Vuelta a España: Stage 9 review

Stage 9: Andorra to Barcelona, 196.3km

BMC’s Philippe Gilbert won his first race of 2012, but Joaquim Rodriguez will have been delighted with second, having caught his rivals with their (lycra) pants down to extend his overall advantage ahead of Wednesday’s personal bête noire, the individual time trial.

A four-man escape of serial breakaway artists formed inside the opening kilometre: Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Javier Chacon (Andalucia) and Bertjan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM). They led by 5:20 before the peloton completed a surprisingly early catch with 25km still to go, resulting in an instant solo counter-attack by Chacon’s teammate Jesus Rosendo. That lasted barely 5km before Katusha brought him quickly to heel.

With several teams happy to keep the pace up – as high as 65-70kph – a lined-out peloton raced to the foot of the punchy Montjuic climb (1.1km, 8.1%) with 5km to go. Immediately the attacks started: first Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), then riders from Sky and Astana, and finally near the summit BMC’s Alessandro Ballan put in a big dig to set up Gilbert. Rodriguez was the only rider to immediately react, while Gilbert momentarily paused and then kicked to bridge across the gap to the race leader, leaving the top GC contenders behind.

The pair worked together over the summit, the downhill that followed and the final kilometre-long rise to the line. The Spaniard led out, and Gilbert put eight months of frustration behind him with the victory that saves a frustrating season.

Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo popped off the front of an uncoordinated chase to claim third place and the final time bonus, seven seconds behind. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was in a small group a further two ticks back, stealing three seconds from Contador and Chris Froome (Sky), who finished in the pack 12 seconds behind the winner.

The net result? Rodriguez extended his advantage over Froome from 33 to 53 seconds, and though he will expect to lose the red jersey to the British rider in the time trial on Tuesday, he will consider himself well placed to regain it when the race hits the alta montaña at the end of the week.

VeloVoices rider of the day

Gilbert finally broke his 2012 duck (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

I imagine many fans were punching the air when Philippe Gilbert bridged across to Rodriguez on the Montjuic climb, and many nails were bitten wondering if the pair would be able to maintain their slender advantage and hold off the charging peloton. But succeed they did, and BMC’s plan of using Ballan as the jab to Gilbert’s hay-maker worked to perfection. In our stage preview, we noted that this stage was “perfect for the 2011 model Philippe Gilbert – less so this year’s version”, but this was a race won as much with the head and the heart as it was with the legs.

It has been a miserable season for Gilbert, who was royally unseated from his throne as the unofficial King of Belgium by Tom Boonen‘s exploits in the spring Classics. His 2011 Ardennes triple fell away with barely a whimper as he could manage no better than a third place at Flèche Wallonne. And at the Tour de France he could muster only a pair of fourth places, despite there being at least a couple of stages that the PhilGil of 2011 would have snapped up voraciously. So it was great to see one of the most attacking and exciting riders in the peloton back near his best to liven up another well-designed stage to bring the opening section of the Vuelta to a close. Welcome back. Phil!

It’s easy to see how delighted and relieved Gilbert was afterwards from his post-stage comments:

It’s already been almost a whole year since I won [GP Wallonie on September 14th 2011 – Ed], so I’m really pleased to win for BMC. This is very special.

It’s been a hard season for me, I was fighting to get a good shape, I never stopped believing in myself and had a lot of support from my family and friends. Last year has maybe been the hardest moment of my career and it’s in those moments when you need that support.

I’ve had a lot of criticism from the Belgian press, I never answered it except by fighting on my bike and this stage of the Vuelta was an opportunity with a perfect finish.


We’ve said it a few times before this week, but what an attacking race this has been so far. Some of it has been down to a number of well thought-out parcours – today’s being one – and some of it has been down to the willingness of even leading riders such as Rodriguez, Valverde and Contador to attack at every opportunity, even if the potential gains have been just a handful of seconds. But it has been a thrilling opening nine days, with several stages which would rate four or five stars on the excitement scale, and it has left the GC delicately poised going into the rest day.

Mind you, it’s a tough route to get to the rest day. The riders face an air transfer of close to 1,000km this evening, while team staff and buses must complete the long trip from Spain’s east to west coast by road. Even ‘rest’ days are hardly easy …

Tactical analysis

A lot of tactical plans came into play in the closing kilometres today: some good, others less so. BMC’s one-two punch of Ballan and Gilbert was exactly the right combination at exactly the right time, allowing Gilbert to bridge across to Rodriguez just before the summit, which in turn enabled the pair to work hard together on the descent to negate the numerical advantage of the peloton and consolidate their advantage. Incredibly, Contador, Froome and Valverde all missed it.

It looked like Astana and Sky also had similar ideas, sending men off the front earlier on the climb – presumably to set up potential moves by Froome and Tiralongo respectively – but these were too soon to maximise their chances. Similarly, Contador‘s early attack was just that: too early.

Once the breakaway pairing of Rodriguez and Gilbert had formed, it was apparent this was a perfect combination: two tough, punchy riders with mutually beneficial objectives. Gilbert wanted the stage and would work hard to maintain the gap, while Rodriguez’s primary concern was to gain time over his rivals, so he was willing to put in the effort and if necessary sacrifice the stage victory in order to secure that. Tiralongo’s late break to take the four-second bonus for third was just the icing on the cake for Rodriguez.

The race leader can expect to lose the red jersey – most likely to Froome – in Wednesday’s ITT, but the advantage he has padded over the past couple of days should enable him to stay within striking distance. Plus that would mean the burden of defending the jersey would pass from Katusha to Sky, allowing Rodriguez’s teammates to recharge over the course of next week ahead of the big mountain stages 14-16, where the race will most likely be won and lost.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

GP Ouest France-Plouay review

Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen powered across the finish line alone, arms aloft, to deliver his team’s second victory of the day. He timed his bid for victory to perfection, thwarting the sprinters’ teams as he bridged in the final kilometres of the race and then overhauled lone breakaway Rui Costa (Movistar), who had escaped on the final climb of the Cote de Ty-Marrec with 5km remaining. Costa avoided being swamped by the fast approaching bunch on the line to hold onto second place. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp) won the sprint for third.

After the stage Boasson Hagen said:

I’m really happy with that and it was nice to get the win today. The team did a really good job to keep me up there all day and heading into the finish. I was riding a lot in the bunch with Thomas and Christian [Knees] who helped me out a lot. I felt good when I jumped clear and I felt confident that I could take the win. The whole team did lots of pulling on the front during the day so it was great to be able to finish it off. It has been quite a while since my last victory so it was nice to see the form is good. Hopefully it can continue.

The 234km blue-riband race comprised nine laps of a hilly circuit in Brittany – one of cycling’s heartlands –  thickly thronged with enthusiastic spectators enjoying the mild sunshine.

Not one, not two, but three breakaways

It took no time at all for the first breakaway to form with Julien Berard (AG2R La Mondiale), Christophe Kern and Anthony Charteau (both Europcar), Pierre Cazaux (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Laurent Mangel (Saur-Sojasun) and Laurent Pichon (Bretagne-Schuller), later joined by Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ-BigMat). After gaining an advantage of around 11 minutes, surprisingly, the sprinters’ teams worked hard to pull them back with still 90km remaining.

5km later a second breakaway went clear with Dries Devenyns (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Katusha), Sebastien Duret (Bretagne-Schuller), Takashi Miyazawa (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis). Burghardt and Kuschynski soloed off but they were all reeled in with 30km to go.

To the delight of the crowds, this prompted 2007 race winner Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) to have a go. [Quelle surprise! -Ed] He was joined by Cyril Lemoine and Jerome Coppel (both Saur-Sojasun), Ben Hermans (RadioShack-Nissan), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha) and Tom-Jelte Slagter (Rabobank). Wisely, the peloton kept them on a tight leash and they never gained more than 20 seconds. As a consequence, Marco Pinotti (BMC), Jeremie Galland (Saur-Sojasun) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) bridged across with 15km but, despite further probing attacks, everyone was safely back in the bunch with 7km left heading to the base of the Cote de Ty-Marrec with many having earned valuable airtime for their sponsors.

The peloton in the GP Ouest France-Plouay (image courtesy of official race site)

Decisive move

Costa caught everyone by surprise attacking out of the shady side of the road at the foot of the final climb 5km from the finish. Despite others trying to bridge, he was several seconds clear over the summit before 3km later the winner soloed out of the peloton to join him and rested on his wheel before time-trialling away to victory. It was Boasson Hagen’s first win since Norwegian national road race championships in late June.

Edvald Boasson Hagen wins the 2012 GP Ouest France-Plouay (image courtesy of Sky)

Closing thoughts

A confident and calculated win by Edvald Boasson Hagen, who worked tirelessly during the Tour de France for winner and Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins. With Mark Cavendish now also part of the Sky set-up, Boasson Haagen-Dazs, as we like to call him at VeloVoices Towers, has found his opportunities to shine a bit restricted. He took a top five finish in last weekend’s Vattenfall Cyclassics, demonstrating his fine form.

Many were looking forward to seeing Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) in action today but sadly he retired halfway through the race feeling unwell. I suspect he’s simply worn himself out after his Tour exploits, but he’ll be back.

The French crowd got very excited when Voeckler made one of his trademark attacks, particularly since there hasn’t been a French winner since Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ-BigMat) in 2008. But the sprinters’ teams weren’t keen to let him get away and in truth, those teams rather wore themselves out chasing down the breaks and hence were hesitant to respond to the attacks of the winner and runner-up.

Race result

1. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) 5:55:28

2. Rui Costa (Movistar) +0:05

3. Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Sharp) same time

4. Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEDGE) s/t

5. Jurgen Roelandts (Lotto-Belisol) s/t

6. Marco Marcato (Vacansoleil-DCM) s/t

7. Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Nissan) s/t

8. Borut Bozic (Astana) s/t

9. Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis) s/t

10. Luca Paolini (Katusha) s/t

Link: Official website

Happy birthday Arnaud Demare

A thoughful young Arnaud Demare (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

Arnaud Démare is 21 years old today – bon anniversaire!

Yes, that’s right. The winner of last weekend’s Vattenfall Cyclassics is only 21 years old today. Moreover, he’s the first Frenchman to win a Classic since Frederic Guesdon won Paris-Tours in 2006. At VeloVoices we talked during the Tour of the impressive debuts of the 1990 generation –  Arnaud’s FDJ-BigMat teammate and compatriot Thibaut Pinot and Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) – and here’s another one, albeit born a year later.

I first met Arnaud at the 2010 World Championships in Melbourne where, aged 19, he finished a very creditable fifth in the under-23 road race – having been runner-up in the junior worlds the previous year. I’ve kept an eye on his frankly meteoric progress ever since. I’m not the only one. He’s won the prestigious Velo d’Or in his category for three straight years – 2009 to 2011. Last year he won the under-23 World Championships road race with teammate Adrien Petit  – now a neo-pro at Cofidis – finishing in the runner-up spot. Arnaud was already a stagiare at FDJ whom he joined at the start of this year with the heavy weight of expectation on his shoulders – and he didn’t disappoint.

He got quickly off the mark by winning the sixth and final stage in the Tour of Qatar, besting riders of the calibre of Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma Quick-Step), Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Barracuda) and Mark Cavendish (Sky). Neo-pro Arnaud took up the final sprint early but his shrewd tactics paid dividends as he crossed the line to record his first professional victory. Once past the finish, he called his mother to let her know he’d won his maiden professional race. Her reply was an incredulous “already?”.

Afterwards he said:

I was placed in ideal conditions in the last couple of kilometres with the help of my teammates. It’s an amazing feeling. Tom Boonen and Tyler Farrar came to congratulate me. I have admired them in front of my TV for so long.

What is it with French riders and tongues? (image courtesy of FDJ-BigMat)

Thereafter, he finished fourth in Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and three days later won Le Samyn. He continued his winning ways in Belgium with a stage win in the Trois Jours de Flandre-Occidentale. His first victory on French soil followed in the Cholet-Pays de Loire. An injured thumb kept him out of Paris-Roubaix but he returned to competition in mid-April with a couple of top five placings.

He then took part in the Giro d’Italia where he caught the eye of none other than Mark Cavendish when he finished fourth on stage three and recorded three top ten finishes before abandoning on stage 14. Arnaud had naturally been very impressed with the way Cavendish had taken his sprint victories and the speed at which he’d won them – in excess of 74kph. This was all part of his steep learning curve and he confirmed he’ll be looking to emulate Cav within the next two years.

In June he added to his palmares with a stage in the Route du Sud and was runner-up to teammate and fellow sprinter Nacer Bouhanni at Halle-Ingooigem. Four days later, Bouhanni got the better of him once again when Arnaud, launching his sprint a tad too early, finished second in the French national road race championships.

His performances this year meant he caught the eye of French team selector Laurent Jalabert who picked him for the French Olympic road race team. He finished 30th in London but three weeks later demonstrated his growing maturity by winning the Vattenfall Cyclassics in Hamburg. After the race Arnaud was keen to downplay expectations:

I know there was a lot expected of me but I must repeat that I am still young. I had a great start to the season before falling in the Three Days of De Panne. Then I took part in my first Grand Tour and it took me some time to recover. Then there was the French Championship, it’s a lot to digest … Yes, It’s been hard! I have worked hard in July in the Tour of Poland and the Olympic Games, but it’s done me good and now I win a big race.

Tom Boonen, who finished fourth, paid tribute to Arnaud saying he was a rider of great talent. Here at VeloVoices we’re in agreement, keep a look out for him in a series of one-day races on French soil starting with today’s GP Ouest-France.