Vuelta Travelogue - Anticipation and Trepidation
Stage 9, September 3rd,
Alto de La Cobertoria, 206 km
Today is billed as the “Queen Stage” of the 2006 Vuelta for good reason. There are two Category 3 climbs, three Category 1 climbs and one “Categoría Especial” (above category) climb to negotiate. All day the riders will be either going uphill or downhill with very little flat to recuperate on. Clearly the bunch will be decimated and for many riders their only objective today will be to beat the time elimination deadline. The high point of the day comes on the “Categoría Especial” Puerto de San Lorenzo (10km, average 9%) at 166km. However the real agony will be dished out on the Category 1 mountain top finish of the Alto de La Cobertoria (9km, average 8.5%). Although the Vuelta has passed over the Corbertoria before, this is the first time that the mountain has been used as a stage finish. It is clear however that after the race the Vuelta entourage will not be staying overnight at the small village of Armada at the base of the Corbertoria. Here there are only 16 registered inhabitants!
A Fonsgarada, deep in mountain country
At 11:25 the start flag dropped and the stage headed directly into the first category 3 climb of the Alto de Minide . Conventional wisdom on a stage this tough is that early breakaways will NOT succeed. But someone always tries! A breakaway group of 15 rider came together on the climb of the Puerto de Connio. The best placed rider was Eusktel's Igor Anton (21 st place, +4'38”), but wasn't considered a danger to the race leader. After gaining a maximum of 3'30” the breakaway's advantage began to fall at the base of the monsterous Puerto de San Lorenzo. The lead group was now on the climb with a lead of 1'35”. Carlos Sastre and CSC came to the head of the peloton keeping the breakaway in check. Slowly an elite chase group formed as the remnants of the early breakaway were caught and passed. Only Egio Martinez, David Arroyo and Igor Anton were in front. They crossed the Puerto de San Lorenzo with 59” lead.
Chase on the “Categoría Especial” Puerto de San Lorenzo ( Image © Unipublic )
Astana begins driving the chase as the final three riders were caught 10 km before the official start of the final climb.
Once back together Quick Step's Paolo Bettini counter-attacked immediately and opened a 46” lead. Caisse d'Epargne led the chase with Alejandro Valverde sitting fourth wheel. The bite of the Alto de La Cobertoria had begun for Bettini and his lead came down to 34”. At 6km to the finish the always aggressive Bettini surrenders and rejoins the group.
Paolo Bettini's late breakaway attempt come to an end as the finishing climb kicks up ( Image © Unipublic )
The attacks became constant, first Alexandre Vinokourov and Andrey Kashechkin, then Carlos Sastre, Valverde, and Danilo Di Luca. As the elite group shattered race leader Janez Brajkovic lost contact. Two Discovery teammates paced the young Brajkovic to the finish.
Now there were two battling for the stage win. Vinokourov passed under the 1km banner with a 12” lead on a flying Valverde. Vinokourov looks back as the climb increased to 10%. One last look and Vino crosses the line 16” ahead of a fading Valverde. Astana's Kashechkin was third.
Vinokourov's second stage win in a row ( Image © Unipublic )
An impressive win on a brutal stage of 4,135 meters of climbing put Alexandre Vinokourov back in the hunt for the Vuelta title. Caisse d'Epargne's Alejandro Valverde earned his first Golden Jersey of the Vuelta 2006.
Valverde in the Golden Jersey ( Image © Unipublic )
The tired peloton moves to Avilés for a well deserved rest day. Join CyclingRevealed.com tomorrow for a rest day report.
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