Vuelta a España: Mikel Nieve hangs on to win on Cotobello as Joaquim Rodriguez retakes the lead
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Vuelta a España: Mikel Nieve hangs on to win on Cotobello as Joaquim Rodriguez retakes the lead

by Ben Atkins at 11:36 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Vuelta a España, Race Reports and Results
 
Basque rider holds on to win as favourites go on the offensive

joaquim rodriguezMikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi) won the sixteenth stage of the Vuelta a España between Gijon and Cotobello as the last member of the stage’s main breakaway group. Luxembourg champion Fränk Schleck attacked the group of overall contenders at the base of the final climb and overtook all but Nieve to finish in second place, 1’06” behind. Kevin De Weert (Quick Step), also part of the breakaway, held on to finish third just behind Schleck.

The sixteenth stage was to be one of the toughest of the Vuelta so far, its saw-toothed 181.4km course featuring two first category climbs on the way to the final mountaintop finish. A breakaway would be inevitable, but with such a mountainous profile it would be a challenge to stay away when the battle for the overall classification intensified.
“After Igor Anton’s crash we felt it was the end of the world,” said Nieve. “Our director sportifs told us we had to forget Sunday’s stage and put our minds back in the race before fighting again. This stage to Cotobello with three difficult climbs gave us an occasion to put our heads up again. But we knew we had to attack from far out.

“Juan Jose Oroz was in the early breakaway and I attacked in the Puerto de San Lorenzo together with Amets Txurruka,” he explained. “Oroz waited for us and worked for us to come across to the lead group. In the Alto de la Cobertoria, Txurruka gave a lot; it was great teamwork.

“I knew the climb to Cotobello,” Nieve continued, “I did it at training in August with Igor [Antón] and Samuel Sanchez; it helped me a lot today. The encouragements of the crowd and above all my director sportifs helped me forget my suffering.

“You know, I live in Leiza,” he added, “a very small town in Navarra very close to San Sebastian. The stars are the players of the traditional Basque sport [pelota]. After the Vuelta I’ll have a dinner with them for sure. Maybe my stage win here will help me be recognised as well.”

There were a number of unsuccessful attacks in the opening kilometres, the most notable of which consisted of just former race winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Oscar Pujol (Cervélo TestTeam). A solo move from mountains classification leader David Moncoutié (Cofidis) over the top of the 3rd category Alto de la Cabruñana, after 45km, also came to nothing. Finally though, after 60km, a group of 10 riders managed to get away and the peloton deemed it acceptable.

The ten riders were: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caisse d’Epargne), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Transitions), Marco Marzano (Lampre-Farnese Vini), Matthieu Sprick (Bbox Bouyges Telecom), Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank), Alexsandr Dyachenko (Astana), Juan Jose Oroz (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Kevin De Weert (Quick Step), Ludovic Turpin (AG2R-La Mondiale), Frederik Willems (Liquigas-Doimo).

The best placed rider in the overall classification was Sanchez, in 15th place, 7’01” behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Doimo). By the time the group had reached the foot of the 1st category Puerto de San Lorenzo, after 91km, it led the Liquigas-Doimo controlled peloton by 3’42”.

Midway through the 10km climb, Nieve and Euskaltel-Euskadi teammate Amets Txurruka attacked the peloton and began to make their way across to the break. Ahead, the gradient began to take its toll on the group and it reduced to just five riders; Willems, De Weert, Sanchez, Peterson and Turpin continued, but Marzano rejoined before the top of the climb to make a group of six. Oroz had deliberately dropped back and was now pacing the other two Basque riders in pursuit of the leaders.

Over the top of the climb the sextet led the Euskaltel-Euskadi riders by 1’28” and the peloton by almost 3 minutes.

On the long descent to the base of the next climb, the 1st category Alto de la Cobetoria the group reformed and Nieve and Txurruka caught up, and as the climb began they had a lead of 2’28” on the peloton. Once again the gradient served to split the group, and as they neared the top at 141km it was reduced to Nieve, Txurruka, Sanchez, Willems, De Weert and Peterson.

Meanwhile in the peloton the Saxo Bank team was moving forward, with Fabian Cancellara leading. The Swiss rider’s pace had the effect of reducing the lead group’s advantage to just 2 minutes, and also reducing the main peloton to just 20 riders. He swung off, job done, with just over 2km to go to the top and his team captain Fränk Schleck attacked.

Nibali put Liquigas-Doimo teammate Roman Kreuziger to work on the front of the peloton, which reduced even further, and Schleck was reeled in before the summit; Willems dropped back from the break to be of assistance to Nibali.

Over the top, with 40km to go, the break’s advantage was down to 1’40”, but with only Sanchez of any danger in the overall classification it was allowed to gradually increase on the descent. All of the favourites were present in the much-diminished peloton, and some of their teammates began to rejoin.

Willems was now leading the peloton for Nibali and he was soon joined by Blel Kadri (AG2R-La Mondiale) on behalf of his team leader Nicolas Roche. Txurruka was working hard in the break though and with 13km to go, 3km before the final climb to the Alto de Cotobello began, the quintet’s lead had risen to 3 minutes.

As the climb began, the lead had been reduced to 2’30”, and Nieve attacked almost immediately. As the peloton hit the lower slopes Schleck attacked again, followed by Tom Danielson (Garmin-Transitions); at the head of the group Liquigas-Doimo refused to panic, with Kreuziger setting a fast but even tempo from Nibali.

With 6km to go, Sanchez and De Weert set off in pursuit of Nieve but could make no progress. Carlos Sastre (Cervélo TestTeam) attacked from what was now a very select peloton and started making his way across to Schleck and Danielson.

Peterson dropped back to briefly help Danielson, but Schleck managed to drop both of the Americans; Sastre managed to hold on a little longer but the Luxembourg champion was powering up the climb in pursuit of the breakaways.

With 2km to go Nieve still had 1’34” over Schleck, with Sanchez and De Weert in between; Schleck now led the peloton by 34 seconds and was closing in on the race podium, although he was still of no immediate danger to Nibali’s lead. At this point the riders in the very select peloton began to attack one another, first Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia), then Nicolas Roche, then Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha); the latter started the day in second overall, just 4 seconds behind Nibali.

Schleck passed Sanchez, then De Weert, but had left it too late to catch Nieve, who crossed the line to take his first ever professional victory. De Weert hung on for third, but Sanchez saw himself overtaken by a flying Rodriguez in the last few hundred metres. The Katusha rider finished 1’22” behind Nieve and, with Nibali finishing at 1’59”, Rodriguez takes back the red jersey that he lost on stage 11.

Schleck’s aggressive performance lifts him to fourth overall, while Roche rises to fifth and Danielson to seventh.

Result stage 16
1. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
2. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank @ 1’06”
3. Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick Step @ 1’08”
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha @ 1’22”
5. Luis Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne @ 1’32”
6. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo-Galicia @ 1’40”
7. David Garcia (Spa) Xacobeo-Galicia @ 1’42”
8. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R-La Mondiale @ 1’44”
9. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo TestTeam @ 1’50”
10. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo @ 1’59”

Standings after stage 16
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo @ 33s
3. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo-Galicia @ 53s
4. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank @ 2’16”
5. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R-La Mondiale @ 3’01”
6. Peter Velits (Svk) HTC-Columbia @ 4’27”
7. Tom Danielson (USA) Garmin-Transitions @ 4’29”
8. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo TestTeam @ 4’43”
9. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervélo TestTeam @ 4’53”
10. David Garcia (Spa) Xacobeo-Galicia @ 6’23”

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