picture at the beginning of today's stage. On the evidence of the frantic start, mind, there could be some significant changes by close of business atop La Farrapona.

General classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 58:31:35
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:31
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:01:20
4 Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:22
6 Rigoberto Urán (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:02:57
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp 0:04:55
8 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team 0:05:02
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:05:11
10 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano 0:06:36
11 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale 0:06:49
12 Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits 0:07:14
13 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida 0:07:41
14 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:08:15
15 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:09:08

122km remaining from 160km

The pace has slackened considerably in the peloton, and that has two major effects. Firstly, the break has stretched its lead out to 2:30 and secondly, many of the riders dropped on the first climb have managed to latch back on.

The break has covered a very brisk 42 kilometres in a first hour of racing that included a category 1 climb, and their lead over the bunch is now up to 5:52.

111km remaining from 160km

Incidentally, Luis Leon Sanchez led the break over the Colladona. As the leaders trundle towards the base of the day's second ascent, the Alto del Cordal, their lead is up to 8:22.

Chris Froome has spent most of the summit finishes at this Vuelta starting intently at the reading on his power meter, but the Sky man has told L'Équipe that he is already looking to 2015. He is, however, still just 1:20 off the red jersey of Alberto Contador and after struggling at Valdelinares and in the Borja time trial, seems to be just about finding his legs as this Vuelta progresses. Indeed, Froome was hardly idly day dreaming about next year when he tracked Contador's move on the Colladona earlier, either...

Red jersey Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is clearly taking Froome's 2015 protestations with a grain of salt. After yesterday's summit finishes atop Lagos de Covadonga, he was disappointed that the poor collaboration among the Spanish contenders had failed to keep the wolf from the door - after struggling initially, Froome ultimately lost just 7 seconds to the race leader.

"I was watching Valverde and Rodriguez, because they’re very fast in the sprints. But Froome is, for me, the strongest rider I’ve ever come across in my career," Contador noted. "Between here and Santiago we’ll see how big an opportunity it was that we’ve lost.”

103km remaining from 160km

The Katusha squad of Joaquim Rodriguez has taken responsibility for the bulk of the pace-setting in the main peloton thus far, and their work has pegged the break back to seven minutes at the base of the day's second climb, the category 2 Alto del Cordal.

Speaking after yesterday's stage, Rodriguez estimated that he was at more or less the same level as Contador and Valverde, and suggested that the latter's ability to pick up bonus seconds might prove decisive. "Alejandro knows what he's doing. He knows that if this goes on, he'll end up as leader. He's not losing time and on top of that he's getting more and more time bonuses," warned Rodriguez. Indeed, Valverde has picked up 25 bonus seconds on this Vuelta so far, while Rodriguez has 12 and Contador just 6.

The category 2 Cordal is 7.6 kilometres in length with an average gradient of 5.5%. The climb should not propose any undue difficulties for the overall contenders but the descent is a notoriously treacherous one.

Sergei Chernetski and Dmitry Kozontchuk are setting the pace on the front of the peloton for Katusha, with a long line of Tinkoff-Saxo riders maintaining a watching brief just behind them.

Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) is rarely less than forthright in his opinions and the Frenchman expects Rodriguez and Valverde to lay down the gauntlet to Contador and Froome on the road to La Farrapona. “Today, I think Purito and Valverde will try to bury Contador and Froome," Barguil said at the start. "I like Froome as a person but I don’t like the way he rides, always watching his SRM.”

94km remaining from 160km

Rigoberto Uran is struggling towards the rear of the main peloton as Katusha up the pace in front. The Colombian is lying 6th overall, 2:57 down on Contador, but the Borja time time trial apart, he has not shone on this Vuelta.

Martin Velits has dropped back to try and pace Uran back up. The Colombian appears to be in considerable difficulty and there are still three more category 1 climbs to follow, including the tough haul to the finish at La Farrapona.

90km remaining from 160km

Up ahead, Luis Leon Sanchez leads the break over the summit of the Cordal. Their lead has been cut to 5:20 thanks to the steady infusion of pace from Katusha in the main peloton.

Both the break and the peloton are on the sinuous descent of the Cordal, where Abraham Olano's overall hopes came a cropper in 1999.

85km remaining from 160km

The break has reached the sprint at Pola de Lena at the base of the descent of the Cordal. As soon as they pass through the sprint, they begin climbing once again as they tackle category 1 Alto de la Cobertoria.

Uran is still just about in contact with the peloton as the climb of the Cobertoria begins, but the Colombian's gait lends the impression that he is in some difficulty.

At the front, Pete Kennaugh (Sky) is leading the breakaway. The move is still intact although beginning to stretch out under the impetus of the Manxman's forcing.

Luis Leon Sanchez has also been prominent in setting the tempo in the leading group. The best-placed rider in the move, incidentally, is Romain Sicard (Europcar), who began the day 17th overall, 13:15 off the red jersey.

The word from the Omega Pharma-QuickStep camp on Rigoberto Uran's condition is far from encouraging. "Rigo's had a bad night and this is a bad day," directeur sportif Davide Bramati tells TVE from the team car.

Katusha's brisk pace-making on the Cobertoria has strung out the peloton and reduced the break's lead to just 4:45. Uran, meanwhile, is again losing contact. Second at the Giro d'Italia in May, Bramati has explained that Uran has been struggling with some bronchial problems in recent days.

Chris Froome is well-placed in the main peloton, with a phalanx of black jerseys around him, including Philip Deignan and Dario Cataldo.

83km remaining from 160km

Joaquim Rodriguez is making quite an open statement of his intentions this afternoon by setting his Katusha team to work so hard and so early. The Catalan sits calmly in the wheels, with the red jersey of Alberto Contador bobbing up and down just behind him.

Rigoberto Uran's pedalling is decidedly leaden and he is definitively dropped by the other overall contenders. He is still five kilometres from the top of the Cobertoria and he is already a minute down on the peloton, with only teammate Carlos Verona for company.

Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) stands to benefit from Uran's travails. The Irishman is currently 7th overall, and began the day just under two minutes down on Uran.

77km remaining from 160km

Katusha's chasing has shaved another minute off the break's lead. The gap is down to 3:52 with another two kilometres or so to go to the summit of the Cobertoria.

Vasil Kiryienka, his unzipped jersey flapping in the wind, leads a delegation from Sky around 15 riders from the front. The big blocks of this Vuelta are all on show here - Katusha lead, followed by Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo guard, while the Movistar and Sky squads are gathered just behind them.

The clock suggests that Uran is clawing back some of his deficit and is now 38 seconds off the red jersey group. His laboured pedalling, however, suggests that his efforts may ultimately prove to be in vain. Uran rides in the saddle behind Verona and Velits, wearing a decidedly glum expression.

Fabian Cancellara (Trek) makes a cameo appearance at the head of the peloton. While Peter Sagan went home yesterday, Cancellara is still in Spain fine-tuning his build-up for the world championships in Ponferrada.

Indeed, Cancellara has even opened a small gap over the main peloton approaching the summit of the Cobertoria, as Katusha's pace has relented in the last kilometre or so. Cancellara is still four minutes down on the break and one imagines that this is an interval with Ponferrada in mind rather than an attempt to bridge across.

74km remaining from 160km

The Caja Rural duo of Luis Leon Sanchez and Bilbao lead the break over the top of the Alto de la Cobertoria. With two mountain passes still to come, the leaders have four minutes in hand on the red jersey group.

Cancellara, meanwhile, is pedalling with notable facility in the big ring as he warms to his task off the front of the peloton on the approach the summit of the climb.

Further back, there could be a brief reprieve for Rigoberto Uran, who is being marshalled slowly but steadily towards the rear end of the peloton.

Cancellara crosses the summit 3:50 down on the break but looks around with the air of a man who would be just as happy to sit up on the descent.

The Katusha-led peloton reaches the top 4:10 down on the break and 20 seconds down on Cancellara. who does not seem keen to take any risks on this descent. It augurs well for Cancellara's Worlds challenge that he was not only present but aggressive to boot at this point of such a difficult stage.

64km remaining from 160km

Cancellara hasn't relented on the way down the Cobertoria, although he is still 3:36 down on the break.

The descent of the Alto de Cobertoria has not been kind to Cancellara's fellow countrymen in years gone by. Back in 1993, Alex Zulle's overall hopes took a blow when he crashed here. His explanation to reporters in pidgin Spanish afterwards?  "Bici - flores - culo - suelo," which translates as: "Bike - flowers - backside - ground." It wasn't all bad for Switzerland, of course. Tony Rominger gratefully rode off with the second of three Vuelta victories that year, while Zulle reached the finish in second overall, just 29 seconds down.

 

58km remaining from 160km

Cancellara is warming to his task on the descent, although he is still 3:30 down on the escapees. The peloton, meanwhile, is trailing at four minutes.

The break is approaching the base of the Puerto de San Lorenzo, the day's penultimate climb. 10.1 kilometres in legnth and with an average gradient of 8.5%, the 13-man leading group could begin to fragment towards the summit.

51km remaining from 160km

Cancellara is still merrily chugging along in the no-man's land between the break and the peloton. He is 3:04 down on the break and 1:40 ahead of the peloton.

There seems to be some discord seeping into the leading group. Certainly, the 13 are not working as smoothly as they were on the Cobertoria, and it would be no surprise to see some attacks once they begin the Puerto de San Lorenzo proper in a few kilometres. For now, they are on the long and rather false flat that precedes the ascent.

46km remaining from 160km

Laurens ten Dam and Peter Kennaugh exchange a few words about the state of collaboration in the group. Kennaugh was earlier seen remonstrating with Romain Sicard (Europcar).

The break flashes through the intermediate sprint at San Martin de Teverga. They are now just a kilometre from the base of the Puerto de San Lorenzo.

43km remaining from 160km

A reminder of the 13 names in the break as they hit the Category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo: Rohan Dennis (BMC), Laurens ten Dam (Belkin), Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Romain Sicard (Europcar), Johan Le Bon (FDJ.fr), Wouter Poels (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) and Peio Bilbao (Caja Rural-RGA Seguros).

At the base of the climb, the peloton is just 3:22 down on the break and is almost upon Cancellara. There has been another injection of urgency from Katusha on the approach to the Puerto de San Lorenzo.

41km remaining from 160km

Team Sky put their shoulders to the wheel at the head of the peloton as the climb begins. Christian Knees has hit the front and is setting a very brisk pace indeed. The break's lead is down to 2:52.

Fabian Cancellara's 45 kilometre cameo is at an end. The Swiss rider is swept up by the Sky-led bunch on the lower slopes of the Puerto de San Lorenzo. Behind, riders are being jettisoned off the back and scrambling to form groups that will help them survive to the finish at La Farrapona.

Remarkable scenes at the rear of the break, as Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) seems to have exchanged blows on the bike...

Brambilla was upset that Rovny was disrupting the pace line in the break. Rovny reached across and laid a hand on Brambilla, who responded with a slap to the face. Their remonstrations/pushing continued for 100 metres or so more, while Brambilla's teammate Poels drops back to keep an eye on proceedings.

Shades of Sean Kelly versus Eric Vanderaerden there. Kelly, incidentally, is on commentary duty for Eurosport this afternoon, and he offers a sage assessment of the fracas, noting that Brambilla can at least tell the commissaires that he didn't strike the first blow...

38km remaining from 160km

Brambilla's andrenaline is clearly pumping. When Alessandro De Marchi attacks, Brambilla jumps across to his fellow countryman's wheel. The two Italians have a small lead over the rest of the break.

37km remaining from 160km

Rovny, meanwhile, needed a change of eyewear after that contretemps but he is still part of the fractured leading group, which is now 2:50 clear of the Sky-led peloton.

Alessandro De Marchi and Gianluca Brambilla are four kilometres from the summit of the climb and have opened a decent gap over their erstwhile companions. Wouter Poels and Luis Leon Sanchez are grinding up in third and fourth on the road, respectively, but they seem to be losing ground to the Italian tandem.

While Brambilla presses on at the head of the race, his quarrel with Rovny has already

. His teammate Poels has managed to claw his way back up to the front. De Marchi, Poels and Brambilla are three minutes up on the peloton.

36km remaining from 160km

Sky continue to force the pace in the red jersey peloton, which is shedding more riders out the back as the gradient bites. Cadel Evans is among the riders to be dropped.

We have no precise update on Rigoberto Uran's whereabouts on this climb but he seems to be somewhere in in the red jersey group. He was dropped on the Cobertoria but managed to forge back up to the peloton near the top.

35km remaining from 160km

As if on cue, TVE's cameras pan back to the rear of the red jersey group, where Rigoberto Uran has just been dropped. The Colombian's face is contorted in pain. He still has three kilometres to the summit and he risks losing significant ground in the general classification battle this afternoon.

Up front, Poels has been dropped once again, and the Italian pairing of De Marchi and Brambilla are again clear.

Groups of previously dropped riders are now making their way past the stricken Uran. His already faint podium hopes seem destined to be erased this afternoon in Asturias.

34km remaining from 160km

Joaquim Rodriguez's Katusha guard are back on the front and the red jersey group has been whittled down to just 25 riders or so on the approach to the summit of the Puerto de San Lorenzo.

Rigoberto Uran is now ploughing a lone furrow, 1:20 down on the group of general classification contenders.

Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, Chris Froome, Fabio Aru, Dan Martin and Robert Gesink are all still in this increasingly select red jersey group, which is being led now by Philip Deignan.

33km remaining from 160km

Alessandro De Marchi and Gianluca Brambilla have crossed the summit of the San Lorenzo with a lead of three minutes over the red jersey group.

Philip Deignan continues to lead the red jersey group and is picking off the remnants of the day's early break. Friday's stage winner Dani Navarro, meanwhile, is among the riders struggling at the rear of this group.

The red jersey group crosses the summit of the San Lorenzo 3:02 down on the two leaders. All of the general classification are here with one grand exception - Rigoberto Uran is now over 1:30 down on Contador, Valverde, Froome et al.

27km remaining from 160km

Our man in Spain Alasdair Fotheringham was on the descent of the San Lorenzo earlier today and he informs us that the road is generally wide but it includes a couple of very tight corners. For now, Philip Deignan continues to lead on the way down, but without taking any undue risks.

Mercifully, the rain has held off this afternoon, although the sky has clouded over at the finish and the temperature has dropped slightly at the summit.

24km remaining from 160km

Wouter Poels has taken advantage of this fast descent to make his way back up to the front of the race. Poels, Brambilla and De Marchi are still just under three minutes clear of the peloton.

21km remaining from 160km

Alberto Contador drops back to change a wheel but quickly makes his way back up to the rear of the group of favourites. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Patrick Lefevere and Oleg Tinkov are debating who dealt the first blow in the Brambilla-Rovny dust-up. Welcome to cycling in the 21st century...

Contador was very nearly wiped out by a motorbike as he moved up by the barriers, but after that heart-in-mouth moment, the Spaniard is back near the front of the group.

In fact, Contador does not appear to have punctured. It seems that he simply changed his bike for the final climb.

19km remaining from 160km

Pete Kennaugh sat up once the, er, attacking began in the break and the British champion is now part of the determined Sky delegation at the head of the red jersey group on the approach to the base ofthe final climb.

18km remaining from 160km

De Marchi, Brambilla and Poels have a lead of 2:30 over the peloton as they rattle towards the beginning of La Farrapona proper.

17km remaining from 160km

La Farrapona is 16.5km in length with an average gradient of 6.2% and a maximum gradient of 12.5%. The lower slopes are relatively gentle and it rarely pitches above 5% in the opening 6km of climbing, and a short descent follows the steepest 12.5% section midway up the climb. The gradient gradually picks up in the final 5 kilometres, however, eventually ratcheting back up to 12% and this is surely where the general classification contenders will look to strike.

The three escapees have a lead of just two minutes as the climb begins.

Another remarkable scene at this Vuelta. The race jury's car pulls up alongside Gianluca Brambilla and flags him down. The Italian has just been told that he has been excluded from the Vuelta.

Brambilla sits up in resignation and spreads his arms out wide. The commissaires didn't want to run the risk of Brambilla winning the stage only to be immediately stripped of the victory, so they have acted with remarkable speed to remove him from the race.

A distraught Brambilla gesticulates animatedly as he discusses the matter with his Omega Pharma-QuickStep car. The Italian then pedals on forlornly with tears in his eyes, his race over.

Brambilla is caught and passed by the red jersey group and he points angrily to Ivan Rovny as he speeds past. Rovny, it seems, has not (yet?) been removed from the race.

12km remaining from 160km

Rovny is now back with the Tinkoff-Saxo team car and it appears that he, too, has been expelled from the Vuelta. We await official confirmation from the race organisation.

Meanwhile, Alessandro De Marchi has dropped Poels at the front of the race but his lead over the red jersey group is now just over a minute.

11km remaining from 160km

Peter Kennaugh has put in a mammoth turn on the front of the red jersey group in support of Chris Froome. Sky also still have Cataldo, Deignan and Nieve with Froome.

Alessandro De Marchi was a fine stage winner at Alcaudete at the end of week one, but he'll struggle to match that feat here, even though his lead has stretched out again to 1:24.

10km remaining from 160km

Team Sky are still picking up the remnants of the day's early break. Romain Sicard is the next to be swept up, but De Marchi's lead is back up to 1:28.

9km remaining from 160km

Froome is sitting in fourth wheel in the red jersey group, where Alberto Contador is watching the Briton's progress intently.

Contador sits on Froome's wheel, with Rodriguez and Valverde lined up not far behind him. There are still 20 riders or so in the red jersey group, and one imagines the first attacks of significance will not materialise until the final five kilometres.

8km remaining from 160km

Kennaugh and Deignan continue to set the pace for Sky, although De Marchi has built his lead up to 1:32.

It will be fascinating to see what Froome can conjure up here. His Sky team were equally prominent in setting the pace at Valdelinares, after all, only for Froome to falter as soon as Contador kicked off the attacking in the finale.

Ryder Hesjedal is there to help Dan Martin. Contador, it seems, has just one teammate left with him in this group following Rovny's expulsion.

7km remaining from 160km

An untimely puncture for Philip Deignan forces the Donegal man to swing off the front and change a wheel. Sky have lost one of their strongest elements a little sooner than they would have liked.

6km remaining from 160km

Alessandro De Marchi is still grinding a big gear as the road flattens out, and he maintains a lead of 1:32 over the red jersey group.

5km remaining from 160km

Peter Kennaugh is back on the front of the red jersey group in support of Chris Froome, who also has Mikel Nieve left. From here on in, the gradient begins to bite in earnest.

5km remaining from 160km

Nieve takes over on the front as the gradient pitches up to 8%. The gap to De Marchi is down to 1:15 and, more importantly from a GC point of view, a number of riders are being jettisoned off the back, Robert Gesink among them.

4km remaining from 160km

Contador, Valverde, Barguil, Aru, Froome, Rodriguez and Dan Martin are all in this reduced red jersey group, which has just picked up Wout Poels. Alessandro De Marchi is the only man left in front, 1:07 up the road.

Barguil is no longer part of the red jersey group, it seems, and Dan Martin is flagging at the very back. The Irishman is beginning to struggle and seems about to lose contact.

4km remaining from 160km

Nieve swings off and, immediately, Chris Froome accelerates. Only Alberto Contador can follow, and they open a small gap over the rest of the group of favourites.

Froome and Contador have a gap of 10 seconds or so over Valverde and Rodriguez. Aru is scrambling to make it back up to the Spanish pair.

4km remaining from 160km

Contador is sticking resolutely to Froome's wheel. They are 34 seconds down on De Marchi and 26 seconds ahead of Valverde, Rodriguez and Aru. It's up for grabs now...

3km remaining from 160km

Froome and Contador are within sight of Alessandro De Marchi. He surely won't be able to hold their wheel when they bowl past.

Froome leads Contador past De Marchi. Valverde and Rodriguez continue to accelerate, but they are 26 seconds down on the leaders. Aru taps out his own steady tempo a little behind them.

2km remaining from 160km

De Marchi manages to latch on to the back of the Froome and Contador group. This trio has 25 seconds in hand on Valverde and Rodriguez and 30 on Aru.

De Marchi can hold on no longer and it's just Froome and Contador in front. Froome kicks again as the gradient bites but Contador has not conceded an inch.

2km remaining from 160km

Froome and Contador have 35 seconds in hand on Valverde, Rodriguez and Aru, who are yielding time here metre by metre. They cannot match the startling speed of the leading duo.

2km remaining from 160km

Froome leads Contador into the final 2 kilometres with 40 seconds of an advantage on Valverde, Rodriguez and Aru. Froome looks around but Contador has no intention of putting in a turn on the front here.

1km remaining from 160km

Aru is flitting on and off the back of Valverde and Rodriguez, but the Sardinian is just about hanging in there for now. They are 45 seconds downon on Froome and Contador.

1km remaining from 160km

Froome stares intently at the reading on his power meter as he accelerates while seated in the saddle. The dancing figure of Contador is able to match his remarkable pace for now.

1km remaining from 160km

Froome puts a hand to his earpiece as he enters the final kilometre. He spins his legs in a low gear in a bid to break Contador.

There will be no repeat of Mont Ventoux, however. Contador responds immediately and rips past Froome by launching a ferocious acceleration with 700 metres remaining. The Spaniard is putting in a signficant down payment on final overall victory here.

Contador absorbed Froome's forcing and unleashed a crisp, crisp attack of his own. He will claim stage victory and extend his overall lead, sending the home fans on the roadside into raptures.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) wins the stage, 14 seconds ahead of Chris Froome.

De Marchi is third on the stage, while Valverde comes home in fourth place, 53 seconds down, just ahead of Rodriguez and Aru.

Dan Martin recovered sufficiently to cross the line in 7th.

Provisional result:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 4:53:36
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:14
3 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Cannondale
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:53
5 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team

Result:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 4:53:36
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:00:14
3 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Cannondale 0:00:50
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:53
5 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp 0:01:12
8 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:01:22
9 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team 00:01:43
10. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin Sharp 0:01:48

General classification:

1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 63:25:00
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:36
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:01:39
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha 0:02:29
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:03:38
6 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp 0:06:17
7 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:06:43
8 Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC Racing Team 0:06:55
9 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano 0:08:37
10 Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale 0:09:12
 

As the race breaks for its second rest day, Alberto Contador's overall lead is now up 1:36 ahead of Alejandro Valverde, but Chris Froome at 1:39 is perhaps the biggest threat to his red jersey. Though the way in which Contador ripped away from Froome in the finale suggests that it will take something remarkable to deny him a third Vuelta victory. Less than a month ago, we were told that Contador has "no possibility" of riding the Vuelta. Now he's on the brink of winning it. It's a funny old game, cycling. 

Joaquim Rodriguez is now 2:29 down on Contador and the most famous tibia in cycling, and a podium finish, it would seem, will have to be the summit of his ambition, although there is are still five stages between here and the finish in Santiago.

Rigoberto Uran, meanwhile, has dropped out of the general classification picture altogether. 6th overall this morning, he is still to finish today's stage after suffering all afternoon. It's been a bad day for his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team, of course, who had Gianluca Brambilla expelled from the race (and from the leading group on the road) for trading blows Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo). Rovny, too, has been disqualified for his part in the fracas.

Thanks for joining us for today's live coverage on Cyclingnews. A full report, results and pictures will follow here, and we'll have all the news and reaction to a dramatic and at times contentious day of racing at the Vuelta a España. 

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