Vuelta’11 St.9: Irish Eyes Are Smiling!
Race report: After a few days with short, sharp shock finishes, it’s something approaching a proper mountain top finish – the riders are heading up La Covatilla, which has a shallow gradient early on before it kicks up with 8 clicks left. It’s not hard, but it’s hot again, and it could be a pretty nasty headwind on the final stretch to the summit.
Four are off on adventure today, led by the soon-to-retire Sebastian Lang, Omega Pharma-Lotto’s road captain, who is probably calculating something for his team leader Jurgen van den Broucke. Along with him are Vacansoleil’s Dutch champion Pim Ligthart and his team-mate Martin Keizer, and Andalucia’s serial attacker Jose Vincente Toribio.
Lang escaped solo after about 15kms following a tasty start on the Puerto Cruz del Hierro (3rd category climb), so already having the Giro and the Tour in his legs this year isn’t slowing him up. Toribio chased him down solo, followed by the Vacansoleil guys. Once together, the gap goes out over ten minutes before Katusha take to the head of the peloton to get things under control.
42kms left to race and the gap is holding at seven minutes, but with an intermediate sprint looming Lang bolts clear with Ligthart on his wheel and the veteran gets the points … and the cash.
A battalion of windfarms lazily wave their arms through the sky … not what you want to see as a rider. Wind! The peloton are pushed over to the left-hand gutter of the road. Still Katusha on the front, with Lampre and Euskaltel lurking.
34kms left and it’s six-and-a-half minutes to Lang and Ligthart now, and Keizer and Toribio are going backwards. Lang is ignoring the guidance notes of Scotland’s great climber Robert Millar who once said: “Always wear gloves – you will fall off at least once!”
25 clicks left and the field is hauling through Sanchotello … and it’s hurting badly, riders streaming off the back. Five minutes the gap now.
The crowds are a bit more like those at the Tour de France today … happy families jumping up and down by the roadside, but we’re in real cycling territory. Roberto Heras and Laudelino Cubino are from around here.
18.2 kms left and we’re in Sierra de Bejar – the riders are going up, up, up to the summit finish at La Covatilla. Lang and Ligthart are climbing the ‘easier’ lower slopes, the German with his jersey flapping and slapping in the breeze. Four minutes … enough to hold off the peloton? Probably not.
Rodriguez pulls a sneaky move going through the final intermediate sprint in third after Lang/Ligthart. A few extra seconds in the bag.
Twelve kilometres to race and the Katusha guys are all out of the saddle, hammering along, lining it out. They’ve sliced the lead to two minutes. Wiggins emerges at the head of the field – he’d been way too far back earlier on and has Thomas Lцfkvist to thank, as the Swedish domestique deluxe hauls him up through the peloton.
Ten to go and Lang pushes on alone – it’s only 1’13” of a gap now. Karpets for Katusha grits his teeth and batters the pedals around.
8 kilometers left and we’re on the hardest part of the climb. Lang checks over his shoulder – they’re coming. His pedalling setting has been dialled down from fluid to agony. The favourites are massing at the front of the field – Rodriguez, Moreno, Nibali, Brajkovic, Menchov, Fuglsang.
Lang is caught just inside seven clicks to ride. Boom! Rein Taaramae of Cofidis launches. Katusha’s Moreno is surprisingly dropped. One-by-one riders are going across to the Estonian: it’s Scarponi first then Van Den Broucke and Ardilla. Back together as the wind hits them full in the face.
Igor Anton is dropped again, and Sastre. Attack from QuickStep’s Kevin Seeldrayers; Nibali counters, with Van Den Broucke.
Daniel Martin now goes and his cousin Nico Roche follows! Rodriguez is worryingly far back, and not looking great. Martin has gone solo now. Nieve (Euskaltel) andScarponi are up to Roche.
Now Nibali is away with Seeldrayers! It’s all kicking off. The defending champion from Liquigas is onto Martin as they go under the four kilometre banner. The crosswind now clacks the flags straight out on the roadside. No hiding place here.
Three to go: Nibali and Martin have 13 seconds; Sky lead the chase, and Scarponi is labouring.
The field is lined out in the gutter as the wind batters them. The red jersey Rodriguez is dropped!
Froome is hauling his Sky leader Wiggins up to Nibali/Martin – epic ride from the Kenyan Brit.
Wiggins on the front now, hammering for all he’s worth. Rodriguez is over half-a-minute down but he’s picked up by Moreno and they both look wrecked.
Wiggins is practically TTing to the line, under the red kite leading Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema tailing him.
Martin jumps and gets the win! Mollema second. Wiggins makes a stement of intent ahead of tomorrow’s TT, and young Dutch starlet Bauke Mollema is in the red leader’s jersey!
Keep it Pez for all the best coverage!
Vuelta a Espana Stage 9, Villacastнn – Sierra de Bejar. La Covatilla, 179.5kms
1 Daniel Martin (Ire) Garmin-Cervelo 4hrs 52’ 14”
2 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank same time
3 Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC + 3”
4 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky + 4”
5 Christopher Froome (GB) Sky + 7”
6 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas + 11”
7 Rein Taarame (Est) Cofidis + 12”
8 Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC
9 Hamair Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack
10 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana same time
Vuelta a Espana Overall After Stage 9
1 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank 37hrs 11’ 17”
2 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha + 1”
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas + 9”
4 Fredrik Kessiakoff (Ire) Astana + 18”
5 Jurgen Van Den Brouck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto + 27”
6 Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha + 35”
7 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek + 37”
8 Kevin Seeldrayers (Bel) Quickstep + 42”
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) RadioShack same time
10 Juan Jose Cobo (Spa) Geox-TMC + 46”