Vuelta 4: Moreno climbs to stage victory

Chavanel takes over as new race leader

Daniel Moreno (Katusha) took advantage of a degree of status quo between the Vuelta’s main favourites to claim victory at the race’s first summit finish on the Sierra Nevada. The Katusha rider came up towards the line on the wheel of Saxo Bank’s Chris Anker Sorensen. Then with 400 metres remaining, the Spaniard flashed by on the Dane’s left and had plenty of time to zip up his jersey and celebrate his first grand tour stage win.

The pair had come together just four kilometres from the summit. Sorensen had already jumped across from the main group to three riders who remained from the break of the day. Sorensen pushed on past them and worked hard but had no answer when Moreno jumped hard.

“I’m so happy with this beautiful win,” said Moreno. “I felt in great shape this morning. I knew I could produce a great performance because the course suited my characteristics. Before going after Sorensen, I talked with my team leader, Joaquim Rodríguez. He thought I had good chance of winning today because I’m faster than the Danish rider and told me to go for it.”

Moreno’s win lifted him up to second place overall, 43 seconds down on new race leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) but he was quick to downplay his own prospects.

“Despite my move up general classification, my job is still to help our leader to win the general classification,” said the 29-year-old from Madrid. “I think ‘Purito’ and me form a great partnership, I’m sure we can gain some more brilliant results in this Vuelta.”

After the red jersey of Pablo Lastras dropped away from the main group on the early slopes of the Sierra Nevada, Chavanel knew that if he could stick with or close to that group he would take over the lead. Although he did fall back from the front group, which was eventually led home by Garmin’s Dan Martin 11 seconds behind Moreno, the French champion did enough to attain his objective for the day.

Antón cracks, Cavendish retires

While Moreno and Chavanel took the plaudits, the big loser on the day was Euskaltel’s Igor Antón. The Basque rider struggled all of the way up the final climb to the finish and in the end may not have been too disappointed to lose 1:36.

But Antón was far from the only rider to suffer on another blisteringly hot Vuelta day. Winner of the points title last year, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) abandoned on the second of the day’s three climbs, while 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre saw his hopes of a high overall finish disappear as the race climbed to the 2112-metre summit.

Seven riders for the break of the day

After a number of attacks had been neutralised in the opening few kilometres, the break of the day formed at the 10km mark as the riders started up the slopes of the first-category climb of Alto de Filabres.

Seven riders got into it: Guillaume Bonnafond (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Matthew Busche (RadioShack), Yohan Bagot (Cofidis), Thomas Rohregger (Leopard-Trek), Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), José Vicente Toribio (Andalucía-Caja Granada) and Koen de Kort (Skil-Shimano).

By the time De Kort led the seven over the Filabres ahead of Vorganov and Rohregger, their advantage was seven minutes on the peloton. Lastras’ Movistar team tried to keep it under control but it did edge out to more than eight minutes with less than 60km remaining.

After the third-category Blancares climb, where Cavendish became the second rider to abandon the race after HTC team-mate Matt Goss on stage two, Rabobank began to push the pursuit of the seven breakaways with a little more purpose.

Sierra Nevada’s long and winding road

Soon after the escape reached the first slopes of the 23km ascent of the Sierra Nevada, riders began to drop away as the heat hurt as much as the gradient. Bagot was the first to go, followed by De Kort and Torobio, although the Spaniard did battle back up to the four leaders at one point, only to blow apart in visibly painful fashion once he got up to them.

Rabobank were still leading the peloton as it started up the final climb, by now less than four minutes down on the break. Their pace soon saw Lastras fall out of the back. RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden was another early casualty of the Dutch team’s pace. This front group thinned down to 50-odd riders, with Antón struggling right at the back.

Up front, Bonnafond and Rohregger were doing most of the pace-making, although with 10km remaining the four leaders had little more than a minute in hand on the peloton as defending champion Vincenzo Nibali’s Liquigas team went to the front. Their efforts saw Antón finally fall away from the back of the group containing the main contenders.

Perhaps sensing that some of his other rivals might be in difficulty as the race headed towards 2000 metres, a very comfortable-looking Nibali launched a brief foray with 7.5km left. The Italian got a decent gap before easing off as the chase began behind.

As Nibali was brought back, Sorensen made his move off the front of this group, and got across to the four leaders inside the 5km mark. The Dane pressed on through the tiring escapees, with Moreno by now chasing hard behind, perhaps with a view to setting up a late attack by his team leader, Joaquim Rodríguez.

But over the closing couple of kilometres the Katusha leader and his main rivals were content to sit in behind Sky’s Chris Froome as he set the pace for Bradley Wiggins, allowing Moreno and Sorensen the chance to battle over the day’s spoils and Chavanel the chance to lead the Vuelta for the first time in his illustrious career.

This was just an early skirmish for overall victory in the Vuelta, with Antón the big loser and Moreno and Chavanel the day’s victors.

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