Post Stage Analysis

César Veloso Celebrates in Xorret del Catí
Alejandro Valverde takes over the Gold Jersey after third place finish

9 Big Photos from Stage 9 ...coming — sirotti

It all came down to the final climb in today's stage of the Vuelta a España. The stage, running from Alcoy to Xorret del Catí raced over seven categorized climbs. A breakaway of seven riders escaped early in the stage and the main field proved content to let them ride. The break included Stijn Devolder of Quick Step, Rein Taramae of Cofidis, Julian Sánchez Pimienta of Contentpolis-Ampo, Javier Ramírez Abeja of Andalucia-Cajasur, David De La Fuente of Fuji-Servetto, Marco Marzano of Lampre-Ngc, and Gustavo César Veloso of Xacobeo-Galicia. The seven worked smoothly together, while behind the Silence-Lotto team of race leader Cadel Evans set a steady pace on the front of the main field. With 40 kilometers left to race, the gap to the break hovered around six minutes, and the stage winner looked likely to come from the leading group of seven.

As the kilometers ticked down to the Alto Xorret del Catí, the final climb of the day, the gap between the break and the main field began to fall. Caisse d'Épargne proved especially feisty today, and ramped up the tempo for their team leader Alejandro Valverde. As the steep final climb approached, a fierce positioning battle began among the race favorites, and with 8 kilometers left to race, the gap had fallen to 3:45. Caisse d'Épargne, Rabobank, Liquigas-Doimo, and Garmin-Slipstream all worked to put their race leaders in the best possible position for the steep, narrow category 1 climb.

As the breakaway riders hit the lower slopes of the Alto Xorret del Catí, David De La Fuente of Fuji-Servetto attacked. Marco Marzano of Lampre-Ngc and Rein Taramae of Cofidis joined him, while the others from the early break dropped back. Marzano soon found the going too tough at the front and also dropped back, while De La Fuente and Taramae continued on together. Then De La Fuente dropped off, and it was Taramae alone at the front. With 5 kilometers to race, Taramae held a gap of just over 2:00 over the main field where the general classification riders began to race.

The first attack from the main field came from Joaquím Rodríguez of Caisse d'Épargne in a set-up move for Alejandro Valverde. The steep climb of the Xorret del Catí perfectly suited Valverde's characteristics and soon came the predictable attack from the Caisse d'Épargne captain. Cadel Evans, wearing the Gold Jersey of race leader, and Ivan Basso rode across to Valverde and opened up a small gap over the rest of the race favorites. Both Robert Gesink and Tom Danielson yo-yo'ed off the back of the threesome as the road over the Alto Xorret del Catí steepened. Inside 4 kilometers to go, Valverde, Evans, and Basso reached Rodríguez and the Caisse d'Épargne climber made tempo for Valverde on the front of the group of four.

Up ahead, Taramae had run out of legs, his solo escape and hopes of stage victory over. Marco Marzano and Gustavo César Veloso caught the Estonian and left him behind. Marzano could not match the tempo of César Veloso, and soon the Xacobeo-Galicia rider rode alone at the front of the bike race. At the 4 kilometer to go mark, César Veloso had an advantage of 1:33 over the Evans group and had the stage victory within reach. Marzano rode alone just behind him, but couldn't make it back across. At the line, Gustavo César Veloso of Xacobeo-Galicia had plenty of time to celebrate his first ever stage victory. César Veloso is also the first Spanish stage winner of this year's Vuelta a España.

Behind, the general classification battle boiled. Over the summit of the Alto Xorret del Catí, Evans, Valverde and Basso remained locked together, with Robert Gesink trailing not far behind. On the descent, Gesink bridged back across to the leading three riders. In the closing kilometers, the foursome caught David De La Fuente, who had survived out in front from the breakaway. With only two riders up ahead, the time bonus for third was now in play among the four general classification riders, and just 2 seconds separated Evans and Valverde in the overall standings. At the line, Alejandro Valverde easily took the flat sprint ahead of Evans, who later complained that Robert Gesink had blocked his sprint. Evans chose to follow the barricades, which proved the wrong choice on this curving finish.

With his third place finish, Alejandro Valverde takes over the Gold Jersey of race leader. Valverde will wear the leader's jersey into his home town of Murcia tomorrow. Cadel Evans sits second, just 7 seconds behind the Caisse d'Épargne rider, while the young Rabobank climber Robert Gesink moved up to third at 36 seconds. American Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream continues his good ride in this Vuelta a España and is fourth, and Ivan Basso of Liquigas-Doimo rounds out the top five. Samuel Sánchez suffered a rough day thanks to soreness from yesterday's crash, and dropped to sixth in the overall standings.

Though he lost the Gold Jersey today, Evans took over the lead in the combination classification. David Moncoutié continues to lead the Mountains classification, though David De La Fuente collected enough points today to come within a point of the French climber. André Greipel, meanwhile, retains a solid hold on the Points classification ahead of Tom Boonen of Quick Step.

Here is the current general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Épargne
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto :07
Robert Gesink Rabobank :36
Tom Danielson Garmin-Slipstream :51
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo :53
Samuel Sánchez Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:03
Damiano Cunego Lampre-Ngc 2:04
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 2:24
Juan José Cobo Fuji-Servetto 3:08
Tadej Valjavec AG2R-La Mondiale 3:13

Tomorrow's stage runs between Alicante and Murcia, and should be a day for the sprinters. For more details, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 9 Alcoy - Xorret del Catí

Terrain Type: Middle mountains with a descending finish.
GC Importance: The final climb is not long enough to create huge separations, but a bad day on this stage could prove costly.

The Vuelta lingers another day in the bumpy terrain between the cities of Valencia and Alicante. The stage begins in Alcoy, which sits in the shadow of the Sierra de Mariola, and rolls over seven categorized climbs on the way to the finish at Xorret de Catí. Another up and down stage, the serrated profile offers little space for recovery. The climbing is relatively less severe than the previous stage, but this is another day for the climbers.

Surrounded by mountainous terrain, Alcoy sits on the banks of the Serpis river. Settlement in the area dates from the Paleolithic era, some 60,000 years ago. Cave paintings from the earliest human settlements still remain, and archeological excavations have uncovered stone tools and other artifacts. Alcoy is famous for its annual festival Moros i Christians, which takes place in April. The medieval festival celebrates San Gorge and involves parades and music.

Xorret del Catí has three times hosted Vuelta stage finishes in recent years and has a singular tradition. Only riders with the family name of Jiménez have won there. In 2004, Eladio Jiménez celebrated the stage victory in the Xorret del Catì. Sprinters Stuart O’Grady and Oscar Freire rounded out the top three on that occasion. When the 2000 Vuelta a España paid a visit to Xorret del Catí, Eladio Jiménez also won that edition, followed by Roberto Heras and Alex Zülle. In the 1998 Vuelta a España, José María Jiménez won the stage at Xorret del Catí.

Profile Details

The climbing begins almost immediately after the start in Alcoy. The first categorized climb begins at kilometer 1.7. The Puerto de Onil carries a category 3 rating and covers the first 14.8 kilometers of the stage. It’s a long grinder, but not especially steep. Topping out at 1030 meters above sea level, the Puerto de Onil has an average gradient of just 2%. The gradient is a bit misleading, because the climb stair-steps and includes two brief descents. Still, this first climb of the day should not cause anyone too much difficulty. We’re just getting started.

From the Puerto de Onil, the course descends for the next 26.2 kilometers and the stage makes its first of two trips through Castalla. The stage heads west here and passes Carrascar de la Font Roja. At Castalla the course turns southeast and heads toward Tibi for the second categorized climb of the day. Short and sweet, the Alto de Tibi is 5 kilometers in length and rated a category 3. The Tibi climbs 320 meters and has an average gradient of 6%.

From Tibi, the stage turns 90 degrees and heads northeast toward Xixona. The profile is descending here, and there is an intermediate sprint in Xixona. Following the intermediate sprint, the profile tilts up again and there is approximately 3 kilometers of climbing to reach the third categorized climb, the Puerto de la Carrasqueta which is just over 10 kilometers in length. A category 2, the summit peaks out at 1025 meters above sea level. It’s a long, steady push to the summit and the Puerto de Carrasqueta has an average gradient of 5%. From the peak of the Puerto, there remains 121.8 kilometers of racing.

A short descent follows the Puerto de Carrasqueta. Then the stage bumps along uneven ground for approximately 20 kilometers. The course is heading northeast now. We are nearly back where we started, as Penáguila sits not far from the start town of Alcoy. At Penáguila comes the next categorized climb, the Puerto de Tudons. This is climb #4 for the day. Rated a category 2, the Puerto de Tudons climbs 320 meters over 6.5 kilometers, just long enough to leave a mark. None of the climbs here are especially difficult, but they add up to a heavy stage.

From the Puerto de Tudons, the course descends gently for 19 kilometers. The course has made a u-turn at Penáguila, and is now heading southwest. Following the lengthy descent, the category 2 Puerto de Torre Manzana begins at kilometer 114. No kids, we aren’t there yet. The Puerto de Torre Manzana climbs 8.3 kilometers and gains 440 meters. Back of the envelope calculations put the average gradient at 5.3%, which is not especially steep, but not so easy either. From the summit of the Puerto de Torre Manzana, there remains 66.5 kilometers to the finish.

Another gradual descent follows the Puerto de Torre Manzana, and the course passes through Torre de la Macanes. After just over 18 kilometers of descending, the climbing begins again. We are now at climb #6, and the finish is getting closer. The Puerto de la Carrasqueta has a category 2 rating and climbs for 11 kilometers. The puerto gains 525 meters to reach the summit at 1025 meters. The average gradient is 4.7%, give or take. From the summit of the Puerto de la Carrasqueta, there remains 37.3 kilometers to race.

A long downhill follows the Puerto de la Carrasqueta. The course rolls over 34 kilometers of descending and false flat terrain. The stage is now heading northwest, and the course passes through Ibi and pays its second visit to Castalla. No, it is not your imagination. We are riding in circles.

At kilometer 185.6, the stage reaches the final climb of the day. The Alto Xorret del Catí is a nasty piece of work. Rated a category 1, it climbs just five kilometers, but it hits a maximum gradient of 20%. After a flat kilometer run-in, the climb road turns upward with a vengeance, and between kilometers 2 and 3, the gradient averages 8.2%, followed by a kilometer at 10.9%, a kilometer at 14.5%, and the final kilometer at 10.6%. Sprinkled throughout the Alto Xorret del Catí are brief ramps at 15%, 17%, and 20% gradients. That’ll leave a mark. The Alto Xorret del Catí summits at 1100 meters above sea level with 3.2 kilometers left to race.

From the summit of the finishing climb, it’s a steep descent, then a very short climb to the finish. The descent is short enough that the gaps over the climb should hold, though it’s possible that a small group will reform to contest the finish in Xorret del Catí. From the bottom of the descent, it’s a short climb of less than a kilometer to the line.

Who to Watch

After the previous day’s difficult march over eight categorized climbs, the general classification teams may be inclined to let a breakaway go up the road for this stage. A number of riders will be several time zones out of the general classification by this point, and can safely be allowed to go up the road in search of stage victory. With six categorized climbs on the profile, riders interested in chasing the King of the Mountains prize should also be on the hunt for a likely breakaway as the Vuelta departs Alcoy.

Teams like Euskaltel-Euskadi and Xacobeo-Galicia will certainly be on the attack today. The steep finish will suit a classics talent like Kim Kirchen, though the Columbia-HTC may not be allowed much space to race with his past record of top ten finishes at the Tour de France. Likewise for Damiano Cunego, who would also enjoy this finish. Oscar Freire, who has placed on the Xorret del Catí before, is a good bet to join an early break and try for the stage victory that has previously eluded him, though this year’s edition of this stage is heavier with climbing than the 2004 edition. Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d’Épargne won the difficult stage on the steep Montelupone earlier this season at Tirreno-Adriatico. Rodríguez also finished second at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. If he finds the right move, the stage finish at Xorret del Catí fits Rodríguez to perfection. One thing is certain: The pattern of Jiménez victories at Xorret del Catí will be broken this year, for there are no riders bearing the name on the startlist for this Vuelta.

Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->