This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Katusha’s Dani Moreno produced a double strike at Valdepeñas de Jaén, winning the stage to the top of the “wall’ that climbs through the centre of the Andalucian town and taking the race leader’s red jersey by just a single second from Ireland’s Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff). It was Moreno’s second victory of the race following his success at Fisterra on Tuesday.
Once a solo effort by Team Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen had been neutralized inside the final two kilometres, the GC favourites were always towards the front as they swung around the tight left-hander that led into the kilometre-long climb up to the finish. Ivan Basso (Cannondale) was the first to move, but Astana’s Tanel Kangert soon passed the Italian, only to see Moreno flash by on the steepest ramps with 700 metres to the line.
His surge took him clear of the pack, which was led by Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Moreno's team-mate Joaquim Rodríguez, just ahead of race leader Roche. Moreno knew he had to take the 10-second time bonus available to the winner and finish eight seconds ahead of the Irishman in order to take the red jersey and, despite tying up in the final few metres, he managed to do precisely that. Valverde and Rodríguez finishing second and third, bagging the remaining bonus seconds, with Roche just behind them in fourth.
Moreno was quick to play down any suggestion that he might have some thoughts of keeping the jersey long-term, saying he is committed to supporting Katusha leader Rodríguez.
“Winning my second stage and becoming the race leader as well is huge and even more so having achieved it at a finish like this that is so spectacular. I am not going to be challenging for the Vuelta, we know who our team leader is. That is Purito,” said Moreno.
Roche, meanwhile, admitted to being disappointed but eager to see what the race may still hold for him. “It was a nasty uphill finish but I think I did a good job finishing fourth as this climb is for the specialists,” said the Irishman. “Naturally, I’m a little disappointed about losing the jersey by one second but it’s no disaster for us. The race is long and many opportunities ahead of us.”
The five riders who joined the break of the day knew the GC contenders would almost certainly be on them well before the finish, although Luke Rowe (Team Sky), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r), Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural), Anthony Roux (FDJ) and Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) did manage to open a lead that extended to seven minutes.
BMC did a lot of the work reducing their advantage with the idea of setting up world champion Philippe Gilbert for a stage win no doubt in mind. Katusha too played a significant role in reeling the break in with 30km still to race.
In previous years, the run-in to Valdepeñas de Jaén has been undulating rather than hilly, but today’s stage came into the town via the second-category Alto de los Frailes. After Aramendia had finally been chased down approaching this climb, his effort securing him the award for the day’s most aggressive rider, his Caja Rural team-mate Amets Txurruka attacked, only to be caught and passed by RadioShack’s Robert Kiserlovski. He stayed out on his own almost to the top of the climb, where Boasson Hagen stomped by him.
The Norwegian probably needed to gain a minute to have any chance of holding on to the line, but only gained a maximum of 25 seconds on the tight descent off the Alto de los Frailes. Katusha led the chase behind him confident one of their two star climbers would take advantage, and Moreno did exactly that.
Attention now turns to tomorrow’s tough stage to the Alto de Hazallanas, where his team leader Rodríguez will be hoping to follow suit.