Vuelta a España: Alejandro Valverde wins again in Andorra as Contador strikes out
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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Vuelta a España: Alejandro Valverde wins again in Andorra as Contador strikes out

by Ben Atkins at 11:20 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
Movistar rider catches Contador on the line to take his second stage as Froome dropped at the end

alejandro valverde Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took his second victory in the 2012 Vuelta a España, as he took the eighth stage between Lleida and the Collada de la Gallina, in Andorra. The 2009 race winner managed to fight his way up to a lone attack from 2008 race winner Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), and caught him in the steep final metres.

On Valverde’s wheel was race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), who took second as the two riders passed the floundering Contador, who appeared to be struggling with his gears.

“It was a really hard stage, especially with the speed from the start to make the day's break,” said Valverde afterwards. “Sky set a very fast pace during the final 40km and the beginning of the last climb was super strong. I had very good sensations and that's why I launched the first attack, also with the intention of dropping GC rivals coming behind. From that moment on, there weren't any big gaps because all of us were suffering, until Contador attacked.

The three Spanish riders had been part of a four-man group of race favourites, along with Tour de France runner up Chris Froome (Team Sky), until Contador’s final kilometre attack split it apart. Valverde and Rodríguez dropped the British rider as they pursued Contador, and he crossed the line 15 seconds behind.

“I knew Purito [Rodríguez] knew the climb really well and we had it clear in minds that we couldn't climb so fast for long, so I stuck to his wheel when he jumped and went past him when I saw him sitting on the saddle,” Valverde explained. “I knew I had to come through the last corner first and I could keep it until the line. This victory only does make me earn another win and keep making the team happy, I'm not thinking about anything else. It's obvious that we will be fighting for the GC as much as we can, but the rivals are really strong and I don't know who long I'll stay this fit.

“I was the one from the riders ahead that has had more racing days, taken more efforts and having had two years without competition,” he added. “Now I'm into a fitness level I couldn't have ever imagined and can only be thankful towards the team, always supporting me 100%, and everyone supporting me for things to stay like this."

The fast starting 174.7km stage was dominated by a six-man group that eventually managed to escape shortly before halfway. Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Javier Ramirez (Andalucía), Amaël Moinard (BMC Racing), Mickaël Buffaz (Cofidis), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil-DCM) managed to get more than nine minutes clear before they were steadily pulled back by a combination of Katusha and Team Sky.

The group began to split on the penultimate climb of Alto de la Comella and, on the lower slopes of the Collada de la Gallina, Meyer struck out alone. The Australian was gradually reeled in by Team Sky, and an acceleration from Froome pulled the leaders up to him with two kilometres to go. The favourites began to attack one another until, with less than a kilometre to go, Contador put in the biggest attack and managed to get away.

Just as it looked as though the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider was poised for stage victory however, he appeared to be struggling with too small a gear, and Valverde attacked across to him.

The Movistar rider caught Contador on the line to take the stage, with Rodríguez close behind him to hold onto his red jersey. Froome lost 15 seconds to the Catalan, increasing his deficit to 33 seconds, while Valverde jumped up to fourth overall behind Contador.

La Vuelta hits the real mountains at last as it crosses the border to Andorra

The end of the first week finally saw the 2012 hit the big mountains as it headed into the mountain Principality of Andorra. Most of the stage was to be predominantly flat however, offering opportunities to breakaway riders, before the Alto de la Comella towards the finish. The final climb to the Collada de la Gallina was only 7.2km in length, but it’s 8% average gradients would feature sections that topped 23% in places.

After an enormous number of unsuccessful breakaway attempts, which saw the peloton complete 52.6km in the first hour of racing, the six man group of Meyer, Ramirez, Moinard, Buffaz, Aramendia and Keizer finally escaped after 75km. Once the break was established however, it was evidently of a composition that satisfied the big teams of the peloton, and it soon began to open a large lead.

Through the feedzone after 96km, it had already grown to 8’25”, and it continued rising as Rodríguez’ Katusha team controlled the peloton behind. The gap stabilised at 9’25” with 75km to go and began to fall slowly; when Buffaz led over the first intermediate sprint with 50.7km to go it had dropped to 8’55” as the road began to tilt upwards towards Andorra.

Team Sky, who had been sharing the work with Katusha until this point, took over and continued to shut down the break’s advantage; at the second intermediate sprint with 29.8km to go - as Buffaz crossed the line first again - it was down to 4’36” and, when they arrived at the foot of the 2nd category Alto de la Comella, with 20.3km to go, it was just 3’02”.

As the six riders made their way up the climb, Aramendia and Keizer were dropped by the other four. Ramirez attacked over the top, with just 26.5km left, but the others quickly chased him down; Team Sky led the peloton over the top just 2’30” later.

Moinard then attacked the others, but he too was chased down by Meyer, Ramirez and Buffaz. As they started the final climb with 7.2km to go the four riders still had 2’23” over the Team Sky-led peloton, but they were sure to need every second of this if they were to stay away.

With six kilometres to go the gap dropped to less than two minutes, as Keizer and Aramendia were picked up, and with 4.5km Ramirez attacked. He was chased down by Meyer with Buffaz, and the Australian went over the top of the Andalucía rider and was gone.

Team Sky tries to boss the final climb but the Spanish won’t lie down

Sergio Henao was now the only Team Sky rider left at the front, leading Froome at the head of the peloton; Contador was right behind the British rider though, with the rest of the favourites lined up behind him

With four kilometres to go Meyer still had 45 seconds, while the front group was rapidly getting smaller as riders were being shed steadily by the pace set by Henao.

It was Valverde that made the first move though, with three kilometres to go, and quickly caught Ramirez and Buffaz. The Andalucía momentarily seemed to up his pace a little to pull the Movistar captain for a few moments, before he rode past alone. Froome led the rest up though, with Contador, Katusha teammates Rodríguez and Dani Moreno.

The British rider attacked himself as they caught up with Valverde, taking Contador with him, and they caught Meyer, just as the Australian passed the 2km banner. Meyer upped his pace, and clung on to the two favourites as Moreno led Rodríguez and Valverde back up.

Froome, and the rest, were riding in the saddle, while Contador was dancing on the pedals out of it. Moreno took the lead and began to work for red jersey Rodríguez while, behind them, Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was slowly gaining, with Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) on his wheel.

Froome accelerated again, which put Moreno and Meyer into difficulty, then Rodríguez went with Contador, but Froome pulled up to them with Valverde. It was just these four riders in the lead group as they entered the final kilometre, where Froome accelerated yet again.

Contador was on the Team Sky rider straight away though, and attacked over the top as he caught up; Froome was trying to chase with Rodríguez behind him, but Valverde now seemed to be in trouble.

Contador’s lead was growing, and growing, and he seemed to be heading for his first victory since returning from suspension. He began to slow however, and appeared to be having problems, as Valverde began to accelerate up to him.

As Contador struggled around the final bend, Valverde caught him up and sprinted to victory with Rodríguez on his wheel. Froome followed 15 seconds later, having been unable to follow the Spanish riders, but just managed to defend his second place overall from Contador.

Result stage 8
1. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
2. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 15s
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 23s
6. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team @ 33s
7. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
8. Winner Anacona (Col) Lampre-ISD @ 39s
9. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank
10. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-ISD

Standings after stage 8
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 33
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 40s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 50s
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 1’41”
6. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 1’48”
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 2’14”
8. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 2’47”
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 2’58”
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank @ 3’07”

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