Post Stage Analysis

Oh Canada! Stage Victory for Ryder Hesjdahl
Garmin-Slipstream rider wins from the break, Valverde defends overall lead

Aerial view of the mountaintop finish, Alto de Velefique
9 Big Photos from Stage 12sirotti

Ryder Hesjdahl won his first ever grand tour stage today on the Alto de Velefique. The Canadian from Garmin-Slipstream joined an early breakaway, which rode out in front of the main field for much of the day. It was a close-run thing, as Ezequiel Mosquera and Robert Gesink both attacked out of the main field in the hope of improving their general classification positions. At the line, Hesjdahl crossed just 6 seconds ahead of the hard-charging Gesink. Alejandro Valverde successfully defended the Gold Jersey of race leader, though Gesink inched closer on time, thanks to his late-stage attack.

An eleven rider break escaped early in the stage, and the teams of the general classification favorites proved content to let them ride. The escape included David Garcia Da Peña of Xacobeo-Galicia, Alexandre Vinokourov of Astana, Ryder Hesjdahl of Garmin-Slipstream, Julien El Fares of Cofidis, Oscar Freire of Rabobank, Bingen Fernandez Bustinza of Cofidis, Javier Ramirez Abeja of Andalucia-Cajasur, Borut Božič of Vacansoleil, Julian Sanchéz Pimiento of Contentpolis-Ampo, and Stuart O'Grady of Saxo Bank. Soon, Arkaitz Duran Daroca of Fuji-Servetto set off from the main field to bridge to the break. Fuji-Servetto had missed the move, and Duran Daroca spent close to 20 kilometers dangling between the break and the main field. The Spanish rider succeeded and joined the break just they reached the first climb of the day. As the break began the first ascent of the Alto de Velefique, the twelve riders held an advantage of just over 6 minute over the main field, where the Caisse d'Epargne team of Alejandro Valverde rode tempo on the front. The speed was not especially high in the early going of today's stage. Perhaps the general classification riders were holding something in reserve for the next two days of difficult climbing stages.

As the break worked their way up the Alto Calar Alto, the second climb of the day, the gap began to fall slightly from the maximum of 8 minutes. Alexandre Vinokourov found the Calar Alto too difficult for his liking and dropped out of the break. The Kazakh later abandoned the race. Ryder Hesjdahl, Bingen Fernandez, Arkaits Duran Daroca, and Julian Sanchéz Pimiento also dropped off the back of the break on the Calar Alto. Over the top of the climb, the main field still led by Caisse d'Epargne rode 6:28 behind the break. On the descent, Hesjdahl, Fernandez, Duran Daroca, and Sanchéz Pimiento all made it back across to the front group.

Over the short Alto de Castro de Filabre, the gap to the break held steady. With 30 kilometers to race, the lead riders held an advantage of 5:44 over the main field, where Caisse d'Epargne still worked on the front for race leader Valverde. The main field remained relatively large as the pace was never especially high over the early climbs. With 20 kilometers to go, the gap had fallen under 5:00 and it looked touch and go for the break to survive to the finish. David Garcia Da Peña of Xacobeo-Galicia decided not to wait around to find out. The Spanish rider attacked the break with 18 kilometers to race. Four kilometers later, as he approached the final climb of the day, Garcia Da Peña had 30 seconds over the other breakaway riders.

As the race began the final ascent of the Alto de Velefique, Garcia Da Peña rode 30 seconds ahead of the break, while the main field trailed by 4:30. At the base of the climb, Julian Sanchéz Pimiento of Contentpolis-Ampo attacked from the break with Ryder Hesjdahl of Garmin-Slipstream for company. The two steadily worked their way across to Garcia Da Peña. Behind in the main field, Caisse d'Epargne still did the work on the front, but Rabobank and Liquigas-Doimo now moved up to protect their general classification riders.

The first attack from the favorites came from Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobeo-Galicia. Best in the high mountains, Mosquera must ride aggressively over these next few days, if he wants to improve his eighth place in the overall standings. Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream proved quick to cover the Mosquera attack, while Robert Gesink of Rabobank followed close behind. Caisse d'Epargne, meanwhile, appeared unruffled by these hijinx and Vasili Kiryienka continued to set a steady pace on the front. Soon, it was all back together. Up ahead, Ryder Hesjdahl had dropped Sanchéz Pimiento and steadily closed the gap to the lead rider, Garcia Da Peña. Just outside 5 kilometer to go, Hesjdahl caught Garcia Da Peña, and began to ride hard with Garcia Da Peña on his wheel. With Mosquera not far behind in the main field, Garcia Da Peña declined to contribute to the break.

An attack from Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc ended the brief stalemate in the gruppo Valverde, but Kiryienka proved quick to close it down. Cunego began the day seventh in the general and won the first mountain stage of the Vuelta. Caisse d'Epargne decided to keep him close. Ezequiel Mosquera threw down a counter-attack, which Tom Danielson tried to follow, but the Garmin-Slipstream rider couldn't hold the wheel of the Spanish climber. Caisse d'Epargne upped the pace, but proved content to let Mosquera dangle off the front, because the Xacobeo-Galicia rider started the day over 2:00 down on race leader Valverde. With 3 kilometers to go, Ryder Hesjdahl and David Garcia Da Peña rode just under a minute ahead of the Caisse d'Epargne-led field, which numbered not more than 15 riders. Mosquera dangled between the two groups with a 20 second advantage over the rest of the "bigs."

Inside 2 kilometers to race, Robert Gesink bounded out of the main field. The Dutch climber has springs in his legs, and no one could follow his acceleration. Under the red kite, Gesink caught Mosquera and closed in on the leading two riders, Hesjdahl and Garcia Da Peña. Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d'Epargne, meanwhile, pulled hard in the gruppo Valverde as Gesink tried to overturn the overall standings. Up ahead, Hesjdahl saw the on-coming Gesink and jumped hard in the final meters. The Canadian held off Garcia Da Peña all the way to the line. Today marked the first ever grand tour stage win for Ryder Hesjdahl and the first ever Canadian stage victory at the Vuelta a España. Behind Hesjdahl, Gesink took the time bonus for third ahead of Mosquera. Ten seconds later, Cunego won the sprint for fifth ahead of the other general classification favorites.

After the stage, Ryder Hesjdahl looked stunned that he had taken the stage victory. The ex-mountain bike racer has ridden many days in the breakaways, and last week finished second to Simon Gerrans of Cervélo TestTeam after a long day out. Today was his turn for champagne and podium flowers. "You never know what will happen after the rest day," he said after the stage. "I got in the break, you always want to be in the break if it's big, so Tom could sit in," Hesjdahl explained. His job for the day was to ride the break for the team's general classification hope Tom Danielson and save the team from contributing to the chase. "I had good legs, I felt good all day," he concluded.

The top of the general classification remains largely unchanged after today's adventures. Alejandro Valverde still leads Cadel Evans by 7 seconds, but Robert Gesink inched closer and now sits 18 seconds behind the race leader. The other race favorites remain close on time, despite today's hard climbing. Two riders dropped out of the top ten today, Haimar Zubeldia of Astana and Tadej Valjavec of AG2R-La Mondiale. Daniel Navarro of Astana moves up to ninth and Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d'Epargne is now tenth. Though he dropped off the pace of the general classification favorites on the the Alto de Velefique, David Moncoutié still leads the King of the Mountains classification by 14 points ahead of David De La Fuente of Fuji-Servetto. André Greipel wears the Green Jersey of Points leader, and with Tyler Farrar leaving the race, Greipel holds a commanding lead. Cadel Evans, meanwhile, continues to lead the Combination classification.

Here is the current general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Epargne
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto :07
Robert Gesink Rabobank :18
Thomas Danielson Garmin-Slipstream :51
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo :53
Samuel Sánchez Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:03
Damiano Cunego Lampre-Ngc 2:13
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 2:14
Daniel Navarro Astana 3:53
Joaquim Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne 4:01

Tomorrow, there's more climbing to be had. The Vuelta heads into the Sierra Nevada mountain range for another difficult day of racing. It's another uphill finish high on the Especial Alto de Sierra Nevada. For more details on tomorrow's stage, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 12 Almería - Velefique

Terrain Type: Mountainous, climbing finish.
GC Importance: Yes. The finishing climb should open gaps in the general classification.

The Vuelta a España heads back into the mountains with this stage, the first of three difficult mountain-top finishes. When it comes to climbing, the Vuelta does not mess around. The stage begins in Almería on the coast, then heads inland to the Sierra de los Filabres mountain range. The riders will climb the 13.3 kilometer Alto de Velefique twice during this stage which traces out a lollipop-shaped course. The stage also includes the category 1 Alto Calar Alto and the category 3 Alto de Castro de Filabres, and there is hardly a flat kilometer to be found anywhere on the profile. The general classification should change by the finish on the Alto de Velefique and a climber will celebrate the stage victory.

Almería sits on the coast surrounded by mountain ranges. The city center lies southwest of the Cabo de Gata, a volcanic point that extends into the Mediterranean. The Capa de Gata-Níjar Natural park combines the coastal wetlands and nearshore marine environments into a wildlife preserve. The park is rich with migratory birds, volcanic rock formations, and undersea life. The city of Almería dates from 955 CE and originated as a coastal fortress city. Ruins of the Moorish Alcazaba, or walled fortress, remain and Almería boasts the second largest Moorish citadel in Andalucia. Roughly translated, Almería means City of Mirror in Arabic, in an allusion to its seaside location. Almería also has the largest nude beach in Europe, El Playazo.

Almería has hosted the Vuelta a España on 15 occasions in recent years. The most recent visit came in 2006 and included the Calar Alto. Igor Antón of Euskaltel-Euskadi celebrated victory on the mountain-top finish of that stage. The Alto de Velefique which appears twice in this year’s Almería stage makes its Vuelta a España début this year. On the first pass, the climb is rated category 1, while at the finale, it receives an Especial rating. The categories assigned to the climbs frequently vary depending on when they occur within a particular stage.

Profile Details

From Almería, the stage begins climbing almost immediately. A long gradual grind covers the first 40 kilometers to the base of the first climb of the day. The stage passes through Rioja and Tabernas as it heads inland toward the Sierra de los Filabres. The mountains stand close to the coast here, and the terrain rises steadily to meet them. It’s just under 800 meters of elevation gain over the first 40 kilometers of this stage.

The first climb of the day, the Alto de Velefique begins at kilometer 43. Rated a category 1 on this first visit, the Alto de Velefique climbs 13.3 kilometers to the summit at 1810 meters above sea level. The climb has an average gradient of 7.5% and two kilometers in the 12%-13% range. The steepest section of the Alto de Velefique comes in the early kilometers, while the final 6 kilometers rise steadily in the 6.5% - 7.5% range. Only the specialist climbers will smile at the sight of the Alto de Velifique. The pitches are steep throughout this ascent, which more closely resembles the climbs of the Giro d’Italia than the longer, more gradual cols of the Tour de France. This first climb should whittle down the numbers early in the stage, which still has three climbs to go. The riders will reach the summit of the Alto de Velefique at kilometer 56.3. Still, 153 kilometers of racing remain.

The road descends straightaway from the Alto de Velifique. The first intermediate sprint of the day comes about halfway down the descent in Bacares. The sprint is on a small climb which interrupts the descent at kilometer 70.1. The climb continues on a short while after the sprint, and then the descent continues before finally coming to rest at kilometer 88. Six kilometers of gradual climbing later, the second climb of the day begins. After making a u-turn at Becares, the stage is now heading south and will climb back over the Sierra de los Filabres range to the coastal side of the mountains.

The Alto de Calar Alto begins at kilometer 94 and carries a category 1 rating. The Calar Alto is a lengthy 28 kilometers and tops out at 1980 above sea level. It is the highest peak in the Sierra de los Filabres, and houses a research center for astronomy. The climb begins gradually, and the first 5 kilometers have gradients in the 4% to 5% range. At kilometer 5, the road steepens noticeably, and the Calar Alto begins to stair-step its way toward the summit. The maximum gradient of 10.5% comes about midway up the Calar Alto at kilometer 10, and the 9.1% stretch at kilometer 15 will not tickle the legs. Indeed, the final 8 kilometers rise steeply with gradients in the 6.5% to 9.5% range. Set in the arid country of Andalucia, the road to Calar Alto rises through barren terrain strewn with volcanic rocks. There is no shelter from the elements here, and wind or rain could add significantly to the difficulty of this ascent. Like the Alto de Velefique, only the climbers will find much to like about the ride to Calar Alto. The Alto de Calar Alto summits at kilometer 122 with 57.3 kilometers to race.

The Vuelta has now passed across to the southern side of the Sierra de los Filabres, and after descending the Calar Alto, the stage rolls along the foothills of the Sierra. The descent lasts approximately 15 kilometers before the road briefly turns flat as the stage passes through El Tallon Bajo. Just past El Tallon Bajo, it’s back to the climbing and the third climb of the day begins at kilometer 144.

A second intermediate sprint comes in Oula de Castro just after the start of the Alto de Castro de Filabres. The Vuelta races across the drainage lines of the Sierra de los Filabres on the way back to Velefique. The Alto de Castro de Filabres carries a category 3 rating and climbs for six kilometers to 1250 meters above sea level. The gradients are relatively relaxed here and this climb should not cause anyone much bother. The Alto de Castro de Filabres summits at kilometer 150. There remains 29.3 kilometers to race, just under half of which is uphill.

After approximately 10 kilometers of descending, the road turns up. There are about 6 kilometers of climbing to get to the final climb, which begins at kilometer 166. The Alto de Velefique carries an Especial rating for the second and final trip up its slopes. As they start the climb, the riders will pass through the white-walled town of Velefique, which sits on sloping ground near the base of the mountain. At 13.3 kilometers with an average gradient of 7.5%, the Alto de Velefique will favor the specialist climbers. Expect an open battle among the general classification riders on this first of three consecutive mountain-top finishes. To state the obvious, a climber will win on the Alto de Velefique.

Who to Watch

Watch for an early break of riders from teams like Euskaltel-Euskadi, Xacobeo-Galicia, and Andalucia-Cajasur to go up the road. David Moncoutié and David De La Fuente are also likely riders for an early escape in their continuing battle over the Red Jersey of Mountains leader. With two more consecutive hard climbing stages, the general classification teams may choose to let the break ride to the finish today.

Certainly, the general classification favorites will battle on the final ascent of the Alto de Velefique. Though the Vuelta may not be won on this stage, a bad day could easily end the hopes of a general classification rider on this difficult terrain. Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Robert Gesink, Tom Danielson, Samuel Sánchez, and Cadel Evans will all need their best legs for this finish, and the Gold Jersey winner should emerge from this elite group of riders.

Climbing specialist Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobeo-Galicia is also in with a chance, since the finish on the Alto de Velefique will suit him to perfection. Currently seventh in the general classification, Damiano Cunego took a surprise victory on the first mountain-top finish. The Italian’s main ambition is the upcoming World Championship road race in Mendrisio, so it’s not clear how much effort he will expend to defend his general classification position in this Vuelta. That may open the way for the ever-consistent stealth Astana rider Haimar Zubeldia to make a run up the standings. Likewise for Tadej Valjavec of AG2R-La Mondiale, who has quietly accumulated several top ten placings in the grand tours.

Certainly, we will see a new general classification after this stage, as the steep climbs will make it impossible for the “bigs” to take it easy or play stare-down.

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