NOJA, Spain (VN) — Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) kicked to victory ahead of Kristof Vandewalle (Quick-Step) out a big breakaway in Thursday’s 174.6km transition stage across northern Spain that saw a cease-fire between race leader Juanjo Cobo (Geox-TMC) and second-place challenger Chris Froome (Sky).
Cobo and Froome crossed the line at 7:42 back with all the main GC favorites to remain locked in a bitter battle that will heat up Friday as the Vuelta a España returns to the Basque Country for the first time in more than three decades.
Friday’s 158.5km 19th stage from Noja to Bilbao features two passages over the second-category Alto El Vivero in the closing 50km that will provide Froome with his best and likely last chance to try to wrangle away Cobo’s 13-second lead.
“We can expect Sky to try something tomorrow and we will have to defend,” Cobo said. “The time bonuses are still very important in the last three days, because there are bonuses in Madrid as well, but we hope a breakaway stays clear tomorrow.”
The Vivero climb, 5km at 8.5 percent, features ramps as steep as 13 percent as it climbs high above Bilbao. The summit is 14.3km from the finish line, with the descent on smooth, wide open roads where Team Sky will have to try to set a trap for Cobo if they have any hope of winning the Vuelta.
If Sky can ramp up the speed on the climb and isolate Cobo, Froome could then try to attack over the summit as he did on Peña Cabarga on Wednesday.
Despite Froome’s superior time trialing skills, however, the long descent to Bilbao would favor Cobo if he did get gapped over the summit. Gusting headwinds would make it even more difficult for an individual rider to fend off an organized chase.
Gavazzi signs with Astana
In Thursday’s stage, there wasn’t much ground for Sky to try anything despite the climb-heavy, five-climb route across Spain’s verdant Cantabrian region that featured the first-category Alisas climb at 121.4km.
Gavazzi snuck into the day’s 21-rider breakaway that made it all the way to the finish to contest for the stage. Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack) went on a solo flier with just under 30km to go.
Despite opening up a promising, 50-second gap, the Portuguese rider was caught with less than 3km to go.
Vandewalle attacked soon after Paulinho was reeled in, and Gavazzi was quick to mark his wheel.
“Paulinho was strong on the climbs, but lucky for us, he went alone and there was a headwind in the final kilometers,” Gavazzi said. “I decided to go straight with Vandewalle because there was some confusion in the group. It’s a big win for me.”
Gavazzi also confirmed that he will ride next season with Astana.
“I will join Martinelli at Astana to be able to have the space to see what kind of rider I can become, especially in the classics,” he said. “At Lampre, with Cunego, Scarponi and Petacchi, there are not a lot of opportunities for me to race for myself.”
Purito back in green; Sijmens saves Moncoot’s KoM jersey
There were two internal battles inside Thursday’s stage as the Vuelta pushes ever closer to Sunday’s finale in Madrid.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) rode into the winning break to reclaim the green point’s jersey that he lost Wednesday to Bauke Mollema (Rabobank). Rodriguez picked up eight points in the the day’s two intermediate sprints to recapture the lead, 106-101 to Mollema.
“I am very happy to have the jersey again,” Rodriguez said. “After I crashed, I thought my Vuelta might be over. I suffered to get through the stages, but my wrist is holding up and I hope to keep the jersey now to Madrid.”
David Moncoutie (Cofidis) defended his grip on what could be a record fourth consecutive King of the Mountains jersey thanks to smart riding from his teammate Nico Sijmens.
KoM rival Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r) was a major threat in the day’s winning break and won the first of five climbs at the Braguia climb. Sijmens rode heroically over the next four climbs, pipping Montaguti over the remaining summits that saved seven points for Moncoutie.
That seven-point difference is the margin that Moncoutie carries into Friday’s stage.
- 1. Francesco GAVAZZI, (ITA) Lampre-Isd, in 4:24:42
- 2. Kristof VANDEWALLE, (BEL) Quick Step, at 0
- 3. Alexandre GENIEZ, (FRA) Skil-Shimano, at 10
- 4. Nico SIJMENS, (BEL) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne, at 10
- 5. Matteo MONTAGUTI, (ITA) Ag2r La Mondiale, at 10
- 1. Juan Jose COBO ACEBO, (Spain) Geox-Tmc, in 74:04:05
- 2. Christopher FROOME, (Great Britain) Team Sky, at 13
- 3. Bradley WIGGINS, (Great Britain) Team Sky, at 1:41
- 4. Bauke MOLLEMA, (Netherlands) Rabobank Cycling Team, at 2:05
- 5. Denis MENCHOV, (Russia) Geox-Tmc, at 3:48