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Rodriguez Wins Another Vuelta Stage

By Chris Jasurek
Epoch Times Staff
Created: August 30, 2012 Last Updated: August 30, 2012
Related articles: Sports » Cycling
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Joaquim Rodriguez climbs hard top cross the finish line of Stage Twelve of the Vuelta a España. Alberto Contador trails behind. (Jaime Reina/AFP/GettyImages)

Joaquim Rodriguez climbs hard top cross the finish line of Stage Twelve of the Vuelta a España. Alberto Contador trails behind. (Jaime Reina/AFP/GettyImages)

Movistar’s Joaquim Rodriguez won his second stage of the 2012 Vuelta a España with an explosive rush up a brutal final climb with slopes up to 30 percent—yes, thirty, that’s not a typo.

Rodriguez is a master of the short, sharp climb, and he mastered this one, dropping his nearest rival Alberto Contador with a late attack and gaining 35 seconds on second-placed Chris Froome.

Contador can usually best Rodriguez on longer climbs—the Saxo-Tinkoff rider used to be unequalled at repeated vicious attacks on climbs of a few to several kilometers normally considered steep (seven to ten percent.) Rodriguez will be hard pressed to maintain his 13-second gap over Contador on the four mountaintop finishes remaining in the Vuelta.

Sky’s Chris Froome has fallen back to 51 seconds behind the leader. Also he is good in the mountains as a rule, one has to wonder if the season’s miles have taken their toll. He didn’t seem able to respond when Rodriguez and Contador attacked halfway through the final climb, and while he did hang on to finish fifth, his performance was less than confidence-inspiring.

Froome climbed wonderfully in the Tour de France. It seems less than likely that he will be able to take almost a minute out of Alberto Contador unless the Spanish rider has a bad crash or a complete physical collapse. Unfortunately for Froome, Contador appears to have come off his six-month suspension rested and very ready to race.

It is early to discuss a General Classification winner. Nonetheless, Alberto Contador looks like he will be hard to beat. Thirteen seconds down an a rider not known as a great sustained climber and 38 seconds ahead of his most powerful rival with nothing but mountains and flat stages left, the Spanish champion looks to be back on the scene and at full power.

Brutal Final Climb

The stage started at a very high pace into a headwind; it took over almost two hours for four riders—Amael Moinard (BMC,) Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge,) Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi,) and Kevin De Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep)—to establish a break.

Sky’s Xavier Zandio (Sky) and a few other riders had an unfortunate sudden introduction to a bit of traffic furniture about 30 km from the finish. Zandio hit a raised granite curb with the bridge of his nose and had to retire—Zandio wanted to continue but the doctor didn’t appear to think the Sky rider was altogether conscious and composed.

The escape group was largely ignored as the peloton rode a measured pace for 100 km; then Movistar began chasing down the escapees 15 km from the finish. The peloton really hit the gas in the final ten km, because position was very important for the final climb—in places the road was narrow and with the steep slope few riders would be able to pass.

This climb up to Mirador de Ézaro was the focus of the whole stage. Riders started the race with extra-low gearing just for the final two kilometers. The ascent featured gradients from 11 to 30 percent. The first part started steep and got steeper for about 900 meters. Then the climb eased a bit for 100 meter and then shot up at 30 percent for 600 meters, then eased (?!) to perhaps 20 until the finish.

The grade was too steep for power climbers like BMC’s Philippe Gilbert; it should have been too steep for Alejandro Valverde, but since coming back, the Movistar rider has dropped some weight and developed his climbing legs. This climb could have been named “Joaquim Rodriguez Hill,” it so perfectly suited the race leader.

Once the breakaway hit the climb it fragmented; Astarloza attacked, though he must have known he didn’t have enough of a gap to stay clear. Ian Stannard pulled the peloton for Sky, with Froome right behind.

Astarloza’s teammate Igor Anton attacked early, perhaps hoping to support his fellow Euskaltel rider. He never got the chance.

Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage Twelve of the Vuelta a España. (Jaime Reina/AFP/GettyImages)

Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage Twelve of the Vuelta a España. (Jaime Reina/AFP/GettyImages)

‘Purito’ in His Element

Just before the two Euskaltel riders met, with the slope at a mere 23 percent, Rodriguez (nicknamed “Purito,” after a small Spanish cigar) made his move. Contador stayed right with him; no one else responded. Slowly Alejandro Valverde and Sky’s Sergio Henao started to catch the two leaders.

Contador didn’t let the pursuers catch up; he accelerated, with Rodriguez in tow. This pair slowly stretched their lead as the slope lessened and then increased again.

Just past the worst part, Rodrigues accelerated, and then, with perhaps 150 meters to go, he jumped out of the saddle and started sprinting. He had to sit for a second, then summoned up another burst of power; Contador had nothing to offer.

Rodriguez crossed the line eight seconds ahead of Contador; Alejandro Valverde was third, 13 seconds back. Chris Froome couldn’t manage better than fifth; he will likely do better on the longer, less violent climbs, but 51 seconds is a huge margin to make up, and judging by his performance in earlier stages, he might be riding one race too many this season.

Stage 13 might be the first stage of the 2012 Vuelta where a breakaway survives. A lumpy 173 kms from Santiago de Compostela to Ferrol, the stage is free of any categorized climbs but also almost free of flat terrain. This could be a stage for the sprinters, but with a trio of intense climbing stages to come, it is quite possible that no team (except Argos-Shimano) will want to spend its energy just to see John Degenkolb win again, and Argos Shimano couldn’t force the rest of the peloton to help with a chase.

One never knows—maybe enough teams will think they might grab a lucky stage win that it ends in a bunch sprint. But likely Sky, Movistar, Katusha, Rabobank, Ag2R, and Euskaltel will refuse to work for no reason.

Stages 14, 15, and 16 are all climbing stages with summit finishes. That is where the Vuelta will likely be lost and possibly won. Any rider in less than peak form will lose so much time over these stages that there will be no possibility of recovery.

If no clear winner emerges then Stage 20, another summit finish, with a cat 2, three Cat 1s and an Hors Categorie summit finish, will be even more extraordinary than if it merely decides the lower steps of the podium.

Vuelta a España Stage Twelve

 

rider

team

time

1

Joaquim Rodriguez

Katusha

4:24:32

2

Alberto Contador

Saxo-Tinkoff

0:00:08

3

Alejandro Valverde

Movistar

0:00:13

4

Robert Gesink

Rabobank

0:00:20

5

Christopher Froome

Sky

0:00:23

6

Daniel Moreno

Katusha

 

7

Igor Anton

Euskaltel-Euskadi

0:00:27

8

Nicolas Roche

AG2R

0:00:31

9

Przemyslaw Niemiec

Lampre-ISD

0:00:33

10

Gorka Verdugo

Euskaltel-Euskadi

0:00:36

General Classification after Stage 12

 

rider

team

time

1

Joaquim Rodriguez

Katusha

44:50:35

2

Alberto Contador

Saxo-Tinkoff

0:00:13

3

Christopher Froome

Sky

0:00:51

4

Alejandro Valverde

Movistar

0:01:20

5

Robert Gesink

Rabobank

0:02:59

6

Daniel Moreno

Katusha

0:03:29

7

Nicolas Roche

AG2R

0:04:22

8

Andrew Talansky

Garmin-Sharp

0:05:17

9

Laurens Ten Dam

Rabobank

0:05:18

10

Bauke Mollema

Rabobank

0:06:01

 




   

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