There was no doubt about Ventodo’s victory in the 175.3km run from Otura to Jaén. He had such a big winning gap he could look back and raise his arms in victory 20 meters ahead of the line.
Juan Lobato (Andalucia-Caja Granada) took second with Davide Appollonio (Sky) slotting into third while Markel Irizar (RadioShack) finished in the main pack to retain his one-second grip on the leader’s jersey with two stages to go.
Ventoso, already a winner of a stage at the Tour Down Under, was motivated to get it right after Monday’s close call.
“I’m glad I won and could deliver the victory for the team, especially after all the hard work they did for me,” Ventoso said. “(Monday) was such a hard stage and to have come so close after getting over all the climbs was a real disappointment. Today I could raise my arms — that’s the best way to win.”
Schleck just warming up
The up-and-down stage across the olive groves on the road north to Jaén featured four third-category climbs. It was fast from the gun as riders tried in vain to get into the breakaway and among those on the attack were Jens Voigt and Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek).
Schleck is making his stage-race debut at Ruta del Sol and admitted it was hard going in Monday’s mountainous stage over three tough climbs.
“I’m not at my best right now and the season is long,” Schleck said before the start. “I’m here to prepare for the classics, which are my first goal of the season. I like this race. The weather and the roads are perfect to start the season. We’re not going with the best right now, but we want to be at the best for the Tour.”
Three major breakaway attempts were reeled in before Txente Garcia (Movistar), Victor Cabedo (Orbea), Antonio Piedra (Andalucia-Caja Granada) and Aitor Galdos (Caja Rural) pulled clear at 75km.
They opened a gap of nearly five minutes, but RadioShack and Rabobank started to pull. With 10km to go, the bunch was back together for the fast run into Jaén.
Irizar poised for win
With no time bonuses in play, things are looking good for Irizar with two sprint-friendly stages left to go.
Irizar retained his one-second lead over Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) with RadioShack teammate Levi Leipheimer in third at two seconds adrift.
“It was really hard (Monday) but the team really helped me to get to the line,” Irizar said before the stage. “The team is really supporting me. We have to be vigilant to not let a breakaway go away.”
Irizar is called the “Spanish Armstrong” after he survived a bout with testicular cancer in 2002 to return to professional peloton. Unlike the prolific Armstrong, Irizar won his first professional victory last summer at the Tour de Poitou-Chartes in France when he won the final TT to also claim the overall.
Irizar, who followed Haimar Zubeldia from Euskaltel-Euskadi to RadioShack in 2010, just missed victory in Sunday’s prologue by fractions of a second, but snagged the jersey Monday when overnight leader Jimmy Engoulvent was dropped in the heavy climbing stage.
The 57th Ruta continues Wednesday with the rolling 174km fourth stage from La Guardia de Jaén to Córdoba. There’s only one minor, third-category climb at 54km across the rolling hills northwest toward Córdoba in what will likely be another bunch sprint.
1. Francisco Ventoso (ESP/Movistar) 175.3 km in 4:21:53.)
2. Juan Lobato (ESP) s.t.
3. Davide Appolonio (ITA) s.t.
4. Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA) s.t.
5. Thierry Hupond (FRA) s.t.
1. Markel Irizar (ESP/RadioShack) 8:51:46.
2. Jurgen Van den Broeck (BEL) at 01.
3. Levi Leipheimer (USA) at 02.
4. Jerome Coppel (FRA) at 03.
5. Luis Pasamonte (ESP) at 08.