Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 7, September 1st, León to
Alto de El Morredero (Ponferrada), 154.2 km
Discovery's Surprise Leader
Now in the northern part of Spain , the race encounters some truly spectacular scenery as it enters the Picos de Europa National Park. Lush green valleys and limestone mountains form a natural barrier to the nearby Atlantic coast. About 25kms from the finish the race passes through Ponferrada. Although surrounded by magnificent mountain scenery this now very modern town was once an important coal mining center. However long before the coal mines were established the town was (and still is) an important stopping off point for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela. An impressive medieval ‘Knights Templar' castle is probably the most important architectural structure in the area. When it was built in the 12th Century offered protection to passing pilgrims.
Ponferrada, Knights Templar castle ( www.ponferrada-virtual.com )
There is only one categorized climb today and this takes the race to the finish line. The Category 1 Alto El Morredero, which rises to 1740m (18km, average 7%), is a winter playground. This is only the second time the mountain has been visited by the Vuelta. Rolling countryside and winding roads will offer good breakaway potential but due to the relative shortness of the stage, breaks will probably be contained and the mountain goats will rule the day.
From the start in Leon the first successful breakaway was established after 25km of racing. Lampre's David Loosli (Sui) and Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) of Cofidis broke clear of the peloton, with Credit Agricole's Laszlo Bodrogi (Hun) chasing hard. Once Bodrogi joined the break the lead jumped to 11'28”. Over the top of the uncategorized climb of Puerto del Manzanal the gap began to fall as the peloton started a serious chase.
(L to R) Loosli , Scheirlinkx, and Bodrogi ( Image © Unipublic )
At the base of the final climb the Liquigas led peloton was in full gallop through Ponferrada, but the breakaway maintained a 5'45” lead. 8%... 9%... 10%... and the break began to struggle. At 15% Loosli moved away solo as the dwindling peloton continued to close.
Liquigas led peloton, gap 5'45" ( Image © Unipublic )
Under the 9km to go banner Loosli's cadence was beginning to slow. The peloton was shattered with Alexandre Vinokourov led a small group still closing. Valverde accelerated up to the elite chase group dropping overall race leader Danilo Di Luca.
Loosli's breakaway ended at 2km to go with Disovery's Janez Brajkovic leading Vinokourov past the leader. The remnants of the elite group struggle to close gaps. Under the 1km banner Vinokourov attacked. Valverde and Brajkovic were close behind. In sight of the finish line Valverde exploded and flew past Vinokourov for a great stage win. Brajkovic aggressively finished 7 seconds later and took his first Golden Jersey as race leader.
(L) Stage Winner Alejandro Valverde (R) New race leaderJanez Brajkovic ( Images © Unipublic )
For Danilo Di Luca the elation and swagger of a stage win and Golden Jersey was gone. Isolated on the Alto El Morredero the Italian was left to chase alone. He finished 1'58” behind the stage winner and dropped to 9 th in the overall classification.
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