Today’s stage was 187.1km in length and was between Murcia and Orihuela. On the map, these two are actually near one another but the course had large loops running out into the Spanish countryside.
The breakaway went at one of the feeds, and had built up somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 minutes. The four up front, Dominik Roels (Milram), Martin Pedersen (Footon–Servetto), Vladimir Isaichev, (Xacobeo Galicia) and Jorge Montenegro (Andalucia Cajasur) were now on the hook as the sprinter’s teams did the spadework, and once again the firing squad was assembling behind them.
At 20 km to go and the featured climb behind them, the break of four has just 2 minutes in hand, and the likes of Lampre and FdJ were whipping up the pace behind at the business end of the peloton.
Gilbert sat nestled near the beak of the bird in the leader’s jersey, and you had to wonder with the mountains looming how much longer the Belgian would keep red.
By 13km to go, Garmin-Transitions had a Vande Velde driving the pace and break had now under a minute in hand. But the guys up front were not too keen on getting caught and were really pushing it.
Behind, the sprinters were clearly licking their chops. The dead flat, straight final run in to the finish line in Orihuela had to be appealing to the big boys. There were a few traffic circles within the last 500 meters that might tangle things up, but at 9km they were flying along at 60 k/hr.
By 6 km to go, it was 12 seconds and the peloton was just flying, under the stewardship of the Omega Pharma Lotto team, keeping Gilbert’s nose clean and out of trouble.
At 4 km, the break congratulated each other with hand shakes and back slaps, then faced the firing squad. Game on.
HTC and Lampre had firm control of the business end of things in these waning km’s. Meanwhile Zabriskie, who had done a lot of earlier pace making was playing tail gunner.
Under the banner it was straight as can be and Lampre had 4 riders at the front keeping it high for Ale-Jet. They were driving it hard enough to cause splits in the middle of the group. HTC lined up alongside the pink and blue setting up Cavendish.
Petacchi jumped to the center line, then drifted a bit over to the right side of the road, taking a little bite out of Cav’s line but the Manx man didn’t seem to complain once over the line where Petachhi was first ahead of Cav and JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank). Tyler Farrar was in the mix in about 5th.
Now tomorrow looks to be a monster, with 5 big climbs, so the GC looks to be changed, but for tonight, Gilbert sleeps in red. For more than likely the last time this Vuelta.