Joachim Rodriguez takes the lead into the rest...

Philippe Gilbert ends drought with win in Barcelona; Joaquim Rodriguez leads Vuelta a Espana

The Belgian strongman finally bounces back to take his first win of the season

BARCELONA, Spain (VN) — Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) won the ninth stage of the Vuelta a España, outsprinting race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who padded his lead over the other GC contenders.

Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) finished third on the day.

The 196.3km stage from Andorra to Barcelona, the longest of this year’s Vuelta, marked the first win of 2012 for Gilbert, who was understandably delighted.

“It has been one year since I won the last time. I’m very happy,” he said. “It’s a special victory for me because I have a hard season behind me. A lot of criticism from the Belgian press.

“Winning this … it’s amazing.”

Sunday’s run from Andorra to the Catalan capital was marked by an early four-man breakaway comprising Martijn Maaskat (Garmin-Sharp), Bert Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia).

The quartet built up a five-minute gap before the peloton finally brought them back 25km from the finish. Then Rodriguez and Gilbert spoiled the sprinters’ party with a late attack.

“The Montjuic climb was very tough,” said Gilbert. “And when I saw Rodriguez set off, I knew this was the moment if I wanted to win.”

Rodriguez’s second-place finish extended his advantage over Chris Froome (Sky), who remains second overall, at 53 seconds, and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), now third at 1:00.

Rodriguez, all smiles, said: “I gain a second here and a second there like a good little ant. I’m following this strategy because I realize I’m going to suffer in Wednesday’s time trial.

“If I continue to gain a few seconds here and there, then a podium place or even victory is not out of the question.”

Monday brings the first rest day of this year’s Vuelta. Racing resumes on Tuesday with the 190km 10th stage between Ponteareas and Sanxenxo.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the Vuelta a España.