Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) continued his incredible Vuelta a Espana with victory on stage 14 – his third of the race.
The race leader survived wave after wave of attack from Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), including two efforts from the 2008 Vuelta champion in the final two kilometres, to beat his countryman and closest rival on the general classification.
Contador had spoken earlier in the week of the race moving to his territory, but on today’s first visit to the high mountains, a 149.2km stage from Palas de Rei to Puerto de Ancares, it was ‘Purito’ who took the spoils.
Britain’s Chris Froome (Team Sky) delivered a gutsy performance to finish fifth on the stage and remain third overall, launching an attack after being hauled back onto the wheels of Rodriguez, Contador, and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), but today he didn’t have the legs to challenge the leading Spanish trio.
Rodriguez said: “When Contador and Froome tried to attack we let them go and I preferred to climb the uphill with my rhythm. Now I gained some more seconds but there are still three mountain stages that can change everything: and it’s not only a matter of Contador and me. Valverde when attacks he proves to be very strong, while Froome at first seemed to drop, then he came back and attack himself. Everything can happen.”
Froome looked beaten as the stage entered its toughest section with three kilometres to go: the first category ascent to the summit finish at Ancares. But with a concerted effort behind his Columbian teammates, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, the Kenyan-born Brit regained contact with his closest rivals on GC, and having done so, launched an attack of his own almost immediately.
Directeur sportif, Marcus Ljungqvist, said: “Froomey was just missing that little bit extra on the climb but he hung in there well.
“Saxo Bank controlled the pace during the stage. You can’t say we had an easy ride but we were able to sit tight in the peloton and wait for the final climb.”
Tomorrow and Monday will offer further tests in the high mountains.
Ljungqvist added: “Froomey is still up there and in the mix. There is a long way to go and this was the first really tough mountain stage. There is plenty more climbing to do, starting tomorrow, and we will look to support him again.”
Vuelta a Espana stage 14 – result
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha – 4.10.28
2) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank +5”
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +13”
4) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +35”
5) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +38”
6) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +44”
7) Igor Anton (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +56”
8) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank +1.04
9) Tomasz Marczynski (POL) – Vacansoleil-DCM + 1.13
10) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R-La Mondiale +1.17
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha – 53.06.33
2) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank +22”
3) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1.41
4) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +ST
5) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +4.16
6) Robert Gesink (NED) – Rabobank +5.07
7) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R-La Mondiale +5.51
8) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +6.13
9) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank +6.34
10) Igor Anton (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +7.16