Vuelta 14: Taaramae tackles La Farrapona

Wiggins defends leader's red jersey on summit finish

Rein Taaramae’s (Cofidis) mantra may well be, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’, which paid dividends for the talented Estonian on Saturday afternoon as he won the Vuelta’s 14th stage on another summit finish in La Farrapona Lagos de Somiedo.

The 24-year-old Cofidis rider has been very active in this year’s Vuelta and finally took the reward for his efforts after what was an intense 173km in the saddle. He took his place in the breakaway early in the stage and managed to hold on to take his first Grand Tour stage win, something many pundits have been predicting for several years.

Showing dogged determination throughout the entire stage, he beat Geox-TMC duo Juan Jose Cobo and David De La Fuente, who finished second and third respectively.

It was a good day for overall leader Bradley Wiggins, the Brit finishing 45 seconds behind Taaramae and most importantly putting time into his rivals on general classification – he now leads Sky teammate Chris Froome by seven seconds, with Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema in third at 36 seconds.

Froome pointed to Wiggins as he crossed the line one place behind in sixth, an indication of the unity amongst Team Sky’s two best climbers and a sign of the pair’s confidence heading into the Vuelta’s final week – could today and tomorrow define who will be this year’s champion?

One man losing his grip on a chance at the title is defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, who now sits 1:25 behind Wiggins on the general classification and slipped from second to seventh overall on today's stage. The Liquigas-Cannondale leader finished more than a minute behind his main rival and suffered the consequences, giving himself plenty of work to do in the final week of racing if he’s to take another crown.

A weighty half needs a solid breakaway

The second half of today’s stage featured plenty of climbing, with the category two Puerto de la Ventana, the first category Puerto de San Lorenzo and a mountaintop finish at La Farrapona, Lagos de Somiedo in store for riders.

With limited opportunities in the sprints at this year’s Vuelta, HTC-Highroad youngster Leigh Howard decided to make the day’s move, taking off about a half a km into the stage. He was soon joined by the others, and after giving chase for nearly 30 km, the peloton finally decided to let them go.

He was joined by De La Fuente and Taaramae, Guilluame Bonnafond and Lloyd Mondory (AG2R-La Mondiale), Rabobank’s Luis Leon Sanchez, Jonas Aaen Jörgensen of Saxo Bank-Sungard, Sep Vanmarcke (Garmin-Cervélo), Alberto Benitez (Andalucia-Caja Granada), BMC Racing’s Karsten Kroon, Cofidis man Yohan Bagot, Jorge Azanza and Inaki Isasi of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Katusha couple Aliaksandr Kuschynski and Eduard Vorganov, Francesco Bellotti (Liquigas-Cannondale), and Daniele Righi (Lampre-ISD).

Nearing the top of the day’s first climb and with 77km remaining, the big break had 7:38, which would prove to be its maximum advantage as 27km later that mark had been cut to 4:55.

On the descent of the Ventana, Vanmarcke and Kroon found themselves being hoisted out of the forest, the pair crashing and forcing the Dutch veteran to abandon the race. Soon after the man who started the day’s break exited it, dropped on the way up the San Lorenzo; the Australian shut up shop and made his way back to the pack.

It all heats up…

With 40km to go and only 2:50 separating break from peloton, it was time for Katusha’s Alberto Losado to make a move of his own, dragging Sylvain Chavanel and several other riders with him; the bunch shut down the dangerous group that threatened to form but a kilometre later there was another attack that saw Movistar duo Beñat Intxausti and Marzio Bruseghin fly the safety of the peloton in pursuit of the leaders.

Just as this pair was gaining seconds on the field, the ever-aggressive Taaramae made what would be the race-winning move and was on his way off the front of the leading group, taking De La Fuente with him to form an attacking duo that quickly created a sizeable gap.

While these front groups continued to toil, Katusha’s Dani Moreno was another to flee the peloton with 35km remaining, followed by teammate Joaquin Rodriguez; meanwhile Leopard Trek strongman Fabian Cancellara continued to set tempo for Jakob Fuglsang and Maxime Monfort, who both sat in the top 10 of general classification and overall leader Wiggins maintained a comfortable rhythm next to them.

A kilometre after attacking, Moreno was soon within 25 seconds of Intxausti and Bruseghin, with the remnants of the break a further 2:20 up the road and rapidly splitting under the pressure of the mountain and the movement of Taaramae and De La Fuente ahead of it.

This latter duo crested the San Lorenzo together, 2:21 ahead of Moreno as the peloton topped the climb a further 13 seconds afterwards. On the descent the Spaniard caught the duo from Movistar to form a chasing trio that soon made contact with Moreno’s teammate Vorganov.

This new quartet set about building on the slender lead it enjoyed over the main field and slicing the two minutes that separated them from Taaramae, De La Fuente and what little was left of the break with the final 20km and the climb to Lagos de Somiedo approaching.

Heading to the finale

Soon Moreno and co had caught the remnants of the break – Righi, Mondory, and Bonnafond (sans Taaramae and De La Fuente) and set to work on the climb proper with the peloton still keeping the gap between itself and the Katusha rider to less than a minute. And with 15km left in the stage it continued to do that, as the leading duo still had over 60 seconds on the pursuers.

The peloton, led by Liquigas-Cannondale, Rabobank and Leopard Trek, tapped out its rapid rhythm while Movistar’s Italian stager Bruseghin carried out the workhorse duties – appropriate given that the 37-year-old famously owns a farm with donkeys.

As the leading duo crossed the 10km remaining banner, the gap stood at 57 seconds and a kilometre later that had only been cut by three seconds, with the peloton continuing its vigilance and keeping Moreno’s lead under a minute.

The Estonian-Iberian alliance at the front of affairs had 59 seconds, as Moreno’s men passed the banner indicating six kilometres remaining and were soon after caught by the peloton, providing the spark for Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Amets Txurruka to light the powder keg and explode from the main field.

The threat of Moreno negated, the peloton eased off the gas and with five kilometres remaining had allowed the leading duo a lead of 1:12, while Txurruka’s toil had only put him 10 seconds up on the main field. A kilometre later and it was time for Moreno to go again, taking Cobo with him and quickly overrunning the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider.

Behind them it was panic stations for Rodriguez and Nibali, the two overall contenders dropped from the group containing Wiggins and his faithful lieutenant Froome, plus Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Jurgen Van Den Broeck, Vacansoleil-DCM man Wout Poels and Denis Menchov (Geox-TMC).

And with Menchov’s teammate Cobo going alone it was time for Taaramae to do the same at the front of the race, dropping De La Fuente (who soon joined his pursuing companion) and heading for home with two kilometres left to ride.

Despite Cobo’s best efforts, he and De La Fuente remained 21 seconds off the Estonian with 1,000 metres remaining as Wiggins, Froome, Van Den Broeck and co continued their march away from the defending champion that could well have helped crown a new Vuelta king.

The man wearing the crown of the day was Taaramae however, kissing his jersey and raising his arm in the air to celebrate what was a well-deserved and popular win, crossing the line 25 seconds ahead of Cobo, with De La Fuente a further four seconds back on what was a good day for the Spanish squad.

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