SAN LORENZO DE EL ESCORIAL, Spain (VN) — When he won the Montelupone stage at Tirreno-Adriatico a few years ago, Joaquim Rodríguez joked, “Maybe they should start calling it Monte-Purito.”
“Purito” is Rodríguez’ nickname and it’s one that he could apply to any number of short, steep climbs across Europe. The Mur de Huy at Fleche Wallonne has yet to fall to Rodríguez’s explosive power, though he’s been second two years in a row.
On Saturday, in stage 8 of the 2011 Vuelta a España, Purito bounded to his second stage victory inside four days on a steep, 1km muro, with ramps as steep as 21 percent, that was tailor-made for his explosive style.
“We came to check out the climb in June and I knew it was perfect for me,” said Rodríguez, who used a 39×26 to seal the deal. “Today was harder than Valdepeñas (which he won Wednesday). There is no letup on the climb and I knew I would have to wait to attack.”
The GC pack roared to the base of the El Escorial finishing climb with about 50 riders still together after a challenging, hilly run across the mountains north of Madrid.
A few brave souls tried to anticipate the action, with Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) attacking with 12km to go just as the day’s main breakaway was being reeled in.
“I didn’t know the climb,” Taaramae said. “Had I known how hard it was, I wouldn’t have attacked.”
Katusha was drilling it at the front to set up Rodríguez, who didn’t fail to deliver. With overnight leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) struggling at the back, Rodríguez knew the double was in the offing.
Lampre positioned Michele Scarponi at the nose of the bunch and Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) surged clear as the leaders danced their way up the cobblestoned climb through the ancient heart of El Escorial’s historic district.
“This stage had Purito’s name on it,” Scarponi said. “If I hadn’t anticipated his attack, I could not have gone with him.”
Rodríguez jumped with about 350 meters to go on a flat step at a cross street and used that platform to jet past Scarponi, win the stage by nine seconds to the Italian and take a 20-second time bonus. Chavanel slipped to ninth at 1:00 back.
When the dust settled, Rodríguez held a 32-second lead to Katusha teammate Dani Moreno with Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) third at 34 seconds. Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) sits fourth at 45 seconds.
“Purito is just unbeatable in these types of finishes and he lived up to expectations today,” Nibali said. “We tried to not waste any energy at all during the stage. I went up at my own pace on the final climb without overdoing it, because any sort of crisis there, even a small, could have caused a lot of damage. I am thinking about recovery because tomorrow is going to be another busy day.”
As for Rodriguez, he said: “We are not going to obsess about the jersey. We are going to keep doing our work and aim to have the jersey on the final day in Madrid, which is the only day that counts. I could lose the jersey tomorrow or at Salamanca.”
Two more hard days ahead
Saturday’s 177.3km eighth stage was just the start of three days of decisive racing for the 2011 Vuelta.
After Sunday’s summit finale at La Covatilla and Monday’s 47km individual time trial, the GC battle should be more settled going into Tuesday’s rest day, the first of two.
“These next days will tell us a lot about who can win this Vuelta,” said Garmin’s Daniel Martin, 22nd overall at 2:02 despite collecting a 40-second time penalty four days ago. “After that, I should be able to tell if I keep fighting for the GC or just try to win a stage.”
The grueling pace of this Vuelta is taking its toll — four more riders left the race on Saturday. Mickal Golas (Vacansoleil) did not start while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo), who collided with Golas in Friday’s sprint, abandoned at 35km. Three-time world champion Oscar Freire (Rabobank) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) also did not finish.
There’s hardly been a chance for riders to catch their breath. Vuelta rookie Andrew Talansky Tweeted: “There was a time when I thought 3,000m was a lot of climbing. It is safe to say those days are gone. 3700m today.”
Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) snuck into the day’s main breakaway, but he knew it was a lost cause with Katusha breathing down their necks all day.
“When I only saw four of us up front, I knew we didn’t stand a chance in hell of making it,” Haussler said. “It wasn’t easy but it was good to be in the break. If anything, it was good training for the worlds.”
Katusha was impressive all day, riding hard at the front to control the breakaway and then positioning Rodríguez and second-place Moreno perfectly for the final climb.
The GC favorites did well to defend against Purito on his preferred terrain. Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack) only lost 20 seconds to his Spanish rival, finishing in a 10-rider group as the GC pack fractured on the final steeps.
“I don’t do well on these short, punchy climbs,” Brajkovic said. “I do better on the longer climbs, like Covatilla. The key for me in this Vuelta is Salamanca. I expect to take two or three minutes on the climbers there.”
Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) also did well to limit his losses, crossing the line 15th. The two-time Vuelta champion, now 27th at 2:53 back, will be under the gun in Salamanca after losing time early.
There are still 23 riders within 2:05 of Rodríguez, who’s gained 40 seconds in time bonuses with two stage victories.
“I need to get as much time as I can against the TT specialists,” Rodríguez said. “I know I will lose time in Salamanca. I hope I don’t lose as much as last year (six minutes at Peñafiel). I need all the time I can get against Wiggins, Brajkovic and Menchov.”
Sunday’s stage: Second summit finish
The 66th Vuelta continues Sunday with the 183km ninth stage from Villacastin to the La Covatilla ski area, the second of six summit finales in this year’s Vuelta.
The stage rolls along a series of low hills along the northern flanks of the central mountains before tackling the 18.2km climb to Covatilla in the Sierra Béjar. Though not terribly difficult, the climb gains 1,070 vertical meters with an average grade of 5.8 percent, with max grades of 10 percent. The climb favors the steadier climbers, such as Van den Broeck, Wiggins and Brajkovic, and should see stage-hunters light up the action. A few of the riders hanging in the top 20 could lose significant time.
- 1. Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha, 4:49:01
- 2. Michele Scarponi, Lampre-ISD, at 0:09
- 3. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank Cycling Team, at 0:09
- 4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:09
- 5. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:12
- 1. Joaquim Rodriguez, Team Katusha, 32:18:16
- 2. Daniel Moreno, Team Katusha, at 0:32
- 3. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:34
- 4. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:45
- 5. Michele Scarponi, Lampre-ISD, at 0:51