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Having stayed glued to Froome’s wheel all the way up the final climb, Contador launched a searing attack with 800m to go to distance the Brit by 15 seconds, win the queen stage and solidify his overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ALESSANDRO DE MARCHI

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CHRIS FROOME

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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08.09.2014 @ 18:41 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) proved that he is the strongest rider in the Vuelta a Espana when he won a great clash of the titans against Chris Froome (Sky) in the queen stage. Having follow the Brit all the way up the final climb, he launched a strong attack 800m from the line to distance his British rival by 15 seconds and extend his overall lead over Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) to a comfortable 1.36.

 

In the first two weeks of the Vuelta a Espana, Alberto Contador has taken the overall lead due to consistency more than superiority as he has been unable to drop his rivals in the previous mountain stages. Today he proved that his lead is fully deserved when he took an impressive solo victory in the queen stage.

 

On the only day with numerous big climbs, Contador made use of his abilities as a pure climber and great recovery to distance all his rivals on the final climb to La Farrapona. Despite being outnumbered by an impressive Sky team, he left nothing to doubt in the finale.

 

The win came after a great battle against a resurgent Chris Froome who already showed his intentions on the penultimate climb. For the first time in this year’s race, the Brit lined out in Sky team on the front of the peloton and in an impressive display of power, the British team whittled the group down to less than 20 riders.

 

When the final climb got steep, Mikel Nieve took over the pace-setting and his brutal speed put most of the overall contenders in difficulty. With 4km to go, Froome made his move when he launched one of his trademark accelerations and he immediately distance Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Alejandro Valverde.

 

However, Contador was glued to his wheel and he stayed in second position all the way up the climb while Froome set a searing pace that constantly saw Rodriguez, Valverde and Fabio Aru (Astana) lose ground. Going under the flamme rouge, the front pair was 45 seconds ahead of their chasers but Contador had shown no signs of weakness.

 

With 800m to go, Contador proved that he was not on his limit when he launched a fierce attack and Froome didn’t even try to respond. Contador dropped his British rival and when he crossed the line, he had gained 15 seconds on the Sky captain.

 

Having been clearly the strongest in the chase trio, Valverde dropped Rodriguez and Aru in the finale and crossed the line in fourth, just behind early escapee Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) who crowned an impressive performance with a third place. Rodriguez followed a few seconds later to see a podium spot slip further away from him.

 

With his showing, Contador extended his overall lead over Valverde to 1.36 while Froome is now just 3 seconds off the runner-up spot. The Tinkoff-Saxo leader now gets a chance to rest his legs as tomorrow is the second rest day before the racing resumes with a flat stage on Wednesday. However, big parts of the stage takes place along the Galician coast, meaning that windy conditions could split the field ahead of the expected sprint finish.

 

The queen stage

After yesterday’s big stage to Lagos de Covadonga, the hostilities continued with the queen stage of the race that brought the riders over 160.5km from San Martin del Rey Aurelio to a mountaintop finish on La Farrapona. Right from the beginning, the riders went up a category 1 climb and then a flat section led to the brutal finale. In the second half, the riders tackled one category 2 climb and two category 1 climbs before they reached the bottom of the brutal finishing mountain.

 

All riders who finished yesterday’s stage, took the start under bright sunshine and they got it off to a very fast beginning. Rohan Dennis (BMC) started the attacking and he was joined by his teammate Philippe Gilbert, Sander Armee (Lotto Belisol), Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural), George Bennett (Cannondale), Adriano Malori (Movistar), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Simon Clarke (Orica), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r), Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff), Yaroslav Popovych (Trek) and Koldo Fernandez (Garmin).

 

Katusha take control

5 riders briefly tried to join them but the peloton was still riding fast and swallowed up the chasers. While Katusha chased hard, the front group managed to build an advantage of 33 seconds by the time they hit the bottom of the first climb after 10km of racing.

 

Fernandez was dropped from the break and later the selection whittled the group down to just Ten Dam, Dennis, Sanchez, Malori, Kennaugh and Rovny. However, the peloton was riding really fast, with Tinkoff-Saxo trying to avoid too many attacks, and the bunch exploded to pieces.

 

Rodriguez suffers

Gianluca Brambilla (OPQS), Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Romain Sicard (Europcar) bridged the gap to the leaders. Later Wout Poels (OPQS), Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) also made it across to form a 12-rider front group.

 

Behind, the peloton had split even more and now a group with Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome was 14 seconds behind while Joaquim Rodriguez found himself 12 seconds further back. After they had crested the summit, Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida) joined the front group on the descent while the Rodriguez group rejoined the red jersey group. Sanchez beat Dennis, De Marchi, Le Bon and Brambilla in the battle for the KOM points.

 

The peloton slows down

At the 32km mark, the 13 escapees were 40 seconds ahead and now the peloton finally slowed down. After 38km of racing, they were 2.23 ahead and just four kilometres further up the road, they had extended the advantage to 4.20.

 

At the 48km mark, the gap had ballooned to 8.22 and that was too much for Katusha. The Russian team started to chase and with Dmitry Kozontchuk and Eduard Vorganov the reduced the deficit.

 

Uran suffers

At the bottom of the Alto de Cordal, they gap had been brought down to 6.25 and they continued their fast riding on the slopes. Surprisingly, an ill Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) was dropped and the Colombian fought hard with Martin Velits and Carlos Verona to limit his losses.

 

When Sanchez led Bilbao over the top of the climb, Katusha had brought the gap down to 5.20 while Uran was 30 seconds behind. The Colombian managed to rejoin the group on the descent while Cunego led Bilbao and Brambilla across the line in the first intermediate sprint.

 

Katusha ride fast

On the Alto de la Cobertoria, Kozontchuk and Vorganov continued their pace-setting and immediately, Uran lost contact. The peloton was now exploding to pieces while Sanchez did a lot of work in the front group.

 

The gap came down to 3.50 before Katusha slowed down. That was good news for Uran who brought the gap down from 1.10 to 25 seconds a few kilometres from the top.

 

Cancellara attacks

At this point, Fabian Cancellara (Trek) decided that it was time to prepare for the Worlds and he launched a surprise attack. While Sanchez led Bilbao over the top, he started to distance the peloton and at the summit, he was 30 seconds ahead

 

Impressively, Uran rejoined the peloton just before the top while Cancellara used his excellent descending skills to increase his advantage. He brought the gap down to 3 minutes while the peloton was now 4.55 behind.

 

Sky hit the front

As they approached the penultimate climb, Katusha started to ride a lot faster and when Poels led Malori across the line in the final intermediate sprint, they were only 3.20 behind. Just before they hit the penultimate climb, however, Sky took over the pace-setting with Christian Knees who brought Cancellara back on the lower slopes.

 

While Vasil Kiryienka took over the pace-setting, the peloton exploded to pieces. Meanwhile, the attacking started in the front group, with Sanchez launching the first attack before De Marchi upped the pace.

 

The break splits up

Only Brambilla and Sanchez could stay with the Cannondale rider while Poels tried to bridge the gap. Sanchez fell off the pace and after a long fight, Poels managed to replace him in the front group to again make it a trio.

 

In the peloton, the GC riders were starting to get dropped as Winner Anacona (Lampre), Uran, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) and David Arroyo (Caja Rural) were among the many riders that lost contact. When Kiryenka had blown up, Luke Rowe took over and later it was Philip Deignan doing the damage.

 

Poels rejoins the front duo

The Irishman traded pulls with Yury Trofimov (Katusha) before the latter blew up, leaving it to Deignan to lead the peloton to the top. Meanwhile, Poels had again been dropped but after De Marchi had led Brambilla over the summit, the Dutchman rejoined the leaders on the descent.

 

At the top of the climb, only Aru, Gesink, Sanchez, Nerz, Caruso, Mate, Hesjedal, Martin, Barguil, Rodriguez, Caruso, Valverde, Meintjes, Yates, Froome, Nieve, Deignan, Contador and Hernandez were still in the peloton but several riders managed to rejoin them while Deignan and briefly Samuel Sanchez (BMC) led them down the descent.

 

Brambilla is ejected from the race

Dario Cataldo (Sky) had rejoined the peloton on the descent and after the gap had been stable at 3 minutes for a while, his fast pace in the valley brought it down to 2.05 at the bottom of the final climb. When he swung off, Kennaugh who had been brought back from the early break, took over.

 

Earlier in the stage, Brambilla and Rovny had been involved in a physical fight and that had dramatic consequences for both. At the bottom of the climb, Brambilla was told that he had been ejected from the race and he was taken out of the lead group.

 

Deignan whittles down the group

With 11km to go, Kennaugh had brought the gap down to 1.00 and this was the signal for De Marchi to kick into action. The Italian accelerated, dropped Poels and extended his advantage to 1.30.

 

Deignan had now taken over the pace-setting and he managed to stabilize the situation while riders were constantly dropped. With 8km to go, the main group was made up of Aru, Gesink, Sanchez, Nerz, Caruso, Navarro, Mate, Sicard, Hesjedal, Martin, Barguil, Rodriguez, Caruso, Moreno, Valverde, Izagirre, Herrada, Meintjes, Froome, Nieve, Kennaugh, Deignan, Contador, Hernandez.

 

Froome makes his move

With 6km to go, Deignan suffered a puncture and so Kennaugh went back to work. With 4km to go, Nieve took over and in a matter of seconds, he had whittled the group down to himself, Froome, Contador, Valverde, Rodriguez, Aru, Martin, Hesjedal, Sanchez, Navarro.

 

When Poels was brought back, Froome made his attack. The Brit and Froome quickly got a big gap over Rodriguez and Valverde who joined forces.

 

A great battle

Froome and Contador started to distance the Spaniards who were rejoined by Aru. With 3km to go, they were 25 seconds ahead and they had now caught De Marchi who managed to hang on for a little while before getting dropped.

 

Valverde tried to distance his rivals but only managed to get rid of Aru who managed to rejoin them a little later. From there, the front duo increased its advantage to 45 seconds as the passed the flamme rouge. This was where Contador made his winning move and he managed to distance Froome significantly in the finale.

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