Vuelta a España: Joaquim Rodríguez gets his stage on the steep climb to Jaca
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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Vuelta a España: Joaquim Rodríguez gets his stage on the steep climb to Jaca

by Ben Atkins at 12:20 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
Katusha’s red jersey sprints away after Team Sky dictates the final kilometres

joaquim rodriguez Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) exorcised the demons of his missed victory three days before, by sprinting away from the rest of the favourites to take stage six, between Tarazona and the Fuerte del Rapitán above Jaca. The Catalan, wearing the red jersey, came around the outside of Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the final hairpin of the steep 3rd category climb to the finish line with 200 metres to go, and sprinted away to take a solo win.

Froome was almost able to go with Rodríguez’ uphill sprint, and crossed the line five seconds behind him in second place. Former race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took third, ten seconds back, with Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale) coming in 18 seconds down.

"Today's stage was really hard and unpredictable," said Rodríguez. "I didn't know the pace we were going to keep and how many riders could fight for win; moreover, all the teams were very organized and tried to do their best in order to win.

"Anyway, in the final part we made a huge selection because of the great speed, so a few riders left," he continued. "I knew it because [teammate Angel] Vicioso went to see this stage before and told me it was suitable to my characteristics, so I slipstreamed Froome and waited until 200 metres to go. Then I was able to pass him and win at the final sprint.

"I'm very happy about this performance," he added. "I feel in a very good shape, and the fact that my team is more or less the same as in the Giro d'Italia makes me feel confident about my chances. Moreover, there's Denis Menchov which gives me a great help with his experience. My rivals are very good; especially Froome proved to be strong after a great Tour de France. But I feel very well and I want to keep this red jersey."

The 175.4km stage saw an all Dutch-speaking break from Martin Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp), Joost van Leijen (Lotto-Belisol), Kristof Vandewalle (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge) and Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), which formed after ten kilometres. With a headwind for much of the course, the five riders were never able to build a lead greater than 4’15” and, despite a solo effort from De Gendt over the penultimate climb with 16.4km to go, they were caught as the overall favourites’ teams began to lift the pace behind them.

Valverde’s Movistar team led onto the steep 3.8km climb to the finish, but Froome’s Sky team took over with two kilometres to go. Colombians Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran set a pace that reduced the front group to less than a dozen riders and, as Froome himself attacked with 400 metres remaining, only Rodríguez was able to follow.

Froome had no answer to the Catalan’s final acceleration however, and could do nothing to stop him from taking his first stage of this year’s race.

Time bonuses on the line saw Rodríguez’ one-second lead over Froome open up to ten, with Contador drifting to 35 seconds back in third.

The hills return to the Vuelta and some Dutch-speakers make their move

Following an easy day, and a chance for the sprinters, the sixth stage of the Vuelta saw a return to the hills, and the third uphill finish of the race so far. Much of the 175.4km course would be mostly flat, with much of it exposed to the wind but, as it moved into the Aragon region, it would scale the 3rd category Puerto de Oroel, then the 3rd category climb of the Fuerte del Rapitán at the finish.

After a flurry of activity in the first few minutes of the stage, Maaskant, van Leijen, Weening and De Gendt escaped at the ten kilometre point. They were originally in the company of Andrey Zeits (Astana) but he quickly dropped back, as Vandewalle bridged across, when the group was only a few seconds clear.

Once established, the all Dutch-speaking group was allowed to establish a lead over the peloton, which was controlled by Rodríguez’ Katusha team. After 42km the quintet was 3’22” ahead but, facing a stiff headwind - and temperatures of almost 35 degrees - progress in getting further than this was slow on the exposed roads.

None of the five was any immediate threat to Rodríguez’ overall lead - and van Leijen and Maaskant sat second and third from last in the general classification respectively - although, as the third place finisher in May’s Giro d’Italia, De Gendt - at just 7’22” down in 60th place - could not be ignored entirely.

After 80km the five riders were 3’18” ahead; this dropped slightly in the next few kilometres, but then rose to 3’25” shortly after the feedzone, in Biscarrués, with 75km to go. As several riders made the most of the opportunity to take ‘comfort breaks’ with 60km to go, the gap began to slip out more quickly, peaking at 4’15” as De Gendt led through the first intermediate sprint, in Murillo Gallego with 54.9km to go.

Valverde puts his men to work and the break begins to come back

Movistar sent Imanol Erviti forward at this point, lifting the pace sharply as the road began to rise slightly towards the foot of the Puerto de Oroel. With Katusha still doing the majority of the work, the gap had been cut to 3’35” with 40km to go, and was down to 2’25” as the climb began with 28.4km to go.

The early slopes proved too much for van Leijen, who drifted back towards the peloton, leaving just four riders up front. Movistar and Katusha were joined at the front by Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and BMC Racing, and the speed ramped up considerably, which immediately saw the sprinters and non-climbers tailing off the back.

With 25km to go the gap to the four men up the road was down to 1’40” as van Leijen was caught and passed. Team Sky then moved forward and shut it down to less than a minute with six kilometres still to climb, before relaxing and allowing the gap to stay constant. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank took over with 20km to go however, and lifted the pace again.

With the lead rapidly shrinking up front, De Gendt then accelerated and dropped Maaskant and Vandewalle; his second kick then got rid of Weening, and the winner of the Giro’s Queen stage to the Passo dello Stelvio set off alone in search of a Vuelta victory.

Maaskant, Vandewalle, and then Weening were quickly picked up by the peloton, but De Gendt was still 50 seconds clear over the top of the climb with 16.4km to go. Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank led down the fast, technical descent behind him though, as it tried to put pressure on Contador’s rivals, and this gap was closing quickly.

De Gendt’s days are numbered as the overall contenders move up

Under the ten kilometre banner De Gendt’s advantage had been cut to 20 seconds and, although he briefly managed to pull this out slightly, it was down to just seven as he crossed the second intermediate sprint in the town of Jaca with 5.1km left. Movistar and Team Sky moved forward, to take over from Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and he was with 4.5km to go, caught shortly before the climb began.

Movistar’s Beñat Intxausti led onto the lower slopes with Froome sat directly behind him. Valverde was on the British rider’s wheel however, with Contador, Rodríguez, and all the other overall contenders lined up behind him.

More and more riders were shed as the Movistar rider led onto the steepest sections, then Henao took over for Sky with Uran and Froome behind him, which cut the lead group to just a dozen riders as they entered the last two kilometres.

Uran took over with 600 metres to go and lifted the pace again, and Froome made his move shortly afterwards. Rodríguez followed him closely, but none of the rest was able ot respond to the British rider’s acceleration. Around the final hairpin, with just over 200 metres to go however, Rodríguez kicked and - with Froome unable to respond - sprinted away to take the victory.

Result stage 6
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 5s
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 10s
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 18s
5. Eros Capecchi (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
6. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky
7. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale @ 25s
8. Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) BMC Racing Team @ 27s
9. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 28s
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 32s

Standings after stage 6
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 10s
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 35s
4. Rigoberto Uran (Col) Team Sky @ 41s
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 53s
6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 54s
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 1’04”
8. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 1’12”
9. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 1’17”
10. Juan José Cobo (Spa) Movistar Team @ 1’34”


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