Stage 8: Jerez de la Frontera to Estepona, 166.6km
The first of three consecutive summit finishes didn’t have quite the fireworks we expected, but it still had a surprise winner who timed his attack to perfection, and a rather chuffed new race leader!
A strong breakaway of 13, including Dario Cataldo (Sky), Rafael Valls Ferri (Vacansoleil-DCM), Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Leopard), Dominik Nerz (BMC) and Jorge Azanza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), took off 30km into the race and stayed out for much of the day. The peloton kept them within shouting distance until they neared the final climb. Cannondale then swarmed to the front to set a lime-green pace with 20km to go. Riding in the service of Ivan Basso, the most elegant rider in the peloton, the Cannons’ work brought the break within arm’s reach, then relinquished the front to RadioShack as they hit the base of the climb 14km out. With gradients in the double-digits for the first 2km of the climb, Fabian Cancellara put down the pain, blowing the peloton apart – and losing a few GC hopefuls such as Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) – as he rode a ferocious tempo to set up teammate Chris Horner.
As Spartacus calmly hoovered up the poor unfortunate breakers who slipped back into the peloton in ones and twos, the GC contenders were huddled in a select group behind him: Vincenzo Nibali in red, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in anticipation, Rigoberto Uran (Sky) in his element and Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) in a frisky mood. Only Cataldo, Nerz and Valls Ferri could stay away as Busche took enough off the gas to drop back to the chasing group, relieving Cancellara of his team duties at 9km to go. With a “haunches, be still”, the Swiss peeled off and effortlessly took up position at the back with all the guys he made suffer.
Now it was a waiting game. Busche and Horner were still pushing the pace of the elite group, sweeping up the three remaining breakers at the 7km mark. Just under the 5km banner, Euskaltel’s Igor Anton took a flyer off the front to make a 15-second gap but the elite group didn’t like that and his solo effort was doomed. From then on, attacks came thick and fast, including one by Horner before Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) surged away and flew right past Anton, with Thibault Pinot (FDJ), Basso, Moreno and Roche in hot pursuit. Under the flamme rouge, Roche went first but Konig timed his attack brilliantly and came away with NetApp’s first stage win of the Vuelta. Roche finished fifth, 22 seconds ahead of Nibali, as a result of which the Irish rider was called to the podium to receive the red jersey. He was thrilled.
I’m not accustomed to being in the lead, but I love having the red jersey. I’ve been fighting for it for days, thinking what it would be like … now I’ve managed it and it’s incredible, a dream.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Leopold Konig, natch! This almost seemed like a replay of stage two when Konig, Moreno and Roche were duking it out for the stage (won by Roche) but today it was Konig who had his timing right.
I looked at the profile of the climb and planned out this attack. When you’ve got your whole team pulling for you, it gives you extra motivation. This victory is a dream become reality.
And the reality is Konig has jumped from 14th to fifth on GC. Can he hold on? Hard to tell, but I wouldn’t rule him out of a top ten finish overall with this kind of form and heart on display. The other reason I picked Konig was because, as a wild-card team, NetApp-Endura are doing what wildcard teams are supposed to be doing – making their presence felt in every stage and serving up a few surprises.
Analysis & opinion
So far this Vuelta, we’ve not seen a lot of Valverde or Rodriguez. We’ve seen enough of Nibali to know that he’s in great form but he’s been playing it kind of quiet this first week, desperately trying to lose the red jersey that keeps miraculously appearing on his shoulders. But the other two? I was surprised neither of them had a crack at this finish, but considering what is in store for them tomorrow and Monday – brutal, brutal finishes that will really put the shakedown on the GC – they probably were playing it cool today.
I loved that Ivan Basso and Cannondale played it aggressively. Basso can grind out a climb – one of the keys to his success in the 2010 Giro – so he’s making some time on the ones that suit him and his style. Coming in fifth today was not a bad result for him and he should be pleased with the outcome. I’d love to see him finish well in this Vuelta, as I suspect retirement and the dreams of the blueberry farm will take hold very soon for the Italian.
And now I will wax lyrical about The Sacred Haunches™. But it will be short. I was mocked – mocked I say! – when I kept tipping him for the World Championship road race earlier this season. Well, it seems a lot of people have come round to my way of thinking – he’s lean, he’s mean, he’s been stamping his Swissness all over the Vuelta this week. He can almost taste the rainbow!
Stage 8 result
1. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) 4:09:46
2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:01
3. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:05
4. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) same time
5. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) s/t
1. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) 31:39:30
2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:17
3. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) same time
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:18
5. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +0:29
6. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:30
7. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:31
8. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +0:42
9. Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:52
10. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:03
Points classification: Daniel Moreno (Katusha).
Mountains classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).
Combination classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).
Team classification: Saxo-Tinkoff.
Link: Official website