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BEJAR, Spain (VN) — Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo) put a wild and unpredictable Vuelta a España in perspective moments after darting out of a six-man group to claim victory atop the Covatilla summit in stage 9 of the Spanish tour.
“The Vuelta is the only race when you can have crosswinds on a summit finish and mountains in a sprint stage,” he said.
The first week of the 2011 Vuelta has been anything but predictable.
And just when it appeared Joaquím “Purito” Rodríguez was in the driver’s seat, taking two wins inside four days, the Katusha captain went limp on the 18.2km, wind-buffeted summit finish high in the Sierra de Béjar in western Spain.
Rodríguez crossed the line 25th to cede 50 seconds on a day when he needed to bolster his gap to the TT specialists, such as the impressive Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
To add insult to injury, Rodríguez lost the red jersey a day after winning it, by one second, to Dutch phenomenon Baume Mollema (Rabobank), who earned a second-place, 12-second time bonus.
“I was actually quite upset with myself after the stage because I knew I had the legs to win. I knew Martin was the fastest in the group and I shouldn’t have been caught by surprise,” Mollema said. “I wasn’t even thinking about the GC at all today. It was all for the stage win. To get the jersey is a nice bonus.”
With the decisive 47km Salamanca time trial on tap tomorrow, all eyes were on the impressive Wiggins.
Wiggins destroyed an elite group of favorites on the final climb to the ski area of Sierra de Béjar, riding man after man off his wheel after a stellar setup by teammate Christopher Froome.
Martin — who had been off the front earlier, first with cousin Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) and then with Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) — shot around him at precisely the right instant, punching the air as he crossed the line ahead of Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) and Juan Jose Cobo (Geox-TMC). Nibali slotted into third at nine seconds.
The victory came sweet for Martin, who is making a serious run at GC in a grand tour for the first time of his career.
“To win a stage in the Vuelta, with a lot of the best climbers in the world here, it really means a lot,” Martin said. “To show something is pretty exciting for the future, but I prefer to stick to the present right now. I am taking this Vuelta one day at a time. I’ve never done a time trial as long and as flat as tomorrow’s, so we’ll see.”
Two climbs, one of them a doozy
The 183km ninth stage from Villacastín to Sierra de Bejar served up only two rated climbs, one at the start and the other at the finish. The 5.5km Category 3 Puerto de la Cruz de Hierro kicked in just 3.1km from the start.
At the other end of the course was the ascent of La Covatilla, both long (10.1km) and steep (7.2 percent).
A four-man group had formed up 50km into the day’s labors. Jose Vicente Toribio (Andalucia Caja Granada), Martijn Keizer and Pim Ligthart (Vaconsoleil), and Sebastian Lang (Omega Pharma) built a lead that exceeded 10 minutes at one point.
Thirty kilometers from the finish the break was down to Lang and Ligthart, and the chase was picking up, with Lampre driving the peloton. With 25km to go the twosome had five minutes’ advantage.
At Béjar, 17km from the line, Euskaltel-Euskadi had contributed a man to the chase, thinking of Igor Anton. The break was just three minutes ahead. Five kilometers later Katusha was at the front for race leader Rodriguez. Liquigas was moving forward, too. The gap was just over two minutes.
Dario Cataldo (Quick Step) and Tom Slagter (Rabobank) had a brief dig out of the chase as the climb started. Ahead, Lang shed Ligthart and soldiered on alone, 1:13 ahead of the main bunch with 10km to race.
GC faves hold their fire
Lang was pedaling squares as the grade ramped up to 12 percent and beyond.
Behind, the likes of Wiggins, Nibali, Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack) and Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) were biding their time as Lampre drove the chase. Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step), the race leader for four days, couldn’t hold the pace and slipped off the back.
The chase swallowed up Lang and Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) attacked straight away. Michele Scarponi (Lampre) quickly followed, as did Jurgen Van de Broucke (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Nibali and the rest of the favorites. With six kilometers to go, Kevin Seeldrayers (Quick Step) was next to try his luck. Nibali and Roche brought him back.
Then Martin attacked, dogged by his cousin Roche (Martin’s mother is the sister of Irish legend Stephen Roche). Martin quickly proved the stronger of the two and rode away as Roche fell back to the chase.
Nibali attacked next with Seeldrayers, but Seeldrayers couldn’t hold his wheel as the Italian rode up to the Irishman. Seeldrayers hooked up with Sergio Pardilla (Movistar) and it was two chasing two, separated by just 12 seconds.
The Rodriguez group reeled in Seeldrayers and Pardilla with just over 3km to go as Nibali led Martin up the climb. Behind, Froome was doing yeoman’s group for Sky teammate Wiggins, and Scarponi shot out the back as the main group dwindled to a half-dozen riders.
Blasting crosswinds turned into headwinds as the riders zig-zagged their way up the long, stair-stepping climb.
“When I first attacked, I didn’t think they’d let me go away. It was too windy for Nibali and I to stay clear,” Martin said. “Wiggins was super-strong. When they came up to us, it was hard to stay on his wheel. I know I can do a good sprint at the top of a mountain. I proved that at Sierra Nevada (in stage four) when I was third.”
Wiggins turns the screws
The frenzied chase finally retrieved Nibali and Martin, and Wiggins took the front with a vengeance. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) was there, as was Chris Anker Sorensen (Leopard). Van den Broucke popped, as did Rodriguez.
Wiggins stayed on the front, punching the pedals and shedding rider after rider, clipping the lead group down to five men.
Then Martin attacked up the right side of the road in the finale and shot to the win ahead of Mollema, who could console himself by donning the red jersey of the overall leader.
“I am happy to be in the jersey, but I don’t expect to be able to keep it tomorrow. There are some good time trialists who are close to me,” Mollema said. “I will keep fighting for GC. There are some good mountain stages coming up. Maybe if I am strong I can be in the lead positions.”
The 66th Vuelta continues Monday with its lone individual time trial at Salamanca. The 47km out-and-back course favors the specialists, with Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin favorites to win the stage on a mostly flat course.
Bradley Wiggins, 13th overall at 1:00 back, is poised to pull the double, to win the stage and snag the red leader’s jersey.
Forecasters are calling for clear skies, temperatures in the low 30Cs and gusting southwesterly winds from 15 to 30kph. That should mean mostly headwinds on the way out, and tailwinds on the way back home.
- 1. Daniel Martin, Garmin-Cervélo, at 4:52:14
- 2. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank Cycling Team, same time
- 3. Juan José Cobo, Geox-TMC, at 0:03
- 4. Bradley Wiggins, Team Sky, at 0:04
- 5. Christopher Froome, Team Sky, at 0:07
- 1. Bauke Mollema, Rabobank Cycling Team, 37:11:17
- 2. Joaquin Rodriguez, Team Katusha, at 0:01
- 3. Vincenzo Nibali, Liquigas-Cannondale, at 0:09
- 4. Fredrik Kessiakoff, Astana, at 0:18
- 5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Omega Pharma-Lotto, at 0:27