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Vuelta’10 St.11: The GC Battle Begins In Earnest
Today’s 208 kilometer stage from the coastal Catalonian city of Vilanova i la Geltru to the majestic heights of the Andorran ski town of Pal at 1900 meters was always set to be the first major test of this year’s Vuelta. There have been a number of quizzes so far, but the beyond category final climb to Pal proved the perfect battleground to begin the whittling process of the favorites.

Igor Anton put in a sterling display of fire and grit when he recovered from being dropped by the strong trio of Rodriguez, Nibali, and Mosquera, passed both Rodriguez and Nibali when they cracked, then, when he finally returned to the wheel of Mosquera, took two deep breaths and attacked the aggressive climber. Anton took that gap all the way to the line to take not only the stage win, but the race lead – and this time by a significant number: 45 seconds.

The race got off to a raging start as the Vuelta headed from coastal happiness to mountain madness. Philippe Gilbert took the first intermediate sprint and laid his intentions out for all to see – the Belgian Worlds leader might have lost the race leadership, but he’s not done playing a big role in this year’s Vuelta. That opening sprint put him a single point ahead of Mark Cavendish, but unfortunately for Gilbert, Anton’s win gave him points as well – so at the end of the day, Anton would end up leading the points classification as well as the race.

As soon as the fireworks of the first intermediate sprint were over, the day’s break bid adieu to the field and set off on a long, windy, lonely trek into the mountains. FDJ’s Mikael Cherel and BBox’s Johann Tschopp were the lucky duo for the day. They quickly rocketed out to a 13 minute gap, but it wasn’t long before it began to plummet like, well, something heavy tossed from up high, we’ll say a piano.

Rabobank took on a lot of the responsibility for today’s chase, particularly in the final hour, but their efforts would be a complete waste by the end of the day, as Denis Menchov continued his disappointing Vuelta by becoming one of the many dropped riders on the day, except he was dropped with five kilometers to go, and now, it can officially be said that unless he finds one of those sweet Gruber Assists, his Vuelta hopes are over.

The final climb of the day to the Andorran ski town of Pal is only 10 kilometers long in the race bible, but the riders began climbing in earnest well before that. By the time the race hit 10k to go and the official start of the beyond category final climb, the field was down to about half its normal size and the fun was just a little ways off.

While the break was busy preparing to succumb to the force of the field behind, Astana’s Dimitri Fofonov put in a lovely display of misguided stubbornness. On the relatively easy climb, he attacked out of the hard chasing field to ride across to the slowly dying break, rode in front of that break for a few moments, then saw his effort prove slightly less than clever when he was caught by an even faster moving field and sent hurtling backwards. But hey, I’m talking about him in the race report, so that was still a good job done.

The difficult pace at the front had been set for a fair while by the Katusha team in defense of their leader and race leader, Joaquim Rodriguez. Rodriguez looked solid and calm up front with 5k to go, but when the fireworks were set off in beautiful, awe-inspiring fashion soon after, the clock began to tick on his time at the front.

The tough pace at the front was too much for many, but when a Xacobeo-Galicia rider came to the fore for a REALLY hard pull, the entrance into the finale had officially begun.

Soon after, a small flurry of attacks followed, but when Xacobeo’s unquestioned leader, Ezequiel Mosquera, jumped with 4k to go, the game was on. Only Rodriguez and Giro podium finisher, Vincenzo Nibali, could follow the terrible pace set by the slight shouldered steamroller.

Behind, two riders chased hard: Igor Anton and Frank Schleck. Schleck had to call it off first. The pace of Anton was just a bit too much for the Luxembourg champion, but soon, it looked like the pace of Anton was too much for Anton. Anton looked to have succumbed to his own ambitions and cracked.

The three up front looked to be on a happy ride to GC and stage glory.

Then it all went crazy. Race leader Joaquim Rodriguez cracked next. The sight of the red jersey coming closer apparently lit a fire under the previously cracked Anton’s ass, and Anton not only sprang back to life, he attacked Rodriguez as he dropped four different anchors simultaneously.

Anton, enjoying his second life, charged forward only to find another victim just moments head: Vincenzo Nibali had also cracked under the sadistic pace of Mosquera. Anton, once again taking power from another foe’s waning life force, attacked Nibali and set about bringing back Mosquera.

Anton soon came up to Mosquera, but Mosquera looked less than concerned and continued on his merry pacesetting way. Unfortunately for Mosquera, Anton had only satisfied two/thirds of his daily bloodlust. One more throat needed slitting before he could slake his thirst.

Mosquera was next.

The Basque vigilante ruthlessly unsheathed his Euskara speaking sword, slew his foe, and pressed onward to stage victory.

Poor Mosquera had been stabbed, but he wasn’t dead. He pursued the Basque pirate like the criminal that he was and dug to depths hitherto not seen before. Mosquera wanted his first Vuelta stage win. He made deals with the devil, prayed to the angels above, made offerings to long forgotten gods, but there was nothing to be done – Anton was too strong. Anton crossed the line three seconds ahead of Mosquera, and right behind Mosquera was another looming threat on the overall – Xavier Tondo.

Stage 11 Results
1 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 5:25:44
2 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:00:03
3 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervйlo Test Team 0:00:10
4 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne 0:00:16
5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:23
6 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
7 David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, le crйdit en ligne
8 Inigo Cuesta (Spa) Cervйlo Test Team 0:00:32
9 Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervйlo Test Team
10 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne

General Classification After 11 Stages
1 Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 47:37:15
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo 0:00:45
3 Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervйlo Test Team 0:01:04
4 Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:17
5 Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia 0:01:29
6 Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne 0:02:07
7 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne 0:02:14
8 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale 0:02:30
9 Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
10 Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia 0:02:37


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