48 kilometers were covered in the first hour, 93 after two. The break didn’t go until 80 kilometers into the stage, but when it did, it was a large one with eleven riders: Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Alessandro Ballan (BMC), Danny Pate (Sky), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Lloyd Mondory (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Lars Boom (Rabobank), Bruno Pires (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Niki Terpstra (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Pim Ligthart (Vacansoleil-DCM) and Javier Ramirez (Andalucia). The break rolled off, ready to tackle the lumpy second half of the day, which included three climbs, but none of them close to as hard as three individual climbs in Monday’s stage.
Whew, with the break gone, the stage could go about its business of being a less than important one with a hyper drive opening part. Nothing to write home about here.
For entertainment purposes, here’s what the overall classification looked like after the second and final rest day, with five stages remaining. This is what it looked like halfway through today’s stage.
1. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 63:38:24
2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 0:00:28
3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:04
4. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:04:52
5. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:06:58
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:07:28
7. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin – Sharp 0:08:28
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:09:00
9. Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:09:11
10. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:11:44
Things started to get interesting with under 70k to go, on the Collado de Ozalba (5.9k at 6.6%). The break began to crumble as a small group of strong men moved off the front of the larger group, whilst behind, the field was coming up very quickly. The break never had a huge gap by any means, but it was nearly all gone by the top.
Over the top, it was Arnold Jeanneson of FDJ who led the way after successfully attacking out of the peloton only a few minutes before. He was followed by the remnants of the break with a group of 18 that had yanked clear of the field in the waning moments before the pass dangling just behind. This group joined the new break on the descent leading into the climb of the Collado La Hoz – the super group was now 18, and in it were some very important chess pieces. Contador had three teammates, plus a mostly teammate in Astana’s Paolo Tiralongo – you’ll remember that Tiralongo and Contador were once teammates, and Contador gifted Tiralongo a Giro stage last year.
Valverde, meanwhile, had two teammates in Benat Intxausti and Nairo Quintana.
Rodriguez? Zero. Well, he had one, but that teammate, Losada, dropped back when it became clear that Purito wouldn’t be arriving with Contador…he was then unceremoniously put to work by Purito’s group, and then later dropped, leaving Rodriguez with a whole lot of no one to help lessen at least part of the impending calamity.
As the climb of the Collado La Hoz began, so did Rodriguez’s dark day. Contador attacked almost immediately and went across to the dozen and a half strong group, which contained a mini-team, just for him. Contador went straight to the front with his comrades and drove hard to the top.
At this point, everything was still more or less ok – the Contador group only had 18 seconds in hand over the top of the climb. Not ideal, but hardly anything to freak out about.
That time was near at hand though.
The descent saw Contador and his band of merry men pull out second after second from the chasing group. At the base of the descent, Sergio Paulinho was heading the Contador escape as the gap neared one minute.
Six kilometers from the base of the final climb, the gap was a minute and a quarter.
If this isn’t entertaining enough as it is, the real fun started here.
Astana’s Tiralongo attacked ahead of the intermediate sprint, and Contador was the only rider to follow. Contador scooped up the bonus seconds on offer, and then it was time for a heads down two-up time trial, until Contador decided it was time to push on alone.
Rodriguez was over a minute and a half down at this point.
With 17km remaining, the final 4%-ish climb to the finish began, and the gap was 1:50 on the Rodriguez group, then 2:05…
The Contador-Tiralongo group were putting time on everyone at this point, but the 13-14 kilometer to go segment of the day would prove quite intriguing.
With around 14k to go, Purito lost his teammate, Losada, which forced him to the front. On his wheel? None other than Valverde. Rodriguez put his head down and rode as hard as he could, so when Valverde unleashed the fury we all knew was coming, there was nothing Rodriguez could do, but watch Valverde ride off into the distance.
At around 13k to go, Contador left Tiralongo behind and began his solo mission for the overall lead and stage win.
Time check? 2:20 on Rodriguez.
Valverde’s two teammates, Intxausti and Quintana dropped back for their leader and soon combined to form quite the force. The once seemingly insurmountable lead of Contador, began to look vulnerable.
Second after second was eaten up by the three-up TTT, but considering what he was up against and for how long he’d been raging at the front, Contador was doing just fine.
Come to think of it – Rodriguez wasn’t doing too poorly either. The time gap between Contador and Rodriguez began to clot a bit, but the damage was done.
The only question remaining was – could Valverde make it across to Contador and break his heart again?
For a moment, with a little over one kilometer to go, the answer appeared to be yes, but the bulldozing Valverde ran out of real estate, as Contador shot his arms into the air in pure jubilation and crossed the line with everything he could have dreamt of – the stage win and the overall by a mile.
There were no pistolero displays, no confident, assured poses – it was a moment of raw ecstasy for Contador. It was fantastic.
What a Vuelta. Just when we had begun to think it was over, there was no way Contador could break Rodriguez, he not only broke him, he crushed him. The Vuelta, which had previously been measured in seconds and time bonuses, has now been blasted wide open, with one man supreme at the top.
Stage 17 Results
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 4:29:20
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:06
3. Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Sky Procycling
4. Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi
5. Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:00:19
6. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Radioshack-Nissan 0:00:55
7. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:13
8. Alexandre Geniez (Fra) Argos-Shimano 0:01:40
9. Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:13
10. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:38
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank – Tinkoff Bank 68:07:54
2. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
3. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:28
4. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:09:40
5. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:36
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:06
7. Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:55
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin – Sharp 0:13:06
9. Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel – Euskadi 0:13:49
10. Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:14:10