Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) rode alone to victory in stage 14 of the 2011 Vuelta a España on Saturday.
Taaramae got away from fellow breakaway David De la Fuente (Geox-TMC) on the final climb after Fuente sat up to wait for teammate Juan Jose Cobo, who had attacked out of a dwindling GC group containing race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and teammate Christopher Froome.
Cobo rode to second place on the day, 25 seconds behind Taaramae, with De la Fuente third four seconds later.
“This is the biggest win of my career. I have been close to victories before in big races, but I never could pull it off,” said Taaramae. “I wasn’t sure of victory until De la Fuente pulled off, either to wait for Cobo or he couldn’t follow me, I don’t know. To win here is confirmation of the kind of rider I am.”
Wiggins, meanwhile, confirmed his hold on the red leader’s jersey and Froome moved into second overall with Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema third going into Sunday’s monster stage up the Angliru.
As the one-two Sky punch battered the GC group, defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Joaquim Rodriquez (Katusha) cracked on the final climb to at La Farrapona, both losing more than two minutes.
“In the climb of San Lorenzo, I was feeling well but in the last one, at some stage, I went flat. I maybe didn’t feed myself well. There wasn’t much time to eat, though,” said Nibali.
As for Rodriguez, he said simply: “I’ve lost the Vuelta. I’ve suffered a lot in the last climb. I couldn’t give any more than I did today.
“I expect to suffer again tomorrow but now that I’ve lost any option to do well on GC, I’ll only have to look for other opportunities.”
“Once I got dropped, I’ve tried to avoid the damage. A weakness like that can happen to anyone, even to the best riders. Tomorrow will be another day. It’s gonna be hard and it’ll be a different battle.”
Going up … and up, and up
The 172.8km race from Astorga to Lagos de Somiedo featured three increasingly tough climbs in the last 70km, beginning with the Category 2 Puerto de la Ventana at 104.4km.
Next up was the Category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, a tough 10.1km climb with an average grade of 8.5 percent, summiting at 142.1km.
Last but not least was the mountaintop finish at La Farrapona, a 16.8km climb. It averaged 6 percent, but served up some much steeper grades along the way.
The attacks came early in the stage and a huge group was already off the front just 6km in: Guillaume Bonnafond and Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r La Mondiale); Luis Leon Sanchez Gil, (Rabobank); Eduard Vorganov, (Team Katusha); De la Fuente, (Geox-TMC); Inaki Isasi Flores and Jorge Azanza Soto, (Euskaltel-Euskadi); Francesco Bellotti, (Liquigas-Cannondale); Taaramae and Yohan Bagot, (Cofidis); Daniele Righi, (Lampre-ISD); Aliaksandr Kuschynski, (Team Katusha); Jonas Aaen Jörgensen, (Saxo Bank-Sungard); Jose Alberto Benitez Roman, (Andalucia Caja Granada); Leigh Howard, (HTC-Highroad); Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Cervélo); Karsten Kroon (BMC Racing Team); and Daniele Righi (Lampre-ISD).
The break’s advantage topped three minutes at 45km and four minutes 10km further along.
About 40km out Vanmarcke shot off the road coming off the Ventana and tumbled down a slope. Kroon and Righi also hit the deck; Kroon abandoned, but Righi continued.
Taaramae makes his move
With 35km to go Taaramae attacked out of the break with De la Fuente chasing. Behind, Movistar teammates Benat Inaxausti and Marzio Bruseghin jumped out of the bunch.
Then Katusha’s Daniel Moreno — ninth overall at 1:52 — jumped out of the bunch and chased through the remnants of the break, picking up teammate Kuschynski, discarding him, then collecting Vorganov.
Next to accelerate on the San Lorenzo were Rodriguez followed by Geox-TMC teammates Denis Menchov and Cobo, and the Geox dig briefly put a number of riders into difficulty, among them race leader Wiggins, albeit briefly.
Coming off the ascent Taaramae and De la Fuente had just 90 seconds over the swelling Moreno group, with the shrinking peloton at nearly two and a half minutes.
Heading onto the lower slopes of La Farrapona Inaxausti and Bruseghin were driving the Moreno chase, 48 seconds ahead of the Wiggins group and a minute down on the two leaders.
Rabobank was powering the GC group, with three men on the front — Carlos Barredo, Juan Manuel Garate and Luis Leon Sanchez — working for Mollema.
Twelve kilometers from the line the two leaders were still cranking out the revs ahead of the Moreno chase as Euskaltel and Liquigas replaced Rabobank at the front of the GC group.
With 9km to go Taaramae and De la Fuente clung to a minute over the Moreno group, which had shed Righi and was down to five men — Moreno, Vorganov, Bruseghin, Mondory and Bonnafond. The GC group was 90 seconds down.
Wiggins and Froome get to work
Three kilometers further along the chase was closing in as the grade steepened. Meanwhile, Euskaltel’s Gorka Verdugo dragged the GC bunch up to the Moreno group — and teammate Amets Txurruka immediately took a shot, leaping away from the freshly reformed and greatly reduced peloton, which included race leader Wiggins and third-placed teammate Froome.
Four kilometers from the finish Txurruka was a minute down on the two leaders with the GC group at 1:20. Just before the banner Moreno attacked once more, drawing out Cobo, who easily rode up to and straight past him. Behind, Froome took the front of the group for Wiggins.
Cobo — eighth overall at 1:27 — shot past Moreno and Txurruka. The pace proved too much for Nibali (Liquigas), Rodriguez and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo).
“Today’s stage was a good one to try something and tomorrow’s will be another good one,” said Cobo. “I’ve recovered some time on GC, that’s what I was looking for.
“To have passed riders like Nibali, who was the great favorite, and ‘Purito’ is important. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow for the four riders who also still intend to win. The Angliru doesn’t exactly suit me but it also doesn’t suit Wiggins. I hope to position myself in the top three — that would be great.”
Up front, Taaramae was all alone as De la Fuente sat up to wait for Cobo. The two Geox riders hooked up and got back after it as Wiggins took the front of the GC group.
“I was pretty tired but when you have a teammate coming from behind to play a big coup on GC, it’s normal to stop and wait, as I was asked via radio,” said De la Fuente. “In such circumstances, you have to find strength even when there is no more.”
With 1km to go Taaramae had 22 seconds over the Geox chase. The Wiggins group was 48 seconds down, with the race leader and Froome trading pace and spitting out the likes of Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek), Rodriguez and the defending champ.
They wouldn’t catch Taaramae, though, and the Cofidis rider sailed across the line alone.
“I got the best feeling in the world when I heard on the radio that a few other GC contenders got dropped,” said Froome.
“Bradley has been incredible. He’s in a super condition. For me, he’s the one who deserves to win this race. That was our objective today to try and get some time over our adversaries before the Angliru tomorrow and we did it.”
Michele Scarponi called it a Vuelta during stage 14. “I just didn’t have the legs,” he explained ar sign-in after losing 21 minutes on Friday. “I’ve felt really tired the past few days. I’ll see today how it goes. I’m prepared to suffer but I’ve already suffered a lot, just to reach the finish.”
- 1. Rein Taaramae, Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne , 4:39:01
- 2. Juan José Cobo, Geox-TMC , at 0:25
- 3. Fuente David De La, Geox-TMC at 0:29
- 4. Wouter Poels, Vacansoleil-DCM at 0:40
- 5. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky at 0:45
- 1. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky , 55:54:45
- 2. Christopher Froome, Team Sky, at 0:07
- 3. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank, at 0:36
- 4. Juan José Cobo, Geox-TMC, at 0:55
- 5. Jakob Fuglsang, Leopard-Trek, at 0:58