Today’s ninth stage took the riders out of Andorra and to the Catalunyan coastal capital of Barcelona over 200 mostly kind kilometers…emphasis on mostly.
Four riders took their leave early for a day out in the sun with all cameras focused on their progress: Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Bert-Jan Lindeman (Vacansoleil-DCM), Javier Chacon (Andalucia) and Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp). The quartet built up a lead quickly, but never managed the big numbers. Five minutes was their biggest gap, and by the time the race hit 80k to go, it was down to only three. Apparently, someone in the field had aspirations for victory in Barcelona… Well, quite a few teams actually – Katusha, Rabobank, Argos-Shimano, Lotto Belisol, and BMC were all active at the front, getting ready for the inevitable throw down on the final climb of the day, the Montjuic, which came with only a scant few kilometers to go before the finish.
There was some talk of a bunch type sprint, but it all looks laughable considering what happened. What happened, you ask?
Let’s just fast forward to the Montjuic, because that’s the story of the day.
With 10 kilometers to go, the field was flying at nearly 70kph with Katusha at the helm. When the riders hit the base of the Alto de Montjuic, it was Contador who opened the festivities with an attack. Typically, this would be cause for alarm, but Contador was less than impressive after that brief moment of ooooh.
The move, however, provoked a big response. Ballan went, then Rodriguez followed, Ballan popped, Gilbert fired, Roche chased, but in the final kilometer of the climb, it was Gilbert and Rodriguez who linked up, went over the top together, and started the quick descent into Barcelona.
It was a perfect pairing – Gilbert was desperate for a win, Rodriguez was desperate for time and time bonuses, so it didn’t take much debating between the two before their heads were down and pavement was gobbled.
The chase from behind was disorganized and less than effective, so it was Rodriguez and Gilbert head to head on the streets of Barcelona. While Rodriguez is a quick finisher, he’s hardly a match for Gilbert when he’s on point – and he was today. Gilbert took the stage, Rodriguez the valuable seconds of the gap, plus the time bonuses. He heads into tomorrow’s rest day with almost a minute on Froome! If Rodriguez can continue to get time bonuses – the losses he’ll sustain in the one 40k time trial might be surmountable. The Vuelta was supposed to be a showdown between Froome and Contador, but maybe we’ll see Rodriguez finally get HIS monkey off his back with a Grand Tour win.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been nine stages of racing. I can’t think of one that was dull. With today’s thrilling finale, the overall theme of awesome continues at La Vuelta.
Stage 9 Results
1. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team 4:45:28
2. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:07
4. Tomasz Marczynski (Pol) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team 0:00:09
5. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Radioshack-Nissan
6. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team
7. Nacer Bouhanni (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
8. Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:00:12
9. Gianni Meersman (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
10. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
11. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale
12. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre – ISD
13. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
14. Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Katusha Team
15. Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
General Classification After Nine Stages
1. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 34:44:55
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:53
3. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 0:01:00
4. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:07
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:02:01
6. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:08
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:02:34
8. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:03:07
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:18
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:03:27