Even by the standards of a Grand Tour queen stage, today’s 16th stage of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana from Gijón Valgrande-Pajares to Cuitunigru was brutal.
Nothing in this year’s Giro d’Italia, who’s own queen stage included the Mortirolo and the Stelvio Pass, far less a comparatively flat Tour de France, could compare.
Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), victor four months ago on the Stelvio, could only watch today as Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) rode away from him at the climax of an almost day-long breakaway, to win by seven seconds.
Some 2.40 behind them, the latest in a race-long series of skirmishes between race leader, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) was breaking out; Contador performing a super human series of sprints on inhuman gradients, and Rodriguez hauling him back each time.
Only Alejandro Valverde could keep the pair in sight, and only then could he retain a watching brief, powerless to join the battle ahead.
Here are some superb images from Roz Jones of the key moments from the best stage so far of one of the best Vueltas of recent memory.
All images by kind permission of Roz Jones Photography
Cataldo raises his eyes and hands to heaven after winning the toughest stage so far of this year’s Vuelta a Espana
De Gendt knows how to win queen stages, but had to settle for second today
No sooner had Cataldo crossed the line, than he slumped across his bicycle in a desperate bid to recover from his exertions
Joaquim Rodriguez had a response for everything Contador threw at him, and outsprinted his more decorated countryman to third place
Contador gave everything again today, but his trademark attacks on even the steepest gradients proved to no avail
His expression tells the story of his exertions on gradients up to 24 per cent