Vuelta 8: Rodríguez climbs to stage win

Spaniard takes over race leadership from Chavanel

He’s been in terrific form of late and on Saturday afternoon in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) demonstrated that his fitness is scintillating with another powerful surge on the steep slopes of the torturous final kilometre of stage 8 of the Vuelta a España.

With many tipping the Spaniard to shine on a finish that featured ramps of 27 percent, Katusha’s captain delivered, beating Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) and Rabobank’s Bauke Mollema to take his second stage win and the overall lead in this year’s Vuelta.

Having worn the red jersey for a stage after the first day, Jakob Fuglsang’s (Leopard Trek) fine fifth place finish saw him move back up in the standings to third overall, with Dani Moreno (Katusha) sitting in second behind his team leader.

The final agonising kilometres separated some of the overall favourites, with 16 seconds covering the top 10. A notable absentee from that group was defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), who finished 32 seconds behind Rodriguez and now sits in fourth place overall.

Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins came across the line 20 seconds down in 19th place and now lies 1:43 behind Rodriguez, albeit with Monday’s crucial 47km time trial still to come for the British contender.

All about the finish

After the mountainous appetisers earlier in the week, today’s stage delivered a brace of category two climbs – the San Bartolomé de Pinares and the Alto de Santa María – preceded by the first category Puerto de Mijares: a test of sorts for the overall contenders while the breakaway bandits were licking their lips.

Their biggest obstacle was the tough uphill finish, with ramps of up to 27 percent that represented another chance for the likes of Katusha duo Moreno and Rodriguez, both of whom have already stamped their mark on this year’s Vuelta with stage wins.

Approaching the top of the Puerto de Mijares after a rapid start, Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervélo) and Matteo Montaguti (AG2R-La Mondiale) were the lone leaders, having made their way off the front after 25km, while 1:10 behind them lay Friday’s most combative rider Julien Fourchard (Cofidis) and Adrian Palomares (Andalucia Caja Granada).

A further 4:05 back was Skil-Shimano’s Koen De Kort, with the peloton sitting 7:32 behind the leading duo. It wasn’t long before the Dutchman was reabsorbed by the bunch, however, as the two pairs at the front made a leading quartet after cresting the category one climb.

The peloton was content to give the leading quartet the time it wanted and with 28km remaining in the stage, the gap was still 1:58 – never enough to stay away until the finish but sufficient for another 17km of freedom, as Haussler was the last card to fall when Cofidis’ Rein Taaramae tried his luck heading into the final 10 clicks of the day.

Joined by Angel Madrazo (Movistar), teammate David Moncoutié, Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM), the freshly-formed quintet then decided it wanted to disrupt Katusha’s party and went into the final five kilometres – including the finishing climb – ahead of the main field, which would soon be ripped to shreds on the stinging ascent.

With three kilometres remaining and the hardest gradient ahead, Taaramae was the sole survivor of the late-stage move but even his bravery had its limits and he was swallowed up by a peloton led by Lampre-ISD and Katusha’s diminutive pair of Moreno and Rodriguez.

The harder grades required the higher marks and Scarponi went off in search of them, hitting out on the 20 percent slopes near the top of the climb but Rodriguez followed suit and swiftly passed the Italian on the cobbled section. He was never to be passed as those behind him fought for the scraps on what is becoming a familiar scene at this edition of Spain’s national tour.

Notable performances came from Euskaltel-Euskadi captain Igor Anton, who overcame his recent troubles to finish sixth and Irish cousins Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervélo), who took seventh and ninth respectively. Maxime Monfort’s strong showing also earned him a place in the overall top 10 while Denis Menchov showed his hand somewhat with eighth at the end of the 183 kilometres.

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