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VALDEPENAS DE JAEN, Spain (VN) — ‘Purito’ delivers the goods with explosive victory
Joaquím Rodríguez delivered the goods on a day when all eyes were on the Katusha captain to win on the explosively steep finale with ramps as steep as 23 percent in Wednesday’s 187km fifth stage at the Vuelta a España.
The extremely short finale was reminiscent of the Montelupone stage at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Mur de Huy at Fleche Walllonne, two scenarios where “Purito” has electrified in the past.
Katusha worked to control an eight-man breakaway to carry Rodríguez to the base of the final wall. The 5-foot-7 climber turned on the afterburners and dashed to a morale-boosting four-second lead ahead of Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil).
“This was one of the stages that I really wanted to win,” said Rodríguez, who climbed into third overall at 23 seconds behind race leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick-Step). “This is like racing one of the Belgian classics. The climb is perfect for my characteristics.”
Thousands of fans packed into the narrow, white-washed Andaluz village lost in the Jaén’s olive-producing region to watch the fireworks.
An eight-man group pulled clear on the first of two passages over the Alto de Valdepeñas that gave the pack a preview of the pain that was waiting at the finish line.
A late-race surge by David Moncoutie (Cofidis) fell short and Rodríguez made his bid for the win. Poels, the promising 23-year-old Dutch rider on Vacansoleil, nearly pulled off the upset, finishing just four seconds shy of the win.
“I flatted just two kilometers from the start of the final climb. I got a wheel from a teammate and got right back into the bunch,” Poels said. “I felt good over the first passage and I wanted to attack today, but my sport director is telling me to save my energy for the GC. I thought for a moment I could win, but Rodríguez is just too strong on these kinds of finishes.”
Chavanel rode to 37th at 31 seconds back to become the first rider since the Vuelta started to defend the race leader’s jersey. He leads Dani Moreno (Katusha), who was third on the stage at five seconds back, by nine seconds, with Rodríguez third at 26 seconds back.
‘Purito’ aims for Vuelta glory
For Rodríguez, the victory is a boon for his GC aspirations for this year’s Vuelta and the second in a row for Katusha, which won Tuesday’s summit finale at Sierra Nevada with Moreno.
Rodríguez skipped the Tour de France, as Katusha took an all-Russian team to France this year, to focus completely on the Vuelta.
Fourth last year, Rodríguez is hoping to win the red jersey, or at least finish on the podium after five top-8 finishes in five grand tours without yet reaching the top-three.
“This is a huge boost for our morale. Things are going just as well as we could hope for at this point,” he said. “I am coming into this Vuelta with 100 percent fitness. These efforts to win stages cost you, but to win a stage is always worth the effort even though the top goal is to try to win this Vuelta.”
He said it was too soon to draw too many conclusions on how the GC battle is shaping up.
“Just like we saw in last year’s Vuelta, things can change from one day to the next. I thought I had the Vuelta wrapped up, then I had a disastrous time trial and lost all options for victory,” he said. “We have to take it day to day. This is a very hard Vuelta and we’ve already seen how riders can be good one day and have a bad day the next. The heat and the effort will add up by the third week.”
Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC) and Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) are the biggest names who, so far, have ceded ground in the frenetic first five days of racing.
Defending Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) looks to be the most comfortable, with 11th on the stage at 11 seconds back and fifth overall at 33 seconds adrift.
Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek), the first-day race leader after the TTT, is fourth overall at 26 seconds off the pace.
Others are hanging in there, including Jurgen Van den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto), ninth overall at 0:44 back, and Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack), 19th at 1:07 back.
“This type of finish is not so good for me,” Brajkovic said. “The last half of the Vuelta should decide things. Now it’s important to not lose time in these opening stages, because it will be hard to regain the seconds.”
Katusha controls it
The Vuelta’s 187km fifth stage started with a moving homage to Xavi Tondo, the Movistar rider who died in a freak accident in a parking garage at Sierra Nevada in May. From there, it was a long, downhill neutral start off the mountain near Granada.
Once again, temperatures soared into the mid-30Cs to make for a long, hot day in the saddle.
“This heat is hard on every one,” said Matt Busche (RadioShack), who ride into the day’s main break in Tuesday’s stage. “The sport directors are constantly telling us to keep drinking water throughout the day.”
Once it ramped up, the up-and-down course featured two passages over the Alto de Valdepeñas (at 67km and 179km) and two passages up the spectacular finale at Valdepeñas de Jaén, with ramps as steep as 23 percent and the final 500 meters between 10 to 18 percent.
There sprinters will have to wait another day to have a real chance at a mass gallop in this hilly, challenging start to the 2011 Vuelta. The 193.4km sixth stage from Úbeda to Córdoba features just one rated climb, but it’s packed into the final 20km of the rolling stage across the heart of Andalucia.
The second-category summit – Alto de Catorce – will see stage-hunters go on the attack, but some of the stronger sprinters could get over the top with hopes of winning out of a reduced bunch.
- 1. Joaquim RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, (ESP) Team Katusha, in 4:42:54
- 2. Wouter POELS, (NED) Vacansoleil-Dcm, at 4
- 3. Daniel MORENO FERNANDEZ, (ESP) Team Katusha, at 5
- 4. Bauke MOLLEMA, (NED) Rabobank Cycling Team, at 7
- 5. Michele SCARPONI, (ITA) Lampre-Isd, at 8
- 1. Sylvain CHAVANEL, (FRA) Quick Step, in 18:02:34
- 2. Daniel MORENO FERNANDEZ, (ESP) Team Katusha, at 9
- 3. Joaquin RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, (ESP) Team Katusha, at 23
- 4. Jakob FUGLSANG, (DEN) Leopard-Trek, at 26
- 5. Vincenzo NIBALI, (ITA) Liquigas-Cannondale, at 33