Stage 8: Lleida to Andorra. Collada de la Gallina, 174.7km
An intelligent and measured effort saw Alejandro Valverde use his ability to outfox the other three leading contenders – Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) – to snatch his second stage win on the line from Rodriguez and Contador. The trio took all the bonus seconds, as well as putting a valuable 15 seconds into Froome.
There was the day’s obligatory breakaway – Javier Ramirez (Andalucia), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), Amael Moinard (BMC), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) [what again? – Ed] and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) – which gained a maximum gap of just over nine minutes before slowly and surely being reeled in pretty much one by one as the group splintered. Meyer was the last to be caught 2km from the summit finish.
Valverde was the first of the famous four to attack 3km from the summit of the 7.2km Collada de la Gallina, with its 18 hairpins, despite the high tempo of the Sky-driven leading group. He quickly caught Ramirez who gave him a bit of a helping tow. Froome clawed his way back to Valverde, initially distancing Rodriguez who was paced back up by teammate and Vuelta a Burgos winner Dani Moreno. Froome then attacked but Contador stuck firmly to his wheel and refused to take a pull on the front. Froome decelerated, allowing the others to rejoin them and Moreno took over the pacing. It was attack and counter-attack all the way up the climb until Contador soloed off with just under 1km remaining. Valverde and Purito rested initially on Froome’s wheel before realising he was a spent force. Purito attacked only to be caught and outsprinted by Valverde. The pair flew past Contador in the final few metres of the stage to give Valverde his second stage win. All three picked up valuable seconds ahead of Froome, by far the best time-trialler of the quartet.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Alejandro Valverde put his sprinting and climbing skills to optimal use today to take his second stage win in the Vuelta and his team’s 28th of the season. He lit the touch-paper and attacked on the final climb of the day, then cannily waited for the right opportunity to use his turn of speed to deny Contador victory on the line. It was mature, intelligent racing not unlike his win on Monday’s stage three atop Arrate. As a consequence, he takes over the blue spotted King of the Mountains jersey and passes Purito’s combined jersey to Froome.
At the end of the stage Valverde who, unlike Contador, had not done a reconnaissance of the climb, demonstrated that he understood his rivals’ strengths and weaknesses:
It has been very hard, especially the speed I needed to escape from Sky who set a very fast pace in the last 40km and were very strong at the start of the final climb. I felt good and so I launched the first attack, also with the intention of taking time out of my rivals behind. Then there were many attacks, until Contador attacked. I knew Purito knew the climb very well [he lives in Andorra – Ed] and knew we could not go so fast for such a long time, so I stuck to his wheel and when he attacked I jumped. I knew I had to get first to the last corner so I could stay the course.
Clearly, we will try to fight for the overall as far as we can, but the opponents are very tough and I do not know how far they will endure.
Thanks to the high average speed, we only had television coverage for the last 29km. Nonetheless, it was gripping stuff. It’s the first time the Collada de la Gallina’s been used in the Vuelta. Given that it’s a wide road in excellent condition and its 18 hairpin bends afford plenty of viewing opportunities, I would expect it to be used again in the Vuelta and maybe even in the Tour de France which often dips a toe into Andorra.
Only the mountains jersey changed hands today. While there was no change in the overall positions of the main quartet, the three Spaniards clawed back time on Froome who, for the first time, displayed vulnerability on the climbs. It may be that the Spanish teams, having observed the way that Sky bossed the peloton in the Tour de France, have decided that an ‘all for one and one for all’ approach might be their best method of attack to ensure that a Spaniard once more sits atop the podium. But frankly with two more hard weeks of racing, particularly those challenges in the third week, it’s too soon to tell whether or not Froome’s going to be sunk by the Spanish armada.
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