Vuelta 13: Albasini claims stage in Ponferrada

Wiggins remains in race lead

Michael Albasini of HTC-Highroad powered his way to victory in Ponferrada, dominating the sprint of an escape group on the thirteenth stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) was the only one of the 20-man group able to keep up with him, with Dani Moreno of Katusha coming in third

"It's a big sensation, I'm so happy to win the stage," Albasini said. "I did the right move, I got in the right group. I suffered a lot over the mountain, but once I got over the last climb I knew it was possible."

It was his third win of the season, having previously won a stage of the Bayern Rundfahrt (where he wore the leader's jersey for one day), and the GP Kanton Argau. The Swiss rider also took the mountain jersey at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

What started out as a 23-man group never had more than about a 3:20 lead over the peloton, but it was enough as the field went over five ranked climbs, including Vuelta debutante Puerto de Ancares. The field crossed the finish line 1:32 behind the winner, and Bradley Wiggins easily defended his leader's jersey.

Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) moved up from fourth to second place by taking a six second time bonus for first place in the first intermediate sprint. The 2010 champion is now only four seconds behind Wiggins.

The first of three serious mountain stages saw a change in the lead of the mountain rankings. David Moncoutie of Cofidis trailed Matteo Montaguti (AG2R) by only one point coming into the stage, and he was determined to reclaim the jersey he has won the last three years. Losing out to Montaguti at the first two climbs, the Frenchman joined the day's break to pick up major points at the remaining three climbs, with his rival being shut out.

Moncoutie now leads Montaguti by 12 points in the climber's competition.

Five climbs on the day

The stage got off to a fast and furious start. A large group got away early, with mountain classification rivals Montaguti and Moncoutie in it. Montaguti defended his lead by winning the first climb of the day, the Alto O'Pico Da Pena, ahead of Moncoutie.

The group was joined by such big names as race leader Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas). Nibali took advantage of the situation to jump for the points and time bonuses at the first intermediate sprint of the stage. The six seconds moved him up to virtual second place.

The top names dropped out and the rest of the group made it to the second climb. The category the Alto de O Lago didn't offer many mountain points, but Montaguti and Moncoutie were in a neck-and-neck race for the climbing title. Benat Intxausti of Movistar took the top points, with Montaguti second and Moncoutie third.

David Le Lay of AG2R got away on the 15km descent, jumping about 47km into the stage. He was soon joined by a large group, so that the break consisted of: Jan Bakelandts and Olivier Kaisen (Omega Pharma-Lotto), Marc De Maar and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Quickstep), Dominik Nerz and Eros Capecchi (Liquigas), Amets Txurruka, Igor Anton, Mikel Nieve and Gorka Verdugo (Euskaltel), Adrian Palomares Villaplana (Andalucia-Caja Granada), Yohan Bagot and Moncoutie (Cofidis), Filipe Oliviera Nelson (RadioShack), Daniel Moreno and Alberto Losada (Katusha), Chris Sørensen (Saxo Bank-SunGard), Michael Albasini (HTC-Highroad), Carlos Sastre, David Blanco and David De La Fuente (Geox), David Le Lay and Nicolas Roche (AG2R), Oliver Zaugg (Leopard Trek), Evgeny Petrov (Astana), David Lopez and Angel Madrazo Ruiz (Movistar).

Moncoutie had made the jump to the group, while Montaguti missed out on it. The Frenchman took advantage of that to be second over the top of the category one Alto de Folgue de Algas, behind Le Lay.

The group carried a lead of about 2:40 into the start of the major climb of the day. The Ancares, 11.8 km long and 7.7%, was making its long-awaited debut in the Vuelta. The gruelling climb took its toll on the group, and Anton was the first to lose contact.

The crowds and clouds were thick at the top of the climb. Once again Moncoutie was only second at the top, this time behind Moreno.

Despite the ominous clouds, there was sunshine on the descent. A potentially dangerous group with Nibali, Kessiakoff and Mollema tried to get away from the chasing peloton, but was roped back in. The fearsome climb, with its equally dreaded descent, did not play the decisive role for which some had hoped.

There was one final climb, the category three Puerto de Lumeras after 116 kilometers. Moncoutie finally was able to take this one, topping it out ahead of Sørensen and De Maar.

The peloton, noticeably smaller than before, kept moving slowly towards the equally diminishing lead group, with the gap bouncing around the two minute mark.

With 15km to go, it was becoming clear that the group would make it through to the end. The riders in the chasing group of favourites adjusted their strategy to one of limiting their time losses, and making sure their rivals didn't slip out to gain a few seconds advantage.

With three in the group, Euskaltel had the advantage and led the group, keeping the pace up. The peloton rode furiously and got closer and closer but was unable to totally close the gap.

Albasini and Madrazo jumped with about 3km to go, and were joined by Moncoutie. De Maar didn't join them but flew past. Meanwhile, Bakelandts tried to go but a traffic island brought him down.

The group came together again and crossed under the 1km flag. Albasini opened the sprint and easily powered his way to the finish line ahead of Capecchi, with Moreno a bit back in third. The field came in 1:32 later.

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