Joaquim Rodriguez (Team Katusha) seized the lead in the Vuelta a España on Monday as Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Euskaltel-Euskadi) soloed to victory atop the Alto de Cotobello.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) — with a lot of help from teammate Roman Kreuziger — fought valiantly to protect his red leader’s jersey on stage 16. But he cracked on the final steeps of the beyond-category Cotobello and slipped to second overall, 33 seconds behind the resurgent Rodriguez, as Saxo Bank’s Fränk Schleck charged away toward second on the day and into fourth overall.
Ezquiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia) now sits third at 53 seconds back with Schleck fourth at 2:16 and Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) fifth at 3:01. American Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) moved up one spot into seventh overall, at 4:29.
“I can’t believe it. It was extremely hard,” said Nieve. “I gave it everything I could. Everything went perfect today.
“I dedicate this to my team and to Igor Anton. We were doing a great job, working for Anton to win this Vuelta. Everything fell apart for us, but we came back to fight again. We had nothing to lose today. We decided to attack from very far. This is our third stage win — we’re going out of the Vuelta with our head held high.”
As for Rodriguez, he was happy to have regained the lead, but was saving any celebrations for further on down the road.
“The time I have now on Nibali gives me a little margin going into (Wednesday’s) time trial, but it’s not enough to win this Vuelta,” he said. “I know I will lose time against him there. I need to try to limit the losses and attack again Saturday.
“It was important for me to regain the jersey again today. I will try to lose as little time as possible. Every second will count going into the final weekend.”
Four rated climbs, with a leg-breaking finale
The 181.4km race began in Gijón along the coast of the Bay of Biscay and took the peloton southwest before turning east to finish in Cotobello.
It included four rated climbs, including a tough beyond-category finishing climb. Unlike Sunday’s stage, in which the sole climb came at the finish, the route covered a series of climbs.
- The Category 3 ascent of the Alto de la Cabruñana, which began at 39.2km and covered 6.6km at an average of 4.77 percent.
- The Category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, 10km at 91.1km averaging 8.5 percent.
- The Alto de la Cobertoria, 8.1km at the 133.8km averaging 8.54 percent.
- And the finale, the beyond-category Alto de Cotobello, a 10.1km climb that rises at an average of 8.15 percent.
Race leader Nibali was confident about keeping his red leader’s jersey.
“I’m pretty calm today,” he said at the start this morning. “My team is not super strong but not weak either. I’m confident about the help I’ll get again. If Vladimir Karpets goes flat out for Rodriguez, I think I’ll be able to follow. I don’t intend to let this jersey go.”
Attack after attack, but nothing sticks
An early break containing Caisse d’Epargne’s Rigoberto Uran (17th overall at 9:13) and Xacobeo’s Serafín Martínez (a challenger for the KOM title) was snuffed out early. Another with Luis León Sánchez met a similar fate, shortly after a crash took Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) out of the Vuelta.
Meanwhile, Denis Menchov (Rabobank) went on the attack just before the sprint at 28km and took the top points. But his time off the front was strictly limited, too.
Uran joined another would-be break, a big one, but it likewise was pulled back in as the peloton hit the slopes of the first climb, the Category 3 Alto de la Cabruñana.
KOM leader David Moncoutie (Cofidis) took the honors at the summit ahead of Martínez and teammate Gonzalo Rabuñal. And at 56km, the peloton was still all together.
LL Sanchez finds his break
Luis León Sánchez finally shoehorned himself into a break and the chase was on.
The men in the break
- 15. Luis León Sánchez, Caisse d’Epargne, at 7:01
- 25. Ludovic Turpin, Ag2r La Mondiale, at 14:19
- 28. Alexsandr Dyachenko, Astana, at 17:03
- 35. Marco Marzano, Lampre-Farnese Vini, at 28:13
- 37. Thomas Peterson, Garmin-Transitions, at 28:49
- 57. Juan Jose Oroz, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 1:07:19
- 74. Matthieu Sprick, BBox Bouygues Telecom, at 1:25:27
- 94. Frederik Willems, Liquigas-Doimo, at 1:43:45
- 101. Kevin De Weert, Quick Step, at 1:49:24
- 137. Sebastian Langeveld, Rabobank Cycling Team, at 2:37:20
At 75 the escapees had more than two minutes on the peloton. As they hit the lower slopes of the Category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, their lead was up to four minutes.
Halfway into the climb, Euskaltel sent Amets Txurruka and Nieve up the road. Jan Bakelandts (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Johann Tschopp (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), Ruben Plaza (Caissee d’Epargne), Andrey Kashechkin (Lampre) and Vladimir Karpets (Katusha) began chasing.
Sánchez took top points going over the San Lorenzo. The Euskaltels — augmented by Oroz, who dropped out of the lead group to join them — summited at 1:28. The peloton followed at 3:00.
The gaps held steady with 65km to race. But the Euskaltels kept driving, and 10km further along they had joined the leaders and it was an eight-man group in the lead, Dyachenko having fallen off the pace.
The Euskaltels continued to push the pace on the Alto de la Cobertoria as behind, Saxo Bank drove the peloton, with Fabian Cancellara cranking out the revs on behalf of team leader Schleck.
And then Schleck punched it and rode away, picking off riders one by one on the ascent.
Nibali under pressure
Nibali had just one teammate left, Roman Kreuziger, and he pulled the dwindling bunch along in pursuit of Schleck, eventually reeling him in as Sánchez led the break over the summit. The red jersey group followed at 1:43.
The lead group was down to five riders at 28km to go — Sánchez, De Weert, Peterson, Nieve and Txurruka — clinging to a lead of just under two minutes as the final climb approached.
With 16km to go the GC group was swelling. Christian Vande Velde and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions) were there, as were Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia), KOM leader David Moncoutie (Cofidis) and second-placed Rodríguez.
As the break began padding its advantage, to more than three minutes, Ag2r began lending a hand to the chase on behalf of sixth-placed Roche. Cofidis pitched in, too, and the clock began swinging in favor of the chase once more as the break hit the lower slopes of the beyond-category Alto de Cotobello with 10km to race.
The favorites go to war
The extra horsepower — either that or the Alto de Cotobello — cut the break’s advantage to 2:30 with 9km to go. Schleck had moved to the front and begun laying down a terrific tempo with Vande Velde and Danielson on his wheel.
Ahead, the lead group had begun fracturing — Nieve was on the attack, chased by Sánchez and De Weert.
Behind, Schleck attacked the GC group and quickly took a dozen seconds on the other favorites. Danielson accelerated and joined the Luxembourger, staying parked on his wheel. Xavier Tondo (Cervélo TestTeam) couldn’t stick the pace and fell out of the GC group, led by Kreuziger.
And then Carlos Sastre (Cervélo) attacked out of the GC group with 5km to go, quickly catching and passing Schleck and Danielson. The Saxo man promptly grabbed his wheel, but Danielson could not follow.
Sastre attacked again, and then Schleck repaid the favor, riding away from the Spaniard and passing Peterson. Behind, fourth-placed Peter Velits (HTC-Columbia) couldn’t hang as Kreuziger drilled it for Nibali and shot out the back.
The final kilometers
With 2km to go Nieve had 1:22 on Schleck, who in turn had about a half minute’s advantage. As Schleck rode up to Sanchez, first Roche, then Mosquera attacked from the GC group. Nibali was all alone — and he cracked.
Rodriguez saw his opportunity and seized it.
“I wanted to attack earlier, but then the others started to attack — Schleck, Danielson, Sastre. It was a hard rhythm to keep them close,” he said. “When Mosquera went, I could see Nibali having a little difficult and decided to attack then.”
Nieve took the stage win, and then the stopwatches began ticking. Schleck roared up behind De Weert on the final climb, latched onto his wheel, and then shot past for second on the stage at 1:05 with De Weert third.
Rodriquez was next to finish at 1:22, with Sanchez at 1:33. Next came Mosquera at 1:42, Roche at 1:45, Sastre at 1:49, and finally Nibali at 1:58. His time in the leader’s jersey was done — Rodriguez was the new leader of the 2010 Vuelta a España.
Tuesday brings the second rest day of this year’s Vuelta, followed by the all-important time trial on Wednesday, a 46km affair in Peñafiel.
- 1. Mikel Nieve, Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 4:51:59
- 2. Frank Schleck, Team Saxo Bank, at 1:06
- 3. Kevin De Weert, Quick Step, at 1:08
- 4. Joaquin Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 1:22
- 5. Luis León SÁnchez, Caisse D’Epargne, at 1:32