Vuelta stage 9: Moreno the wing-man becomes the main man

Stage 9: Antequera to Valdepenas de Jaen, 163.7km

Already the wearer of the green points jersey, Daniel Moreno almost seemed to defy gravity, taking flight up the close-to-30% wall in Valdepenas de Jaen to take the red leader’s jersey from Nicolas Roche by just one second. To add insult to injury, he also relieved the Irishman of the lead in the white jersey combined classification.

Vuelta 2013 Stage 9 profileThis stage was always going to be about the last 20km, and in particular the final kilometre climb through the town of Valdepenas de Jaen, with gradients touching a lactic acid-inducing 27% early on. The day’s break comprised five men, but like any warm-up act they were dispensed with in good time for the main action to unfold.

It was Edvald Boasson Hagen who lit the (Sky) blue touch-paper, jumping out from the peloton about a kilometre from the top of the day’s lone categorised climb, the cat 2 Alto de los Frailes, and bolting past earlier attackers as if they were standing still. He sped down the fast descent, with Katusha leading the snaking peloton in pursuit. With 5km left the Norwegian’s lead was 13 seconds, but with impeccable timing the peloton patiently reeled him in and, as the road started to turn from descent to ascent, he was caught with 1.7km to go and spat unceremoniously out of the back to finish 1:45 down.

Television pictures have a tendency to flatten out steep gradients but make no mistake, despite its short length this is one of the toughest single climbs in professional cycling. The peloton hit the serious part of the climb under the flamme rouge, and it was Daniel Moreno (Katusha) who hit the afterburners on the 27% section with around 800 metres remaining, leaving the entire GC pack gasping in his wake and receiving raucous support from the crowds lining the narrow climb.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the only rider able to muster a concerted chase, allowing Moreno’s teammate and leader Joaquim Rodriguez to hitch an armchair ride in his wheel-tracks. The pair finished some 25 metres and four seconds down on Moreno to complete a Spanish sweep of the podium. Red jersey Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) led a small group containing Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Rinaldo Nocentini (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) a further four ticks in arrears. That eight-second gap, coupled with Moreno’s ten-second bonus as stage winner, saw the overall lead pass from Ireland to Spain by the margin of one second.

VeloVoices rider of the day

A slightly left-field choice from me today, as I’m selecting Edvald Boasson Hagen as my rider of the day. Truth be told, I’m not EBH’s biggest fan. Not because I think he isn’t talented – quite the opposite.  He has always been one of those riders who has frustrated me for possessing an immense talent married to a palmares which, while good, should really be exceptional. I’ve criticised him at various times in the past for lacking the panache of a Thomas Voeckler, the grit of a Cadel Evans or the fighting spirit of an Alberto Contador, and long suspected him of lacking the fire that separates the great from the merely very good.

Today, his attack off the front with 17km remaining was one which was always likely to be doomed. Nonetheless he really went for it, using every last centimetre of road on a tricky, quick descent and squeezing every last ounce of effort from his body. It was the sort of attack we often see from Voeckler or the likes of Luca Paolini, Juan Antonio Flecha or Johnny Hoogerland. They rarely succeed, but the merit is in the trying. Credit where credit’s due: Boasson Hagen gave it everything today, and that is as worthy of recognition as any of the wins he has amassed in his career to date. Chapeau.

Analysis & opinion

As expected, the stage strung out the peloton and created some time gaps between the GC riders, but nothing overly significant. The severity of the final climb was underlined by the fact that only 38 riders finished within a minute of Moreno as the front group exploded into twos, threes and fours on the steepest sections. Most of the men who would expect to finish in the top 20 in Madrid crossed the line within 30 seconds of today’s winner, with perhaps the biggest losers being yesterday’s winner Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) and Rigoberto Uran (Sky), who both lost 47 seconds. Disappointing, but certainly recoverable given what is to come.

While Nicolas Roche will be gutted to have lost the lead by the narrowest of margins, he will still have been encouraged by his fourth-place finish which demonstrated that he can live with the very best climbers in this race on both the long climbs and the punchy ones. On current form, he must be considered to be among the podium favourites in what is turning out to be a particularly open Vuelta.

Valverde and Rodriguez, second and third here as they were on stage three, have had quiet and uneventful weeks so far, and are well within striking range of the current top three. Whether 41-year-old Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) can sustain his challenge throughout the three weeks remains to be seen.

Stage 9 result

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 4:18:57

2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:04

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) same time

4. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:08

5. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) s/t

General classification

1. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) 35:58:34

2. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +0:01

3. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:19

4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:22

5. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:28

6. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:56

7. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +1:09

8. Haimar Zubeldia (RadioShack-Leopard) +1:10

9. Rigoberto Uran (Sky) +1:22

10. Ivan Santaromita (BMC) +1:25

Points classification: Daniel Moreno (Katusha).

Mountains classification: Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff).

Combination classification: Daniel Moreno (Katusha).

Team classification: Movistar.

Link: Official website

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