This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) secured his second stage win in this year’s Vuelta a España with a trademark acceleration atop the Mirador de Ézaro on stage 12, dropping all of his rivals to increase his buffer to 13 seconds in the overall battle.
Rodriguez and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) distanced Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Sky) on the lethally steep final climb but in the final 200 meters Rodriguez kicked for the line, leaving a stranded Contador to hold on for second place. The Katusha captain now leads the race by 13 seconds from Contador, with Froome in third, 51 seconds adrift.
The 190 kilometre stage from Vilagarcía de Arousa to Mirador de Ézaro was destined to see overall favourites contest the win. Although only 1.9 kilometres in length the final ascent reached pitches of 30 per cent in places.
Rodriguez was already the favourite for the stage win after his win at Jaca and his impressive time trial on stage 11, and he used his team effectively in the early stages of the race.
After a frantic start Amael Moinard (BMC), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) jumped away after 75 kilometres. Katusha policed the peloton but allowed the four leaders to establish a gap of over seven minutes with 80 kilometres to race.
As the bunch wove along the coast it appeared as through the break might succeed. Astarloza and De Weert took brutish turns, while Meyer was clearly confident after his 8th place in yesterday’s time trial.
The four leaders passed through Queiruga with 5 minutes in hand, and when there was crash in the bunch inside the final 30 kilometres the break still had over four minutes. But despite the brief lull in the peloton and the abandon of Xabier Zandio (Team Sky), the chase found its momentum.
Movistar added extra impetus to Katusha’s efforts, aware that if the break only had 45-50 seconds at the foot of the climb then they would have little chance of surviving.
The lead was down to 2:43 with 14 kilometres remaining as the battle for position ensued.
Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky) moved to the front as the peloton swung onto the lower slopes of the climb. The break had just a handful of seconds with Astarloza the only survivor able to cope with the terrain. When Flecha and then Stannard both dropped off Igor Anton (Euskaltel) attacked. Attack was perhaps the best form of defence for the climber who has lost time throughout this year’s race and he nimbly opened a brief gap on the favourites.
Rodriguez had glued himself to Contador’s rear wheel at the start of the climb but was the first to react to Anton’s move. This time it was Contador who followed, tracking the race leader as a gap appeared to the rest of the favourites.
Chris Froome immediately lost ground and it was his teammate Sergio Luis Henao who drove a chase group that included Robert Gesink, Daniel Moreno, Froome and Valverde.
With Anton and Astarloza caught the stage was wide open. But Henao’s work appeared to pay off when the gap to Contador and Rodriguez closed to within a meter.
But now it was Contador’s turn to attack. Rodriguez, looking ever more a favourite, followed as Valderde launched a desperate defence.
Inside the final 200 meters Contador could only watch as Rodriguez opened up for the line, taking 12 seconds out of the Saxo Bank leader. Valverde was home next, with Gesink and a weary Froome in fourth and fifth. Anton held on for seventh but remains outside of the top ten in the overall classification.