Vuelta a España: Cavendish gets his first in Lleida
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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Vuelta a España: Cavendish gets his first in Lleida

by Jered Gruber at 11:34 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
Cavendish back on the top step of the podium after perfect leadout by Goss

Like this year's Tour de France, it took Mark Cavendish a while to get going, but when he and his HTC-Columbia team got it right in today's technical finish in Lleida, it was a thing of beauty. More than ever, it seems that Cavendish is a rider that's either on or off, and today, in his first career Vuelta stage win, he was certainly on. A tight right hand turn inside the final half a kilometer necessitated a sprint for the turn. Cavendish's other Australian leadout man, Matt Goss, did his job to perfection. The two went into the turn 1-2 with about a bike length gap between their Scotts and the rest of the chasers, but as they exited the turn, the gap exploded to a number of bike lengths, and the final dash for the line was but a formality. The joy of success was apparent in both Goss and Cavendish. Goss couldn't keep his hands on the bars long enough to ensure an HTC 1-2 on the day. They'd have to settle for 1-3, as Garmin's Tyler Farrar slipped in for second, right on the line.

The Vuelta's twelfth stage took the riders right out of the mountains of Andorra and right back into the rolling hills of Catalonia south of the tiny principality. The 172 kilometer stage included just a category two climb of the Coll de Boixols in the early going, then a mostly downhill run to the finish in Lleida in western Catalonia. Interestingly, Lleida can boast an age nearly unrivaled in the whole of Catalonia - dating back to Pre-Roman settlement, as well as laying claim to the third oldest university in Spain, which was founded in 1297. Today, Lleida would play host to a wild bunch sprint.

Six riders exited the confines of the peloton inside the first ten kilometers: Markus Eichler (Milram), Biel Kadri (AG2R), Antonio Piedra (Andalucia), Lars Bak (HTC), Perrig Quemeneur (BBox), and Gustavo Cesar (Xacobeo). 40 kilometers later, three other riders reinforced the ranks of the day's break to make it nine: Marco Marzano (Lampre), Gustavo Rodriguez (Xacobeo), and David Garcia (Xacobeo). Not a bad effort by the embattled Xacobeo team - three in the group of nine. The Galician team is still without a sponsor for 2011, so while the squad is working entirely for the overall hopes of Ezequiel Mosquera, the other riders are certainly looking to take advantage of the transition stages to show their wares to any prospective suitors.

Two riders left the Vuelta today - one abandoned during the stage, the other was not allowed to start. Footon's David Vitoria called it a day early on, whilst Milram's Roy Sentjens was not allowed to take the start after the UCI reported that he tested positive for recombinant EPO in an out of competition test in August. Yet another blow for Team Milram as the team frantically searches for a replacement sponsor, while both the team's top riders and its bike sponsor have all headed elsewhere already.

The nine-strong breakaway was never allowed much leash, mainly because of Xacobeo's Garcia, who was only 5:14 down on GC at the start of the day. Beyond the unfortunate presence of Garcia, it looked like the break would have a good chance after nearly two weeks of hard racing. Unfortunately for the nine aggressors out front, the sprinter teams were looking for a showdown in Lleida, and three minutes was the biggest gap they'd receive on Thursday.

With 30 kilometers to go, the gap was well under one minute, all the way down to 41 seconds, with Xacobeo driving hard on the front of the break and a whole slew of teams on the front of the peloton laying waste to what remained of the once proud gap. QuickStep, Garmin, and Footon-Servetto were all prominent at the front, while HTC-Columbia was taking a slightly less active role on the front in hopes of keeping their powder dry for the important final kilometers.

At 29 kilometers to go, Perrig Quemeneur of BBox made his presence very known in the break, as he leapt clear in the waning moments of life for the break. He enjoyed a few moments of freedom out front, but just over a kilometer later, the break was all back together, and the QuickStep/Garmin/Footon led bunch was chomping hard on the bit, only half a minute behind. Moments after the break came back together, it split yet again. This time it was Xacobeo's Cesar who put in the hard dig in hopes of getting free. Once again, Quemeneur was there as well. Again though, there was no chance. The bell was ringing the death knell of the group, but they weren't about to let a rider or two ride away to enjoy the final catch in solitary comfort.

With 22 kilometers to go, the field had finally reeled in its catch, despite another last ditch effort from a few aggressive souls. Once again, Xacobeo came up short in their quest for stage glory, but there's no getting around the glaring fact that the small, endangered team from Galicia is playing a huge part in the Vuelta's proceedings.

Heading into the crucial final kilometers, the same three teams remained prominent on the front with Footon-Servetto doing a surprising amount of work on the front. The HTC absence at the front ended at 17 kilometers to go, and the familiar sight of the white and yellow American team signaled the business end of the race. Unlike in countless other occasions throughout the year, the team remained in the wings though, just behind the chasing trio of teams: Footon, Garmin, and QuickStep. A pan of the camera toward the rear of the race showed a relaxed and unconcerned Thor Hushovd well back in the race, and as it flashed back forward, the Garmin team was in full flight at the front. The order had come from the car, and Jonathan Vaughters's boys were not messing around.

The previously businesslike rotation at the front was replaced with rocking shoulders, scowling faces, and very high speeds. The effect was immediate, as the previously bulbous field now resembled a very, very long spaghetti noodle.

Ominously, as the Garmin boys raged, Fabian Cancellara sat just to the outside of Garmin rotation, in the wind, pedaling stoically for a few moments, the grimacing visages of the lead riders in stark contrast. Almost as soon as it started though, the Garmin fireball at the front sputtered out, and this time they were replaced by…Xacobeo-Galicia? The team that can't get enough time on the front opted to give it a go at the front of the race heading toward the 10k to go banner, but it was only for a moment, as Cervelo careened up the right side of the field to the front - Thor Hushovd wasn't at the back of the field anymore. Just as Cervelo hit the front, Euskaltel threw down their fist and took hold of the fore of the field with race leader Igor Anton, clad in red, safely tucked out of harm's way.

As each kilometer ticked by, the HTC-Columbia team could count themselves a kilometer closer to the line without having to spend valuable watts in the fast run-in to Lleida. Mark Cavendish's team looked to have re-assessed their endgame strategy, and it looked to be coming together perfectly as a vast array of teams all took turns getting their hands dirty with the work on the front.

With 5.5 kilometers to go, HTC hit the front, all lined up perfectly, but then almost as soon as they started their effort, they inexplicably ducked quietly back into the field, while Garmin resumed business at the front, with David Millar putting in a big turn at the front in his almost trademark white arm covers.

Inside two kilometers to go, Tejay Van Garderen takes a lone pull on the front of the field with three Lampre riders lined up behind him. Daniele Bennati's Liquigas boys come up the side of Lampre, but can't sustain the Lampre onslaught. Contact amongst the sprinters is apparent from the helicopter images as the field flies through a tough left turn. Philippe Gilbert gets into the mix just as the field heads for the all critical 90 degree right hander with HTC at the front - Goss in front of Cav, with Cav perfectly positioned. After the turn, the sprint for the line was nearly farcical. Cavendish had miles, kilometers, hectares over everyone else and finally took the elusive win.

The aerial view of the final meters showed a turn akin to the 2009 Tour de France finale in Paris when Mark Renshaw and Cavendish left everyone behind through that final dicey turn on the Champs. Today, Goss did the leadout work to perfection for Cavendish.

Cavendish is back in the points lead, while everything else remains the same: Anton is the race leader by 45 seconds over Nibali, and David Moncoutie remains atop the mountains classification.



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