Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 13, September 8th,
Cuenca, 180 km
Considering that tomorrow we have the critical individual time trial, today is a very tough ‘leg breaking' route which is up and down all day with three Category 3 climbs on hand. The run in to Cuenca is somewhat like the end of the Milan-San Remo. The stage passes over the difficult Category 3 Alto del Castillo (1120m) with just 13km to the finish. Over the summit a very technical decent drops the peloton right into Cuenca . Power riders with great bike handling skills will succeed here assuming that a break has not made it into town first.
Cuenca, 'Casas Colgadas' (Hanging Houses)
Those high on General Classification will be paying particular attention to this final climb because they will be riding over it again in tomorrow's time trial. For any riders with lesser ambitions and not feeling exhausted, a quick tourist trip around Cuenca may be in order. This medieval gem of a city clings to the summit of two steep gorges and is most famous for it's Casas Colgadas (‘hanging houses') which are built onto the vertical side of a gorge. Conquistador mansions, a cathedral, a Dominican monastery and a museum of Spanish abstract art are some of the sights in old Cuenca . Modern Cuenca lies beneath the old town and is almost a separate entity.
Stage13 rolls through the neutral zone controlled by race director Víctor Cordero's red flag ( Image © Unipublic )
The start of today's stage rolled through the neutral zone in Guadalajara and lazily into the first 11km. Uneasy with the slow pace Discovery took control of the race. Joined by Euskaltel the peloton split into pieces. The lead group of 12 was led by Michael Boogerd and Davide Rebellin as the flying peloton started the climb of the Alto de Córcoles. On the climb a new group of 5 riders broke away and began to separate from the shattered peloton. The breakaway slowly opened a 5'30” gap with the average speed of the second hour dropping to 43.8 km/h.
The breakaway on the Alto de Córcoles ( Image © Unipublic )
The advantage continued to grow and with 72km to the finish in Cuenca the breakaway had 7'38”. Caisse d'Epargne came to front to set a fast pace in pursuit of the smoothly working breakaway.
Paolo Bettini's Quick Step team began to help with the chase. The strung out peloton slowly closed the gap. The Boogerd-Rebellin group continued to fight but the advantage had fallen to 4'02” with 45km to go.
Quick Step assisted chase, Bettini tucked in 5th rider ( Image © Unipublic )
The Quick Step relentless led chase and at the base of the final climb the breakaway came to an end. The stage was set for fireworks on the Alto del Castillo .
Quick Step continued to drive a ‘leg breaking' pace on the early slopes of the climb. The ‘alarm bells' started to sound when Danilo Di Luca flew off the front. Valverde, Sastre, Bettini and Vinokourov reacted quickly to catch and pass Di Luca. Over the top of the climb Cofidis' Luis Perez broke off the elite lead group. Descending through 9km to go Perez was caught as the group plunged down the descent. Euskaltel's Samuel Sanchez counter-attacked and opened a 6” lead. Caisse d'Epargne controled the peloton chasing hard for Valverde. In sight of the line Sanchez dug deep to hold off the charging peloton. He was caught at the line but not before winning the stage. Point's leader Thor Hushovd sprinted in for second place, race leader Alejandro Valverde third.
Hushovd's late charge falls short, Euskaltel's Day to shine ( Image © Unipublic )
The final run into Cuenca provided great racing! With an important individual time trial tomorrow Valverde's message today is “I'm ready!”
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