31 August 2013

Vuelta a España Stage 8: Jerez de la Frontera to Estepona. Alto Peñas Blancas

So after stage 6 when the sprinters being led out by a former world time trial champion only caught the world time trial champion in the final second of the stage, it was time for the sprinters stage to try and get it right.

There were three men in the breakaway Christian Knees (SKY), Marco Pinotti (BMC) and Javier Aramendia (CJR), they did cross the finish line first, but that was for the last intermediate sprint of the day before heading out on a 31.5km loop before they returned. They did get eventually caught with 17 km to go. Although Pinotto perhaps inspired by Tony Martin (OPQ) the day before hung on and dug deep to avoid capture for another 2km.

However, the run in to the finish was a technical one and there was a chance that a late breakaway could happen and maybe stay away. At 10km to go the rainbow jersey on the back of Philippe Gilbert (BMC) launched an attack, he was soon joined by Zdenek Stybar (OPQ) in the twists that led to the finish they were able to open up their lead hitting 1lm to go some 7 seconds clear of the peleton. However, with Gilbert on the front not wanting to lead out too soon the peleton was fast approaching, before Stybar launched an attack into the last corner and headed for the line, with a fast approaching Gilbert and faster approaching peleton on his back. In the end the Czech rider held on to deny the World Champion his first win in the jersey and there was still a 1 second gap to the peleton.

On loser was Daniel Martin (GRS) who fell some 13km out and tried to chase back but ended up 1'33" down. It may have put an end to any lingering GC hopes he may have had, but it could allow him to go for a stage win in the mountains without attracting too much attention.

Speaking of the mountains that is were we are heading back to.today. First we head to the Costa del Sol at Estepona about have way between Gibraltar and Marbella, but then it is the turn back inland from the beaches into the Bermeja Mountains that will be the crux of today's stage.

The climb of the Alto Peñas Blancas is the return after three relatively easier days to the tough mountain passes. Meaning that only those with climbing legs will feature in the finish. The climb is 14.5km long with an average gradient of 6.6%. Starting from 20m above sea level it will climb 960 more. But its steepest gradient is on the lower slopes some 12.5% just 2km in. Shortly after that ramp is does level out for a couple of kms before hitting 9% as it gets tough once more and stays over average gradient mostly until the line.

On our last mountain finish Movistar set the pace for Alejandro Valverde and I don't see them doing much different this time. Rigoberto Uran (SKY) may well find himself isolated again unless Sergio Henao can overcome the difficulties he had earlier, and Vincenzo Nibali (AST) has looked comfortable all race long so far, even though he has the red jersey on his shoulders for a long time already.

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