Vuelta a España: Philippe Gilbert takes second stage victory on complicated finish at La Lastrilla
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Friday, September 07, 2012

Vuelta a España: Philippe Gilbert takes second stage victory on complicated finish at La Lastrilla

by Ben Atkins at 12:56 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
Former Belgian champion leaps away from the pack on long uphill drag

philippe gilbertPhilippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) took his second victory of the 2012 Vuelta a España on the “complicated” uphill finish of stage 19 between Peñafiel and La Lastrilla. The former Belgian champion burst from the chasing peloton to overtake former Irish champion Nicolas Roche (AG2R La Mondiale) in the final 500 metres of the race, and managed to hold off the attentions of British sprinter Ben Swift (Team Sky) in the dash for the line.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took second place in a late charge for the line, but the former race leader could not do enough to overhaul Gilbert; while Dani Moreno (Katusha) took third, just ahead of team leader Joaquim Rodríguez.

“I had to do that [long sprint],” said Gilbert afterwards. “But that was exactly the kind of finale I love. With a team-mate like Alessandro Ballan for who I have a lot of respect as a former world champion, I couldn’t lose.

“I’m very happy to be a winner at the Vuelta for the second time,” he continued. “It was very technical to reach a lot of corners but a split in the bunch made it less dangerous with less riders in contention. I didn’t know much of the finale. I just heard there would be some cobblestones but there were a lot of them! I’ve had the feeling that it lasted for two kilometres.

“Anyway, we went full gas,” the Belgian explained. “One of my team-mates, Mauro Santambrogio, crashed but I still had [Klaas] Lodewyk and Ballan to control the situation with 3km to go, so I never panicked. I tried to ride a tempo and just maintain a nice speed. I was in an ideal situation before the sprint.”

The 183km stage was characterised by a two-man breakaway from Jose Vicente Toribio (Andalucía) and Aitor Galdos (Caja Rural), who escaped in the opening moments of the stage and built up a lead of more than ten minutes before the sprinters’ teams reacted.

The race was seemingly heading for a sprint until, with just over 20km to go, Valverde’s Movistar team hit the front as the peloton descended a tight series of hairpins into Navas de Riofrio, then climbed the steep road up the other side. More than half the peloton was left behind and the Spanish team kept the pace high to prevent those riders from coming back.

As the road climbed towards the finish with four kilometres to go an attack from Egoitz Garcia (Cofidis) was joined by Roche, Alberto Losada (Katusha), Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) and four-time stage winner John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano). Behind them, 2008 World champion Alessandro Ballan (BMC Racing) was leading the chase with Gilbert poised to strike.

Into the final kilometre Roche jumped away from the breakaway group, but Degenkolb managed to follow not far behind the Irishman; both were left standing though, as Gilbert leapt from the pack with less than 500 metres left.

Swift managed to go with Gilbert’s move, but the British sprinter was unable to come around him and began to fade in the final 200 metres. Valverde meanwhile, was leading the charge behind them; the Movistar rider managed to pass Swift in the closing metres, but could not quite catch Gilbert.

Race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) finished in 11th place, but lost three seconds on the line to Valverde; along with time bonuses - both at the finish and at the second intermediate sprint - the Movistar rider closed the gap to 1’35”, and increased his lead slightly over Rodríguez in third place.

Surely a stage for the breakaway riders with the Bola del Mundo to come

Although the 19th stage was classified as flat, the fine-tooth saw profile of its second half was certain to make it a tough one for tired legs, while the uphill finish - which was described by Contador before the race as “complicated” - would be a tough one for the pure sprinters. With the overall contenders - as well as the rest of the peloton - training its gaze on the following day’s finish on the Bola del Mundo - it was a stage ripe for a breakaway. With many of the big-name puncheurs still looking to take something from the race however, it success would be far from certain.

Toribio and Galdos attacked almost immediately, and the rest of the peloton was happy to watch representatives of the two Spanish Professional Continental teams take what was likely to be their last chance in the race. They were 3’05” up after nine kilometres, as Galdos led over the intermediate sprint, and by the 36km point the two riders were 10’17” ahead; whereupon Argos-Shimano, RadioShack-Nissan, and Lotto-Belisol all came to the head of the peloton to start to pull them back.

While Argos-Shimano and RadioShack-Nissan were clearly working for their stage-winning sprinters, in John Degenkolb and Daniele Bennati, Lotto-Belisol was hoping for victory through its punchy climber Gianni Meersman

“This is my day,” the Belgian told reporters from lavuelta.com at the start. “There are a lot of riders able to win today but I’m confident.”

After 85km, with the two leaders’ advantage down to 5’44”, it began to rain, which would continued to intermittently visit the race for much of the mid-part of the stage.

The gap continued to close until, after 62km, on a long drag, Lars Boom (Rabobank), Alessadro Ballan (BMC Racing), Luis Angel Maté (Cofidis) and Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltl-Euskadi) pulled clear of the front of the peloton. The foursome was quickly shut down, but as they rolled over the top of the climb, with 60km to go, Toribio and Galdos’ lead was down to just two minutes.

With 40km to go, as the peloton rode through a heavy shower, the gap was just 1’30” and, with 32km to go, this had shrunk to just 30 seconds; with the two leaders visibly tiring, this small margin collapsed quickly.

The peloton was clearly not too keen to catch them just yet however, and allowed Toribio and Galdos to hover a handful of seconds clear for some time; inevitably though, with 28km to go - and despite a brief, but spirited, resistance from Toribio - the break was all over.

The sprinters’ teams are foiled by late aggression from Movistar

With their riders back in the fold, the Andalucía and Caja Rural teams then began to work on the front; keeping the pace high to prevent any further attacks. RadioShack-Nissan soon re-assumed responsibility however, with Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Rabobank bringing their leaders to the front to keep them out of danger.

On the steep snaking descent into Navas de Riofrio with just over 20km to go Movistar took the front, and the blue and green team began to increase the pace on the way back up the other side. Alejandro Valverde was sitting in third wheel, but Contador and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) were right behind him. The pace did cause a big split in the peloton however, with more than half the peloton left behind, and with 15km to go the two groups were 14 seconds apart.

At the second intermediate sprint with 12km to go, Boom tried to lead out Rabobank team leader Robert Gesink for the bonus seconds, but Valverde came past the Dutchman on the line, with Rodríguez defending his green jersey - and the fifth place overall of teammate Moreno - in second place.

Into the final ten kilometres Katusha took over the pace to prepare the way for Rodríguez to go for the stage victory. AG2R La Mondiale and Movistar were still keen to have their say however, and moved ahead with five kilometres to go.

With four kilometres to go though, as the front of the peloton arrived at the foot of the climb towards the finish Garcia attacked. As he reached the aqueduct at the top, as the road levelled out, the Cofidis rider was a few seconds clear of Roche, Montaguti, Breschel and Degenkolb; they caught him at the two kilometre banner, and Breschel attacked over the top.

The former Danish champion was followed by Flecha, but they were both pulled back by the others; Ballan was chasing hard for Gilbert behind them, but into the final kilometre Roche made his move, just as the rest were caught. Degenkold followed, but they were both caught and passed by Gilbert with 500 metres to go as he launched himself from the peloton.

Swift was on his wheel but the former Belgian champion kept going and sat up to celebrate his second stage victory of the race as Valverde and Moreno just began to pull alongside.

Result stage 19
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team
3. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team
4. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team
5. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto-Belisol @ 3s
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank
7. Jan Bakelants (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan
8. Ben Swift (GBr) Team Sky
9. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
10. Sergio Henao (Col) Team Sky

Standings after stage 19
1. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
2. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team @ 1’35”
3. Joaquim Rodríguez (Spa) Katusha Team @ 2’21”
4. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky @ 9’48”
5. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha Team @ 11’29”
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank @ 12’00”
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank @ 12’58”
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp @ 13’09”
9. Igor Antón (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi @ 13’52”
10. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team @ 15’13”

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