Vuelta a España: Dario Cataldo takes historic Cuitunigru victory as the race leaders fight behind him
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Monday, September 03, 2012

Vuelta a España: Dario Cataldo takes historic Cuitunigru victory as the race leaders fight behind him

by Ben Atkins at 12:14 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
Contador tries and fails to drop Rodríguez; Froome slips out of overall contention

dario cataldo

Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) took an historic victory in the sixteenth stage of the 2012 Vuelta a España, between Gijón and Valgrande-Pajares. Cuitunigru, as he managed to drop breakaway companion Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) on the super-steep, narrow climb to the finish. The two riders had broken away in the first third of the 183.5km stage, and managed to open up a big enough lead to ensure that they would be able to hold off the inevitable battle between the overall contenders behind them.

Despite strong climbing from De Gendt, Cataldo managed to drop the Belgian in the final two kilometres and hold him off to the line to take the biggest victory of his career.

"I am really super happy," said Cataldo after his victory. "I won the Queen stage. It was a long break with a great rider as De Gendt. I am improving day by day, and really looking forward to the next stages and — why not — to really try and do something good at the Tour of Lombardy, the last objective of my season. To be honest, I would also like to be a part of the Italian National Team in Valkenburg. It's a dream, but I will work for it and hope my effort will be repaid."

Behind the two breakaways, the battle between race leader Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), second place Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), and third place Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) resumed, with an aggressive Contador repeatedly trying to leave the others behind.

Contador repeatedly managed to drop Valverde, but the Murcian was able to pull himself back up again each time with the help of Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana, who was the only other rider to be able to keep up. Finally though, in the last five hundred metres, the Movistar rider was finally distanced; with a four-second time bonus available on the line however, it was Rodríguez that pushed his way past in the finishing straight to take third place, opening a two-second gap over his rival.

The early accelerations from Contador did put paid to the chances of fourth place overall Chris Froome (Team Sky), who had already appeared to be struggling on the previous climb of the Alto de la Cobertoria. The British rider lost two and a half minutes to his rivals and, although he managed to hold on to fourth overall, dropped out of serious contention for the red jersey.

The stage began relatively flat, and there was fierce competition to get into the break of the day. It was not until after the 3rd category taster of the Alto de la Cabruñan that Cataldo and De Gendt managed to escape, with almost 55km covered. Once they were gone however, the peloton sat up, and they managed to build a lead of 14’28” by the 97km point.

"It's an unbelievable victory because this morning, I was not 100 percent due to my crash of yesterday," said Cataldo. "But then I started, and after the first climb the feeling was better. At the end of the descent the group was going really fast, but I attacked with De Gendt. For the first 10 to 15km after our attack it was really a fight between us and the group. We had only 30", so we were really making a time trial effort to try and stay away. At the end we won the fight with the peloton and they let us go."

This gap closed through the pace of the peloton as the overall contenders put their teams to work but, since both riders began the day more than an hour behind Rodríguez overall, efforts were made to put rivals under pressure rather than to bring back the two riders.

Contador put his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank teammates to work on the final climb and, when he jumped away himself with just over six kilometres to go, only Rodríguez, Valverde and Quintana could go with him. Up ahead, after riding together for so many kilometres, Cataldo and De Gendt began to try to get rid of one another on the final slopes, whose gradients reached up to 24%.

Finally Cataldo managed to force himself clear and he held off a late rally from the Belgian to take the stage. Behind him Contador managed to get rid of Valverde, but Rodríguez ended the day with his lead over the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider extended from 22 to 28 seconds.

"In the last 3km we started to force things a little bit. He attacked me, I attacked him," Cataldo explained. "But in the end there was a section of the climb that was not so steep. I attacked and immediately got 20 meters, and it was really a battle between us because Thomas never gives up.

"The last kilometer was the longest of my life," he continued. "In the last 100m I was ready to put my foot on the ground, but I continued because I had [directeur sportif Davide] Bramati on the radio, and the public was so close cheering me and supporting me. I did everything to pass the finish, and when I did, I was so happy, but so tired that for the first moments of the stage victory it was impossible to celebrate."

A Queen stage among Queen stages

With so many tough mountain stages in the 2012 Vuelta a España, the 16th was regarded as the Queen, since it was to finish on the never-before-visited Valgrande-Pajares. Cuitunigru. Despite the uncategorised Puerto de Pajares - coming with just 5.8km to go - having been used in the race before, the final 3.2km to the line up a narrow, recently surfaced road was regarded as one of the toughest ever in a Grand Tour.

This final climb was preceded by the 1st category Puerto de San Lorenzo and Alto de la Cobertoria, which should prove more than enough to soften the legs of even the best climbers.

Cataldo and De Gendt finally managed to force their way clear after 55km, and were quickly allowed to open up a seemingly unassailable lead over the peloton. After 97km, as they were climbing to the Puerto de San Lorenzo, their lead reached its maximum of 14’28”, but this was down to 13’44” as mountains jersey leader Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) attacked, along with teammate Pieter Weening, to take the points over the top.

The two Orica-GreenEdge managed to get a minute clear of the Euskaltel-Euskadi-led peloton, but this began to come down as the climb to la Cobertoria began. As Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank took over as the climb continued, the riders were caught; at the back of the peloton Froome began to lose contact, but managed to stay in touch and rejoined on the descent.

The two leaders’ advantage over the peloton was still 7’34” over the top, as Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) and Maxime Bouet (AG2R La Mondiale) attacked in pursuit. The two counterattackers were joined by Andrey Zeits (Astana), Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), and Jan Bakelandts and Linus Gerdeman (both RadioShack-Nissan).

The six riders were caught however, as Euskaltel-Euskadi led the peloton onto the final climb, with Cataldo and De Gendt now 7’42” ahead.

Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank then took over and the group thinned to less than 30 riders once again; Froome was drifting towards the back again but hanging on. Quintana rode off the front, but Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank’s Sergio Paulinho calmly pulled the Colombian back.

On a steep section with 7km to go, Paulinho wrung the last bit of energy out of his legs and, as he pulled over, Hernandez accelerated. Contador was glued to his teammate’s wheel, but Rodríguez, and Valverde and teammate Quintana were glued to his in turn.

Contador turns the screw as Cataldo escapes

Contador soon took over himself and managed to shed the two Movistar riders; Valverde dropped onto his Colombian domestique’s wheel however, and they rejoined the two leaders as they passed under the five kilometre banner. Valverde then went himself, but didn’t look committed as he constantly looking over his shoulder, and he was soon pulled back.

De Gendt led Cataldo onto the steepest part of the climb, as the gradient rose over 24%, but the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider accelerated past him. They were both together under the two kilometre banner though, as Contador led the four-man group off the main road behind them.

The Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider was out of the saddle as he arrived on the steep section, but the others were stuck doggedly to his wheel.

Cataldo pulled clear of De Gendt for a second time, and this time was gradually opening the gap.

Quintana jumped clear of the chase group, and was allowed to go. Contador got out of the saddle again though, and pulled back up to the Colombian, trying to shed the others as he did so. Gradually Valverde lost contact, but Rodríguez was still managing to hang on as they passed under the two kilometre banner themselves

Cataldo was now well clear of De Gendt up ahead and was grinding his way into the final kilometre.

Valverde was eking his way up to Contador and Rodríguez, but Contador kicked yet again and he was distanced for a third time. Rodriguez was still showing no sign of cracking though, as they negotiated the narrow channel between the baying Spanish fans.

Into the final kilometre the Katusha rider finally came to the front and, as their pace eased, Valverde was able to rejoin them.

Cataldo was in the final 250 metres by now, but De Gendt was beginning to close the gap; the Italian refused to ease up though, and continued to the line. He just managed to summon the energy to sit up and punch the air with both fists before slumping over his bars in exhaustion. De Gendt, weaving a little in the final metres, crossed the line seven seconds behind him.

With 500 metres to go Contador attacked again, but Rodríguez managed to catch him up and push ahead. With the time bonus available the red jersey was in no mood to allow his rival to take the third place and sprinted away to cross the line 2’39” behind Cataldo; opening a small gap as he did.

Valverde crossed the line a few seconds later, followed Quintana, with Antón the first of the main group at 4’07”. Froome came in after 5’11” losing two and a half minutes to his overall rivals, and seemingly any chance of winning the race.

Result stage 16
1. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
2. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM @ 7s
3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team @ 2’39”
4. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 2’41”
5. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 2’58”
6. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team @ 3’24”
7. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 4’07”
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp @ 4’15”
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 4’18”
10. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 4’21”

Standings after stage 16
1. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
2. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank @ 28s
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 2’04”
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 4’52”
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 6’58”
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 7’28”
7. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp @ 8’28”
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 9’00”
9. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 9’11”
10. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale @ 11’44”

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