August 25, Stage 8: Lleida – Andorra (Collada de la Gallina) 174.7km
We’ve seen a bounty of uphill finishes so far in the Vuelta, but today’s stage to Andorra provided the first serious foray into deep, dark, important suffering for the overall contenders.
The day’s break rid itself of the shackles of the peloton early on and rapidly pushed out a lead to almost ten minutes. The group of six consisted of Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis), Amael Moinard (BMC), Javier Ramirez (Andalucia), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil), and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural). When the gap approached double digits, both Sky and Katusha headed for the front to get things under control.
While a tough day in the mountains, there were only two climbs to contend with – unfortunately for the riders, they both came in the final 40km in Andorra, and they were both tough. The Alto de la Comella was first on the docket, followed by inaugural Vuelta attendee – the Collada de la Gallina. The Comella did its job of lessing the break’s advantage on the field, while the Gallina spelled the break’s demise.
Cameron Meyer – a current resident of Andorra – rode by his house during today’s daylong breakaway. Apparently motivated by his home roads, Meyer put in a sterling effort at the head of affairs. He dropped his erstwhile breakmates part of the way up the Gallina and set about trying to make it to the summit ahead of the large, hungry shark led by Team Sky coming up rapidly from behind.
After Sky’s able pace-setting decimated the field, it was Valverde who took up the reins of aggression with 3k to go. The former winner attacked hard, shedding everyone save his three mostly evenly matched rivals: Rodriguez, Froome, and Contador…plus a super Daniel Moreno.
Unfortunately for Valverde, he was countered by Froome and Contador, and went from dominant position off the front to off the back and chasing with Rodriguez in the span of about 15 seconds.
Rodriguez and Valverde managed to grovel back to the two leaders, and it was around that time that Meyer’s solo bid came to an end. Meyer miraculously managed to match the leaders’ pace for a few meters, but it wasn’t long before hostilities reignited.
Froome hit out hard around the 1k to go mark and looked to have put the leaders into difficulty for a moment, but Froome had no answer for the monster move from Contador that followed. Contador defied his lack of race fitness with a stunning acceleration to go over the top of Froome and put serious daylight into everyone.
With cadences approaching vision blurring, Contador was off to the races and a first victory following his suspension looked to be his. While Contador romped, Rodriguez and Valverde chased, and Froome was falling to pieces.
In the last meters, Rodriguez and Valverde managed what seemed to be impossible – they not only caught Contador, they both came around him, and it was Valverde whose hands went up, Rodriguez in second, and a destroyed Contador in third.
15 seconds later, Froome crossed the line, broken, but still in a great position overall.
Another great day of racing down in Spain! Barcelona awaits the riders tomorrow.
Stage 8 Results
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 4:06:39
2 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 00:00:15
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 00:00:23
6 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:33
7 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
8 Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre – ISD 00:00:39
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre – ISD 00:00:42
General Classification After Eight Stages
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 29:59:35
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 00:00:33
3 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 00:00:40
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 00:00:50
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 00:01:41
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 00:01:48
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 00:02:14
8 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 00:02:47
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 00:02:58
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 00:03:07