Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) won his second stage of this year’s Vuelta, extending his lead over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) from one second to 13. Sky’s Chris Froome is now 51 seconds in arrears, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) 1:20 behind.
However, for a large portion of the day’s racing it didn’t seem like Rodriguez would have the chance for a victory at all, with a four-man breakaway opening up a gap which the peloton didn’t seem interested in closing down. Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), Amael Moinard (BMC), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) made up a strong escape, which still held a gap of almost three minutes with just 15km to go.
But, on the final climb up to the finish – which featured ramps of up to 30% – the group disintegrated, and was swept up thanks to some good work by Movistar and Katusha. Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) made the first move from the bunch, only to have Contador and Rodriguez blitz straight past him seconds later.
The Spanish duo opened up a gap, with Contador doing much of the work. As they got closer and closer to the finish, it appeared Contador might just crack his opponent, only for Purito to come surging past to take the win and 20 bonus seconds.
VeloVoices rider of the day
A difficult day to select the rider of the day, without many great standout performances. I’m therefore going to hand the award to Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), who has ridden a quietly impressive race so far. After a career-best finish of 12th at this year’s Tour de France, he finished eighth on today’s stage and sits seventh overall – his joint-highest Grand Tour placing ever. He will make a valuable ally to Alberto Contador when he jumps over to Saxo Bank next season.
An honourable mention must go to Sky’s loyal domestique Xabier Zandio, who was forced to retire from his home race today after a nasty crash. The 35-year old collided with a piece of traffic furniture in a collision that also brought down French national champion Nacer Bouhanni, although FDJ’s sprinter was okay to continue. Zandio didn’t have so much luck, and was carted off in an ambulance with a facial injury, fortunately described as “not serious” by his team.
Today’s stage may have made this Vuelta a two-horse race, with Froome and Valverde evidently not having enough in the tank to match Rodriguez or Contador on the climbs. Froome’s best chance was to make up shedloads of time in the time trial and cling on for dear life on the ascents, although a disappointing TT has put paid to his hopes.
The real question now is whether or not the Vuelta is a one-horse race. Rodriguez has looked completely supreme on the climbs, although it’s worth remembering that we haven’t yet had an HC summit in the race – the first comes on stage 15. It is on these climbs where Contador will hope to make up time, and only a fool would write him off now.
On a tactical note, it was interesting to see Contador towing Rodriguez up the climb to the finish today. Rodriguez has the better sprint of the two, and therefore El Pistolero’s decision to pull his compatriot towards the finish seemed confusing. But he has put time into Valverde and Froome, and clearly feels confident enough to make up the time in the vicious final week.
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