By Andrew Hood
Fran Ventoso (Andalucía-CajaSur) won the third stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y León on a day that lived up to his name.
“Ventoso” means windy in Spanish, but strong northern breezes couldn’t stop his explosive sprint atop a one-kilometer rising finish to snag the win in a perfectly timed acceleration past Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
Overnight leader Alberto Contador (Astana) retained his four-second lead over teammate Levi Leipheimer while Christian Vande Velde (Slipstream-Chipotle) slotted up to fifth and Slipstream retained the team classification lead.
Several riders attacked in vain up the final 1km moderately climbing finish into Urueña and it looked like Sánchez had the win in his grasp before Ventoso uncorked a searing acceleration on the left hand side of the road in the final 50 meters to win.
It was another cold and windy day in northern Spain as the five-day race continues to run smack into the worst winter storm of the season. Rain, wind and even some hail pummeled the peloton as it pushed across the bleak landscape of Spain’s northern meseta.
Several crashes added to the suffering, with Iñigo Cuesta (CSC) among those abandoning.
A three-man breakaway braved the elements and struggled alone across Spain’s windswept central plateau broken up by the occasional castle or church. David Martin (Orbea), best-placed at 83rd at 1:45 back, joined Oleg Chuzdha (Contentpolis-Murcia) and José Antonio Lopéz (Andalucía- CajaSur) as the trio peeled away early.
The gap never went north of four minutes as Astana put Chechu Rubiera and Sergio Paulinho at the front to keep the breakaway at a safe distance. With 40km to go, the lead hovered around 2:30.
The peloton had to ratchet up the chase on a challenging 18km finishing circuit, but the move was squelched with about 7km to go to set up a frenetic charge up a rising finishing straight.
The 23rd Vuelta a Castilla y León continues Thursday with the decisive climbing stage that could shake up the overall standings, though a motivated Contador looks likely to defend and perhaps even expand his lead.
The 160.4km fourth stage starts in the flats at Carrión de los Condes and pushes north into the snow-covered mountains of the Cantabrian range, finishing atop the Cat. 1 Collado de Salcedillo. A Category 3 climb with less than 15km to go will soften up the bunch before the 9km climb to the summit.