Post Stage Analysis

Alone on the Mountain, Moncoutié Wins
Alejandro Valverde still in Gold as general classification reshuffles

9 Big Photos from Stage 13sirotti

David Moncoutié of Cofidis celebrated a solo victory high in the Sierra Nevada of Spain. The French climber attacked from an early break and rode solo over the final two climbs of the day, the Alto de Monachil and the Alto de Sierra Nevada. Moncoutié adds the Alto de Sierra Nevada to his collection of iconic mountain-top wins, and has also solidified his lead in the Mountains classification. Alejandro Valverde still leads the overall classification, though the mountains took their toll on several of the race favorites. Samuel Sanchéz dropped time today, after suffering on the Alto de Monachil, while Cadel Evans flatted at an inopportune moment and had to chase. Tom Danielson suffered a giorno no, and dropped to ninth. Damiano Cunego is now out of the top ten, though he may have chosen to save his legs for the road race in Mendrisio.

A large breakaway split off from the main field early in the stage. The group was far too unwieldy to survive and soon a smaller group detached and continued up the road. This new group included: Rein Taramae and David Moncoutié of Cofidis, Amets Txurruka of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Koos Moerenhout and Pieter Weening of Rabobank, David Garcia Da Peña of Xacobeo-Galicia, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil, Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d'Epargne, and Adrián Palomares Villaplana of Contentpolis-Ampo. The group soon built up an advantage of three minutes over the main field and were on their way. As is often the case, the break included riders with a variety of ambitions. David Moncoutié joined the break to chase the Mountains classification points, and brought his team-mate Taramae along to help. Koos Moerenhout and Pieter Weening both hoped to help their team leader Robert Gesink later in the stage. Likewise for Joaquim Rodríguez of Caisse d'Epargne.

On the Puerto de los Blancares, David Moncoutié, Rein Taramae, and Koos Moerenhout rode at the front of the bike race. The threesome held an advantage of 4:35 over a chase group of about 26 riders. The chase group contained the remains of the two early breakaway groups. The main field, led by the Caisse d'Epargne team of race leader Alejandro Valverde, rode more than 11 minutes behind the Moncoutié group. David Navarro of Astana held the virtual race lead as one of the riders in the chase group behind Moncoutié. Over the top of the Puerto de los Blancares, Moncoutié took the points and added to his lead in the Mountains competition. There remained about 70 kilometers of racing and two difficult climbs to go.

On to the final to climbs of the day, the Alto de Monachil and the Alto de Sierra Nevada. The two climbs came back-to-back today, and made for a difficult finale. As they began the Alto de Monachil, Taramae dropped off the Moncoutié group. Moncoutié and Moerenhout now rode out in front 7:00 ahead of the main field and 3:30 ahead of the still-large chase group. There remained 25 kilometers to race. As the slopes of the Monachil steepened, Moerenhout cracked and Moncoutié continued on alone. The French climber racing solo in the high mountains has become a familiar sight, and now Moncoutié rode for the stage win. In the chase group behind, meanwhile, Navarro continued to ride a hard tempo in defense of his virtual race lead.

Behind the lead riders, the steep gradients of the Alto de Monachil began to shrink the main field. Tom Danielson of Garmin-Slipstream, Samuel Sanchéz of Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc were among the early casualties on the Monachil. Though Sanchéz eventually recovered and chased back to within 30 seconds of the leaders, both Cunego and Danielson lost their high standings in the overall classification. With 20 kilometers to race, the favorites group numbered just six riders: Roman Kreuziger, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde, Robert Gesink, and Ezequiel Mosquera. Kreuziger worked away on the front for his team leader Ivan Basso. Though they had team-mates up the road in the breakaways, for now the other favorites rode alone.

With 20 kilometers to race, Moncoutié still held 6:30 over the Valverde group and 1:26 over the chase group. With Krueziger working on the front, the Valverde group steadily chipped away at the advantage of the chase group, as more riders dropped back from the early breaks. As the summit of the Alto de Monachil approached, the chase group numbered ten: Daniel Navarro, Juan Manuel Garate, Francis de Greef, Amaël Moinard, Igor Antón, Fredrik Kessiakoff, David Lopez Garcia, David De La Fuente, Joaquim Rodríguez, and David Garcia Da Peña. The Valverde group sat just over a minute behind, while further down the mountain, Samuel Sanchéz chased hard with a team-mate for company.

Over the top of the Alto de Monachil, Moncoutié crossed the summit with 6:48 over the Valverde group. The chase group, meanwhile, sat just 42 seconds ahead of the favorites, and Joaquim Rodríguez sat up to wait for Valverde. Nearing the summit of the Alto de Monachil, disaster struck for Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto. The Australian who began the day second in the general classification flatted. With the race blown apart on this mountainous stage, the team cars were far behind the group of the race leader, and Evans had to wait for a nuetral service car. As the clock ticked, the nuetral mechanics struggled to line up the wheel correctly. The team cars typically have the spacing on the wheel skewers all dialed and ready to go, while the nuetral wheels do not always line up correctly with every rider's bike. By the time Evans received his wheel and was ready to race, the group of favorites had ridden just over a minute up the road. The Australian now faced a long chase to recover his position in the general classification.

Up the road, Moncoutié still had 5:30 over the Valverde group as he began to climb the Alto de Sierra Nevada. As they hit the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada, the favorites group began again to shed riders. They had picked up David Navarro, Joaquim Rodríguez, and David Garcia Da Peña among others from the early break, but those riders proved unable to hold the tempo of the race favorites. Soon, Alejandro Valverde, Ivan Basso, Robert Gesink, and Ezequiel Mosquera rode together, their team-mates all left behind. With both Evans and Sanchéz behind, a truce held among the leading four, and they worked togehter on the lower slopes of the Alto de Sierra Nevada. Behind, Sanchéz had caught Evans, who had Paolo Tiralongo of Lampre-Ngc for company. The three lagged about 1:00 behind the group of favorites. Tiralongo was not contributing to the chase effort, probably because he simply did not have the legs.

The cooperation within the favorites group was chipping away at the advantage of David Moncoutié, who still rode solo at the front of the bike race. With 7 kilometers of climbing to go, Moncoutié held 3:45 over the favorites group, but the gap was dropping steadily. An attack from Ezequiel Mosquera interrupted the cooperation among the race favorites, and Valverde was quick to shut it down. Gesink and Basso followed, and it was all back together. Behind, Sanchéz began to ride away from Evans, leaving the Australian battle on alone. Slowly, Sanchéz began to inch back to the race leaders.

Just outside the 2 kilometer to go banner, Mosquera tried again to distance the other race favorites. Valverde again shut it down, but a second attack from Mosquera opened up a gap over Valverde, Basso, and Gesink. Mosquera continued on alone in the hope of improving his general classification position. Sanchéz continued to close on the Valverde group, while Evans trailed by 1:15. Up ahead, Moncoutié crossed alone under the red kite, the stage win in sight.

At the line, Moncoutié had plenty of time to celebrate his solo victory at the summit of the Alto de Sierra Nevada. The French climber also secured the lead in the Mountains classification. After losing time to serious injury, Moncoutié has ridden well this season, beginning with a win on Mont Faron at the Tour de Meditérranéen. He also celebrated a solo mountain stage win at the Critérium Dauphiné Libéré. After the stage, Moncoutié thanked his team-mate Rein Taramae for his hard work in the early break. Moncoutié said that he knew today would be a "very hard stage," and he joined the break originally in hope of gaining more mountains points. The stage win was a happy surprise for the French rider, who has ridden many, many kilometers in the breakaway in his career. Once in a while, the reward is a stage victory.

Ezequiel Mosquera crossed the line for second and picked up a small time bonus. Alejandro Valverde outsprinted Gesink and Basso to take third. The threesome crossed the line about 25 seconds down on Mosquera. Samuel Sanchéz followed just 20 seconds behind the group of favorites after a brilliant recovery on the Alto de Sierra Nevada. For Cadel Evans, there was nothing to celebrate today, as he finished 1:07 behind Valverde, Basso, and Gesink.

The general classification reshuffled today, though Alejandro Valverde still wears the Gold Jersey of race leader. Valverde also took over the Combination classification from the unfortunate Cadel Evans. Robert Gesink moves up to second, followed by Ivan Basso in third. Evans drops from second to fourth, while Sanchéz rounds out the top five. Mosquera is sixth, but is only 14 seconds behind Sanchéz and 23 seconds behind Evans. With more mountains to come, Mosquera could make a run up the overall standings. But Evans is not yet out of the podium race, because he will almost certainly ride well in the Toledo crono. Tom Danielson dropped to ninth today, while Cunego dropped out of the top ten altogether. Danielson cracked on the Alto de Monachil, while it seems likely that Cunego is now thinking more of Mendrisio than Madrid. Paolo Tiralongo now sits eighth in the overall standings for Lampre-Ngc.

Here is the current general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Epargne
Robert Gesink Rabobank :27
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo 1:02
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto 1:23
Samuel Sanchéz Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:32
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 1:46
Joaquim Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne 5:02
Paolo Tiralongo Lampre-Ngc 5:33
Tom Danielson Garmin-Slipstream 6:42
Daniel Navarro Astana 8:21

Tomorrow, it's another day in the mountains. The stage finishes with another double-up of back-to-back climbs, and the general classification may overturn again on the slopes of the Alto de Sierra de la Pandera. For all the details on tomorrow's hijinx, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 13 Berja - Alto de Sierra Nevada

Terrain Type: ¡More Mountains!
GC Importance: Another day of hard racing for the general classification riders.

The Vuelta a España heads into the Sierra Nevada mountain range for this second of three consecutive mountain stages. The stage runs between Berja and the Alto de Sierra Nevada and races over five categorized climbs. The finish line arrives at the summit of the Alto de Sierra Nevada, which towers high above the inland city of Granada. The Sierra Nevada is 16.9 kilometers in length and includes ramps reaching gradients of 10%. It’s another mountain-top finish, then, and only the climbers will smile at the sight of this profile. The general classification riders will hope for good legs, as a bad day on this stage could end any hope of wearing Gold in Madrid.

Berja makes its first appearance in the Vuelta a España this year. The city sits on the southeastern slopes of the Sierra de Gádor mountain range, a medium-sized rock pile just south of the Sierra Nevada. Really, you can’t move without tripping over a mountain range in this part of Spain. A Roman acqueduct and mosaics dating from the era of Pompeii still survive in the old town of Berja, though the city’s precise origins remain a mystery. Saint Ctesiphon, Berja’s patron saint, brought christianity to the city during the first century of the common era. Then, Moors came in the 8th century and built a fortress in Berja. Ruins of the Moorish baths still exist in the Benejí section of the city. Rain is scarce here in Berja, and the landscape has a barren, desertous look at odds with the snow-capped high mountains that rise above it.

The stage crosses the Sierra Nevada mountain range from south to north, then loops around to climb up the far western end of the mountain range, which rises just outside the city of Granada. The southern side of the Sierra Nevada slopes up more gently than the steeper, more rugged northern flank. The mountain range, which includes the highest peak in continental Spain, formed in the same geological era as the Alps which divide France, Switzerland, and Italy. Like the Alps, the Sierra Nevada formed as a consequence of the collision between the North African and European plates. Smash! The finishing climb to the summit of the Alto de Sierra Nevada has appeared in the Vuelta a España on ten previous occasions. Felipe Yánez was the first winner on the Sierra Nevada in 1979. The most recent visit came in 2004 when Santiago Pérez celebrated the stage victory.

Profile Details

The course traces out a fishhook, with the Alto de Sierra Nevada forming the sharp barb at the tip. The climbing begins immediately after the start in Berja, and the first 10 kilometers of the stage are uphill. The Alto de Berja is the first categorized climb of the day, and climbs for 9.8 kilometers to an elevation of 840 meters. Back of the envelope calculations put the average gradient at around 5%, and the Alto de Berja should offer a nice warm-up for the hard climbing to come. No doubt the early break will ride free on this first climb, though they will have a difficult time surviving to the finish of this stage.

After a short descent which covers about 9 kilometers, the course begins to climb again. The Puerto de la Ragua ascends into the Sierra Nevada mountain range from the south. Rated a category 1, the puerto tops out at an elevation of 2000 meters. It’s a long, steady grind of a climb, which lasts for 24.6 kilometers and has an average gradient of 5.8%. Along the way, the riders will pass through the town of Laroles located at 1060 meters. The Puerto de la Ragua shares the characteristics of a classic French Alpine col, long and steady. The maximum gradient of 8% will sting the legs, but won’t require any unusual gear choices for the lead riders. The Ragua includes three short sections of plateau, but they won’t offer much in the way of recovery. The Puerto de la Ragua summits at kilometer 43.6, and 129 kilometers of racing remain to the finish on the Alto de Sierra Nevada.

From the Puerto de la Ragua, the course descends just over 40 kilometers. The course rolls down the northern slopes of the Sierra Nevada range and angling slightly west, passes through the town of Alquife. As the road flattens out, an intermediate sprint pops up in Guadix at kilometer 85. At Gaudix, the course turns south and begins to travel toward Granada. The road follows bumpy terrain here until it reaches La Peza at kilometer 102.

The third climb of the day rises just outside La Peza on the northwestern edge of the Sierra Nevada range. Rated a category 3, the Puerto de los Blancares climbs for 8.2 kilometers. Though the summit reaches 1300 meters in elevation, the climb gains only 310 meters, since La Peza is already situated at altitude. The average gradient is around 4% for the Puerto de los Blancares. Nothing too difficult here, the Blancares is just a bit of incidental climbing to keep the legs turning over. The Blancares summits with 62 kilometers left to race.

From the Puerto de los Blancares, the course descends gradually. The roads heads steadily southwest here, and Dúdar and Granada are next on the route slip. At kilometer 142.5, there is an intermediate sprint just outside Granada. From Granada, the course turns east, and heads back into the Sierra Nevada range for the two final climbs of the stage. The final 26.2 kilometers of the stage are uphill and gain just over 1500 meters in elevation. All roads lead up.

The stage finishes with a double. The final climbs come back-to-back with the Alto de Monachil acting as a prelude to the grand finale on the Alto de Sierra Nevada. The Alto de Monachil begins at kilometer 146.2 and climbs for 8.6 kilometers. The average gradient is a not-so-pleasant 7.9% and the maximum gradient is an even-less-pleasant 16.6%. No, mis amigos, that is not a misprint. The maximum gradient is 16.6%. The first kilometer is a teaser, and rises gradually. Then, the road turns skyward, and the hard climbing begins. After 146 kilometers of racing, this climb is a leg-breaker. After the first relatively easy kilometer, the next three steepen to gradients ranging from 11% to 16%. Between kilometers 4 and 6, the road climbs more gradually, but it remains steep. The steepest section of the climb comes just before kilometer 7. Then, there follows a kilometer of relatively flat and false-flat terrain. As the riders grind to the summit, they will hit a section of 15% gradients just before the peak of the climb. There should be significant gaps in the field by the top of this climb. Only a small number of riders will survive to contest for the stage win and the Gold Jersey, and there is still more climbing to go.

At last, we come to the finale. The final climb of the day begins where the Alto de Monachil ends, and the profile offers no space for recovery. Less than half of a kilometer of flat riding separates the two finishing climbs. The Alto de Sierra Nevada carries an Especial rating and climbs for 16.9 kilometers to the stage finish. The Sierra Nevada is longer, but less steep than the Alto de Monachil. The average gradient is a kinder 5.5% and the maximum gradient is 10%. There are two short sections where the climb plateaus and the road is nearly flat, but the majority of the Alto de Sierra Nevada climbs steadily at gradients between 6% and 8%. The steepest stretch comes just past kilometer 10 and lasts less than a kilometer. The riders will especially enjoy the flat kilometer that follows. The final kilometers climb in the 6%-8% range. Without the Alto de Monachil appetizer, the Alto de Sierra Nevada might produce a small group finish. But the combination of the two climbs will likely open wide gaps by the time the stage reaches its final kilometers on the Alto de Sierra Nevada. The finish line for this stage sits at 2380 meters above sea level and offers another chance for a climber to celebrate victory.

Who to Watch

The succession of difficulties in this stage may make it difficult for the general classification teams to organize a chase effort, which would open the way for an early breakaway to survive. The heavy climbing, though, will require a big effort to stay out in front all day. Magic Eight Ball says that a rider from high in the general classification standings will win on the Alto de Sierra Nevada. Pretty verbose, that Magic Eight Ball. Far be it from me to question such wisdom. I have a vision of the Caisse d’Épargne and Liquigas-Doimo teams slaying themselves for their team leaders and bringing the race back together on the slopes of the Alto de Monachil. The Golden Jersey is in play today, and after the climb to the peak of the Alto de Sierra Nevada, we should see significant gaps open up in the general classification.

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