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Vuelta’14 St.11: Fabio Wins At San Miguel!

Race report: The contenders chose to sort out their own private battles over the last kilometer of another intriguing Vuelta stage, which allowed the young Italian hero Fabio Aru to take a perfectly timed win at the summit finish of Santuario de San Miguel. Contador hangs onto the overall, but it’s getting close!

How it went down: it’s a lumpy opening to the stage in northern Spain, as the riders zoom through two intermediate sprint points in Tafalla and Estella (where Valverde edges Contador in the first – how often have you ever read that?) before tackling the third-category Puerto de Lizarraga.

2014_vuelta_a_espana_stage11_profile copy
The start is lightning quick with a couple of breakaways so large that they were more or less splits in the field. Red jersey wearer Contador got in one of them which forced Movistar to chase.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 11Alejandro Valverde is the undisputed leader of the Movistar team now

Unfortunately for the boys in dark blue, they are now down to one leader – Nairo Quintana came down in another big crash today and abandoned, so it’s all riding on Alejandro Valverde now. Also, taking the painful exit strategy was BMC’s Steve Morabito. French Tour hero Thibaut Pinot also quit due to illness.

A fearsome foursome headed by Sky’s stone-faced Vasil Kiriyenka escaped mid-stage, and jumped out to a four-minute advantage.

But heading into the last 50 clicks or so, the Belorussian is having to go it alone as the Katusha team start to haul the race back into some sort of order. He’d been away with Lotto-Belisol’s Pim Ligthart, Johan Le Bon from FDJ.fr, and Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida).

38K to ride for Kiriyenka, who looks as if he’s climbing the Lizarraga in slow motion – he’s not, just pushing a big gear. He’s 3’40” up on the peloton. Peio Bilbao (Caja Rural) and Favilli are chasing, but Le Bon and Ligthart are dropped.

Kiriyenka lives round this way, he knows the roads and, more importantly, he’s giving Chris Froome a big helping hand. Sky have to do precisely nothing but look after the 2013 Tour de France winner and hope he can explode in the finale.

20 kilometers left for Kiriyenka, and he has two-and-a-half minutes on the Katusha-led field which streams down the descent at well over 70kms/h. The Belorussian calmly douses himself in water and continues to grind his way towards the finish.

14 clicks to ride, and Kiriyenka’s lead is melting in the heat, down to 1’20”. Katusha are still to the fore, but so are Trek Factory Racing. Cannondale appear on the front, Team Sky are closely in attendance, but Contador’s looking a wee bit lonely.

The final climb is a beast. A snip under ten kilometers long, the ascent of San Miguel de Aralar has an average gradient of 7.5%, but one pitch just two clicks from home that tilts up to 14%. All the Pamplona-based riders know it well, train on it regularly. Among them, the Movistar team which has long had a home in the city. Also the Colombians Uran and Quintana, but sadly it’s only the Omega Pharma-QuickStep man who’s still fit and in the race.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 11Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) gave a hard dig

It’s a narrow ribbon of concrete, as much as a road, with a few treacherous cracks to jar the wheels of the unwary.

Kiriyenka hits the climb with 40 seconds in hand. A platoon of policemen in reflective yellow jackets guide him off the nice tarmac and onto the brutal final slopes. That lead is all but gone inside just one kilometer of climbing.

Deignan takes over for Sky and ups the pace, thinning the front group out, for Sky. Then Cataldo takes over. But the first big strike is from Giant-Shimano’s Warren Barguil.

5.5kms left and Robert Gesink has joined Warren Barguil in going clear. The gradient flip-flops wildly, and Barguil’s jersey flaps in the breeze. It’s a 10% slope for Gesink as he ditches his French companion.

Chris Froome, worryingly for Sky, is skittering around at the back of the lead group. So is Winner Anacona. But Movistar light up the front and start to close on Gesink.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 11Belkin’s Robert Gesink leads Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp)

Froome claws his way back as Dan Martin has a couple of attacks, but again Froome hauls himself into contention.

Three clicks left and Gesink has 20 seconds, but the hardest slope awaits. Froome incredibly fights to the front and shows some real guts. Gesink is picked up with 1.3kms left.

Dani Navarro leads Contador and Valverde but Astana’s Fabio Aru attacks over the top of him, under the red kite. The head honchos hesitate and Aru is gone.

Tour of Spain 2014 stage - 11Fabio Aru: Big star of the future

The young Italian wins, almost disbelievingly. Valverde edges Rodriguez and Contador for the placings as the contenders clatter across the line.

No decisive blows struck today, but another fascinating day, full of sub-plots and great scenery.

Keep it Pez for all the reactions in Eurotrash tomorrow!

Vuelta a España Stage 11 Result:
1. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana in 3:41:03
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 0:06
3. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha
4. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo
5. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 0:07
6. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step at 0:14
7. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC at 0:15
8. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp
9. Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis at 0:18
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin.

Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 11:
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo in 40:26:56
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar at 0:20
3. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step at 1:08
4. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 1:21
5. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha at 1:35
6. Samuel Sanchez (Spa) BMC at 1:52
7. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 2:13
8. Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida at 2:22
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin at 2:55
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale at 3:51.

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