Vuelta a España: Stage 17 review

Stag17: Santander to Fuente Dé, 187.3km

What was meant to be a relatively easy day in the Vuelta a España turned out to be the potentially decisive stage, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) taking the stage win and leader’s jersey after an astonishing long breakaway. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) finished second on the stage and leapfrogged Joaquim Rodriguez in the GC, with the Katusha rider dropping to third.

Contador crosses the line to take the stage win and the overall lead after a bravura ride (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

In a spectacular demonstration of tactical genius, the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team sent men up the road on the second of the day’s three medium climbs, the Collado La Hoz. Here Contador made a break for freedom, alongside a select group of other strong riders. However, Valverde and Rodriguez were nowhere to be seen.

Contador’s teammate Sergio Paulinho was one of the riders who had been sent up the road anticipating a move from his leader. He did a great deal of pace-making once El Pistolero had caught up, and opened up a gap of 1½ minutes with 20km to go.

Contador and former teammate Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) attacked from the lead group shortly after, with the Spaniard accelerating away from his Italian companion after a few kilometres sitting in his slipstream.

With Rodriguez and Valverde over two minutes down, they both attacked. Valverde bridged over to his teammate Benat Intxausti, who was placed in the breakaway with Contador earlier in the day. Rodriguez, however, was out of steam, and with no teammates around him looked resigned to defeat.

Contador held on to take the finish first, with Valverde and Intxausti working magnificently to lose just six seconds to the new race leader. Poor Rodriguez arrived over 2½ minutes in arrears.

VeloVoices rider of the day

He may have retired in 2008, but today’s (former) rider of the day prize must go to Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s directeur sportif Bradley McGee. The Aussie masterminded the tactics behind today’s glorious victory, utilising a strategy reminiscent of Andy Schleck in the 2011 Tour de France. It was a bold move which could easily have gone wrong, but thanks to the evidently excellent shape in which Contador has kept himself over his six-month ban and a superbly executed tactic from the entire team, it paid massive dividends.


One of the most interesting of the day’s events occurred when Alberto Contador got into a two-man break at the head of the race, with Paolo Tiralongo. Contador and Tiralongo rode together at Astana in 2010, and the fascinating face-off between personal and team loyalties in cycling were demonstrated when Tiralongo sat on the front, quite deliberately pulling the Spaniard towards the red jersey. It was made even more obvious by Tiralongo even accepting a bidon from the Saxo Bank team car at one point. Contador had gifted a stage win to the Italian at the 2011 Giro. The accumulation of personal favours is an important but frequently overlooked part of cycling – and there’s no statute of limitations on when they might be called in.

Tactical analysis

What a turnaround! After today’s events Contador leads Valverde by 1:52, while Rodriguez is now 2:28 behind. It was a perfectly judged manoeuvre from Saxo Bank, but you can’t help but wonder whether Katusha could have done more to aid their ailing leader.

It was evident that Rodriguez wasn’t on top form, possibly suffering a dreaded jour sans – or it could simply be that he couldn’t live with his competitors on the flatter terrain. With hindsight it is obvious that today’s apparently benign final climb – 17.3km at 3.9% – was actually more of a threat than any of the alta montaña on the three monstrous days which preceded it. Shorter, steeper bursts are more suited to Rodriguez’s characteristics as a rider, but it is on longer, more gradual ascents where other climbers can gain the upper hand on him with a sustained effort.

Katusha must have known this was a possibility. For Rodriguez to be left without any teammates for so long was suicidal. Despite the undoubtedly excellent tactics utilised by Contador, the points classification jersey will be scant consolation with Purito having got through the time trial and biggest mountains ahead of his rivals.

It was Katusha’s to lose, and they have.

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

Friday Feature Extra: 10 things I love about cycling – Panache

Better late than never! Here is Panache’s list of love for our great sport … and a certain Italian cyclist’s kitty-cat. 

1.    The solo attack that just stays away

You all know what I’m talking about: it’s that moment when a lone rider attacks the peloton and suffers to stay away! He gets a sizeable lead but the peloton calculates the catch and it’s only a matter of time … or is it?! Our lone rider has the will, the peloton miscalculates, or the weather turns bad – all prediction goes out the window! With 500m to go our lone rider can see the line but the peloton is coming swiftly from behind. The lone rider suffers like never before and takes the victory and we LOVE it!

2.    The rewarded domestique

There are riders who spend an entire career helping their teammates win. They continually sacrifice by staying in the wind, hauling bottles, getting food, chasing down breaks, and surrendering bikes and wheels in a pinch. Once in a while, these domestiques get a chance of a lifetime and when they take the opportunity and get a win there is nothing more beautiful in sport.

3.    The bunch sprint

Sprint stages can be a bit of a bore to watch but the last 5km are always a treat. Mrs Panache can’t watch. She appreciates the teamwork but turns her head because she is so nervous for the riders. She knows that they are swerving through road furniture, riding inches apart and approaching speeds of 65kph. Bunch sprints are a beautiful form of aggression and risk taking that is beyond mere mortals.  We all recognise that you must be close to fearless to win.

4.    The podium girls

No words necessary.

5.    The women that are tougher than hard men

Speaking of beautiful women: there is nothing like the women of the pro peloton! These women are tough as nails! Example: In the Parkhotel Rooding Hills Classic superstar Marianne Vos fractured her collarbone when colliding with one of the race motorbikes. Undeterred, Vos got back up, stayed out ahead of the peloton all day, and came in second behind her teammate Annemiek van Vleuten! Ridiculous!

6.    The exuberance of youth

Why do we love Peter Sagan, Taylor Phinney, Marcel Kittel, Tejay Van Garderen, and Joe Dombrowski so much? We love them because they don’t recognise limits, they celebrate victories like a kid on Christmas morning, and they represent the future of our sport. Well, the future is NOW!

7.    The cobbled classics

The months of March and April are sporting nirvana for me. These two months are when the toughest men in the world shine. It’s when men like Boonen, Cancellara, Freire and Hushovd collide in magnificent battles. When you combine the cobbles, the mud, the Black Lion on a Yellow Flag, the Muur, the Forest of Arenberg, the Belgian fans, and the tradition with a huge dose of unpredictability, you always get an EPIC!

8.    The epic ride on a hot summer’s day

I’m not a fan of racing when the temperatures are scorching because I don’t perform well. That said, I love to train in hot weather. I’m not sure if it’s the added measure of suffering or extra bidons that must be consumed but I always feel satisfied after a long, hot ride!  I also love the razor-sharp tan lines that hot weather produces.

Panache coolin’ down on the road … you can just see his team car in the background

9.    The joy of a child

This is a recent picture of my seven-year old son during his maiden voyage on a vintage road bike we fixed up together. See the look on his face? Enough said.

Mini Panache finding his inner Voigt on his first big boy’s bike

10. Daniele Bennati’s cat

Several months ago, RadioShack-Nissan rider Daniele Bennati posted a picture of his cat on Twitter. I posted a snarky tweet about how things must be really bad at RadioShack if Bennati is posting pictures of his cat. Daniele didn’t take to kindly to my tweet and blocked me. I hope some day that he will forgive me. While I’m not a huge fan of cats, Bennati’s post shows us that riders are human. Like us mortals, they love their pets, they have families, they have other interests and racing isn’t the only thing if their lives. So @Benna80, I love your cat for showing us the humanity of the peloton!

Daniele’s Persian cat … (image posted on Twitter … we didn’t ask Mr Bennati, we’re too scared of him)

Happy birthday Dani Moreno

Yes, this chubby-cheeked youngster is Dani Moreno (image courtesy of Dani Moreno)

Feliz 31 cumpleaños Dani! 

They say that behind every successful man is a woman. By that token, in front of every successful Grand Tour winner is his wing-man. Joaquim Rodriguez was the UCI’s top-ranked rider in 2010 but I think we can all agree he’s turned the dial up a notch since Katusha brought in Dani Moreno to help him – a rider who, quite unbelievably, has at times struggled to find a contract.

So on Dani’s 31st birthday, we’re delving into his background to find out when and where he started cycling. Like a lot of today’s riders, his father was a keen amateur cyclist and once his older brother started riding Dani wanted to ride too. [Why am I not surprised? – Ed] In 1993, he got his first bike for Christmas, joined his local club and straight away started racing. As a youngster, his petite size mitigated against him winning too many races. Nonetheless he progressed through the ranks of various cycling clubs finally ending up riding for VC Portillo, the best team in Madrid, at which point he started winning.

He then joined team Level, a feeder team for continental team Alcosto, where competition for places was fierce. But Dani moved up to Alcosto in his second year and two years later, after winning a number of races, was signed in his last year as an under-23 rider by ProContinental team Relax as a replacement for an injured rider. His first race for them was the 2004 Tour of Britain where he finished sixth overall: an auspicious start to his burgeoning career.

Dani Moreno with team Relax (image courtesy of Dani Moreno)

2005 was Dani’s first full season as a professional and he picked up a few podiums but the following year, his early season was blighted by a knee injury that forced him to retire from the Tour de Langkawi. He was soon back in the saddle to record his first professional stage win in the Clasica Alcobendas on the Navacerrada, Dani’s favourite climb. He went on to finish third overall. Further victories and podium finishes followed plus he took part in his first Vuelta a Espana.

Dani’s progression continued in 2007 where he enjoyed his best ever season winning three races and tasting more success while racing all over South America. He finished the season with a 12th place overall in his second Vuelta a Espana. Unfortunately, Relax collapsed in late 2007 and Dani didn’t find a place on another team until March the following year. He finally got a contract with Caisse d’Epargne where he rode for two seasons in the service of Alejandro Valverde.

Dani had won races every year since turning professional and wanted an opportunity to also be a team leader in some of the smaller stage races. To that end in 2010 he moved to Omega Pharma-Lotto to support Cadel Evans’ Grand Tour aspirations. It was not a happy move, Evans jumped ship to BMC and Dani disappeared among his mighty Belgian teammates. It was his first year without a win – not even a podium.

In 2011, he joined Katusha to ride in support of Rodriguez, who he’d known at Caisse d’Epargne. It was a marriage made in heaven as Dani returned to winning ways with stages in the Giro del Piemonte, Vuelta al Burgos and, finally, the fourth stage of Vuelta a Espana and ninth overall.

Dani Moreno wins in Burgos (image courtesy of Katusha)

He’s gone even better this year with victories in GP Miguel Indurain, a stage in Vuelta a Andalucia, two stages in the Critérium du Dauphiné and two stages plus the overall in the Vuelta al Burgos, where Rodriguez rode as Dani’s domestique – reward for the assistance he was afforded by Dani in achieving the runners-up spot in the Giro d’Italia.

The dream team are currently on course to go one better in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Though it would appear as if, despite Dani’s invaluable assistance, Rodriguez is leaving nothing to chance: