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The final stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León going into Sunday’s three-climb finale was only a “nine-man” race after Saturday’s winning breakaway took eight minutes on the main pack.
Overnight leader and Saturday’s stage-winner Luís León Sánchez (Rabobank) looked to have the race under control, but everything unraveled on the snow-covered final summit in the snowbound mountains south of Segovia.
Javi Moreno (Movistar) rode brilliantly, first to drop León Sánchez on the Cat. 1 Puerto de Navacerrada with 50km to go, and then to win a second-place time bonus on the finish line to claim the overall prize.
Guillaume Levarlet (Saur-Sojasun) started the day in second place, six seconds behind León Sánchez, and nine seconds ahead of Moreno.
Levarlet and Moreno both bridged up to what became a 24-rider group over the Navacerrada while León Sánchez was trapped in a chase group. Three of his Rabobank teammates abandoned on the climb, leaving León Sánchez to largely chase by himself.
Yelko Gómez (Caja Rural) took the team’s second win of the weekend in Segovia while Moreno kicked to second and earned a six-second second-place bonus.
All would have been fine for Levarlet if he could have finished with the breakaway, but the group split in the final sprint, and he crossed the line 10th at four seconds slower.
When the seconds were added up, Moreno nipped Levarlet by one second in the battle for the GC.
Matthew Busche (RadioShack-Nissan) closed out a solid day of racing with fourth on the stage after riding most of the day as part of the winning breakaway.
Busche rides into winning breakaway
The final stage was delayed by nearly 15 minutes as riders were unconvinced that the mountain roads would be safe, especially over the day’s final climb up and over the Cat. 1 Navacerrada.
Overnight storms left a thin layer of snow and ice on the highest reaches of the summit at 1,800 meters, but race officials insisted it would be safe in time for the race to cross the pass in the early afternoon.
At the insistence of León Sánchez, the peloton grudgingly pressed forward for the stage.
Action opened up quickly with the Cat. 1 Puerto de Navafria at 36.7km. Eleven riders tore free in the first 12km, to be joined by eight others, with Busche among the protagonists.
The gap grew to four minutes as the leaders topped the day’s second climb at the Cat. 1 Puerto de La Morcuera at 72.7km.
Rabobank and Euskaltel-Euskadi collaborated to trim the deficit to two minutes at the base of the Cat. 1 Puerto de Navacerrada at 122.6km.
Levarlet, Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Moreno and Tiago Marchado (RadioShack-Nissan) — all GC threats who were part of Saturday’s winning break — bridged across to connect with the Busche group, leaving León Sánchez largely to chase alone after three of his Rabobank teammates abandoned during the climb.
A new group of 24 gelled together, consisting of riders from the earlier breakaway and counter-attacking riders coming up the Navacerrada. With 22km to go, the front group had 22 seconds on the desperately chasing León Sánchez on the flats rolling toward Segovia.
That was the end for León Sánchez. With 10km to go, the gap grew to 40 seconds and there was no way to pull him back. He sat up and crossed the line 4:55 back and plummeted to 12th overall.