Italian Filippo Savini (Colnago-CSF Inox) won Friday’s “queen stage” at the Vuelta a Castilla y León while Dutch rider Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) takes the leader’s jersey on a day that ended on a frustrating note for pre-race favorite Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard).
Contador punctured three times during the two-climb stage, including a late-race puncture that saw him limp across the line nearly three minutes behind the favorites. Contador lost 2:50 and fell out of contention to win the five-day race for the fourth time in five years.
“I flatted in my rear tire with 2km to go. I had noticed it earlier and I tried to hold on, because I knew if I stopped to repair, my race would be over, but I didn’t have any other choice,” Contador said. “I had some bad luck, tomorrow will be another day.”
The 3km safety-zone rule that applies to sprint stages does not apply to uphill, mountaintop finishes, so Contador’s real time across the line counted, meaning that his GC chances are shot on a day when all eyes were on him to carry the responsibility of the race.
Contador had problems earlier in the stage near the top of the Alto del Peñon when he was forced to switch wheels with teammate Jesús Hernández and make a dangerous descent to regain contact with the favorites going into the final run up the Laguna de los Peces.
Strong winds buffeted the bunch from the start, causing some early breaks in the peloton and a nasty crash that forced four riders – Stef Clement (Rabobank), Benat Urain (Orbea), Miguel Minguez (Euskaltel) and Ivan Parra (EMP) – to abandon.
Seven riders eventually pulled clear to open up a gap of five minutes at 55km into the stage. In the break were: Marco Kump (Geox-TMC), Joaquin Sobrino (Caja Rural), Rui Sousa (Barbot), Fran Javier Aramendia (Euskaltel), Gianluca Brambila (Colnago-CSF Inox), Raul Alarcon (Barbot) and Adrian Palomares (Andalucia-Caja Granada).
Saxo Bank-Sungard did most of the work to trim the gap down to less than two minutes up the Alto del Peñon. The break’s gap was even smaller on the day’s final climb up to Laguna de las Peces.
Dario Cioni (Sky) was the first to attack out of the group of favorites. Laurens Ten Dam (Rabobank) countered, causing the front group to fracture.
Savini jumped with 2km to go, caught Cioni and then reeled in the remnants of the day’s breakaway to solo home his first victory since 2008. Savini’s attack caught the favorites off guard and Mollema surged crossed the line second at 7 seconds back to take the overall leader’s jersey.
Pre-race favorites Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Xavi Tondo (Movistar) crossed the line 10 seconds adrift with Cioni taking sixth at 15 seconds back.
Tondo and Antón are tied at three seconds back on the GC going into Saturday’s 11km time trial at Zamora.
With Contador out of the picture, Tondo is now the favorite to claim overall victory, though Mollema, winner of the 2007 Tour de l’Avenir and 12th last year in the Giro d’Italia in his grand tour debut, is no slouch against the clock.
Tondo said he will do his best in Saturday’s TT.
“It was a really hard day today with a bit of everyting: wind, echelons, crashes, flats … there was a lot of fear of Contador, because we all know what he’s capable of. It’s too bad he punctured because it’s better to have everyone on equal terms. There are not a lot of differences and there are so good time trialists, including Coppel, Cioni as well as Mollema. In theory, I should be on vacations, but after the Basque Country tour, the team asked me to race here because it would fit me well. I thought, why not, it’s one of my favorite races.”