This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
After being below his best for most of this season, Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) underlined that he is coming into form right in time for the World Championships with a second stage win at the Vuelta. The Belgian’s victory showed off his greatest assets as he judged the finish perfectly and then unleashed a blistering sprint up the long drag to the finish in La Lastrilla that was too much for anyone to follow.
Coming towards the final kilometre, the stage looked set to be decided between a small group of riders who had clipped off the front of the lead group of 40-odd riders with 2km remaining. Nicolas Roche (Ag2r), Matti Breschel (Rabobank), Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) and four-time stage-winner John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) sped past lone breakaway Egoitz García (Cofidis) with 1500m remaining.
Clearly, Roche, Flecha and Breschel didn't want to dispute the finish with German powerhouse Degenkolb, and it was the Irishman who split the group when he attacked heading under the kilometre banner. For a couple of hundred metres it looked as if Roche might hold on and clinch his first stage win in a grand tour, but Degenkolb clawed his way back to Roche’s rear wheel with 500 metres remaining.
Just as Degenkolb prepared to attack, Gilbert swept past on his left with Sky’s Ben Swift glued to his wheel. The Briton was in the perfect place, but simply didn't have the power to stay with the Belgian, who surged clear in the final 200 metres and had time to sit up and look back as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) came through to claim second place, just ahead of Katusha duo Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodríguez.
Gilbert was delighted with his success, particularly as his team had worked hard to keep him in contention when the bunch split in the closing kilometres. "I could feel the lactate building in my muscles heading up to the line, but you've got to keep going and not sit down because if you do then it’s over," he said.
"All wins are nice as it’s always very tough to win at this level. A lot of credit for this one should go to my team. Klaas Lodewijk and Alessandro Ballan did great in the closing kilometres. When you have a big talent like Ballan working for you there’s no doubt you get extra motivation."
Valverde gained a very useful 17 seconds on race leader Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), taking eight seconds for finishing second, another six at the final intermediate sprint and gaining a further three at the finish when his final sprint took him clear. Rodríguez also gained time on Contador, although the seven seconds he took back may not make much difference going into Saturday’s race-deciding stage to the Bola del Mundo.
The slow road to Segovia
Galdos leads Toribio in their great escape
The relentless heat and high speed of this race resulted in a slow, almost pedestrian start after Aitor Galdos (Caja Rural) and José Vicente Toribio (Andalucia) attacked in the opening moments of the stage. The two Spaniards quickly opened a gap of more than 10 minutes before the bunch decided to react, Argos-Shimano, Lotto-Belisol and RadioShack upping the tempo.
The peloton chipped away steadily at the advantage of the two leaders, who were caught with 28km remaining. It then looked odds on for a bunch sprint. However, the roads around Segovia are lumpy enough to make controlling a fast-moving peloton a very difficult task indeed. Nearing this historic city, the peloton split.
All of the main contenders were in the front group, which was powered along by Valverde’s Movistar team-mates. They set their leader up to win the day’s second intermediate sprint ahead of Rodríguez and Robert Gesink (Rabobank), as GreenEdge drove the second half of the peloton along in the vain hope of getting Allan Davis into contention for the sprint.
As the lead group raced into the centre of Segovia and up to its world-famous aqueduct, Cofidis’s García made his bid for glory. He stayed clear for a kilometre until the big guns swept past to fight it out between themselves.