Post Stage Analysis

Two for Cunego
Damiano Cunego takes a second stage victory, Alejandro Valverde defends Gold

9 Big Photos from Stage 14sirotti

Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc celebrated his second mountain stage victory of this year's Vuelta a España. The Italian, who rode the grupetto yesterday, joined the early break before going up the road solo. Alejandro Valverde successfully defended his race lead, though the steep ramps of the Sierra de la Pandera nearly proved his undoing. Robert Gesink of Rabobank still sits second in the general classification, while Samuel Sánchez moved up to third after a solid ride on the final climb of the day, the daunting Sierra de la Pandera.

Predictably, a break escaped early in the stage, and today the group numbered nine riders. The break included Damiano Cunego of Lampre-Ngc, Kevin De Weert of Quicks-Step, Bram Tankink of Rabobank, Christian Knees of Team Milram, Xavier Cabre Florencio of Cervélo TestTeam, Adrián Palomares Villaplana of Contentpolis-Ampo, Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank, Alan Peréz Lezaun of Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Gonzalo Ríos Rabunal of Xacobeo-Galicia. Behind, Caisse d'Epargne took up their position at the front of the main field in defense of the Gold Jersey of Alejandro Valverde.

As they approached the final climbs of the day, the break held an advantage of just over 8:00. The stage winner would almost certainly come from the escape today. In the main field, Liquigas-Doimo and Euskaltel-Euskadi began to contribute to the pace-making for their team leaders Ivan Basso and Samuel Sánchez. The Vuelta raced through sporadic rain fall today, and the slick roads through the old town of Los Villaros led to a few minor mishaps in the field. With three teams contributing to the chase effort, the gap to the break began to fall steadily, and as they reached the near-final climb of the day, the Alto de Los Villares, the gap had dropped to 6:00. Still, plenty of time remained for the break to decide the stage victory among them.

On the Alto de Los Villares, a series of attack interrupted the tranquility of the breakaway. Adrián Palomares Villaplana proved especially determined to split up the group and attacked repeatedly. The Contentpolis-Ampo rider has spent many kilometers of this Vuelta a España in the breakaways and hoped to take a stage victory at last. Plainly on good form, Damiano Cunego proved quick to close down the Palomares attacks. With 15 kilometers to go, the two went up the road together. Jakob Fuglsang chased them down, and it was all back together in the break. Then, Palomares went again, and Cunego chose to play the waiting game, and let the others do the chasing. Cunego's gamble paid off, and the break came back together again, though several riders went out the back under the pressure of the constant attacking. In the subsequent lull, Cunego made a big attack from the back of the break. None from the break could respond and soon Cunego was up the road alone.

Back in the main field, Roman Kreuziger took up the pace-making for Liquigas-Doimo and the main field began to shed riders. Liquigas-Doimo was now doing much of the work on the front, though Euskaltel-Euskadi also continued to contribute. The two teams had no hopes of bringing back the breakaway. They simply hoped to make the race hard and set-up their team leaders for the finale. Still all the favorites remained in the main field, rolling along together and waiting for the final climb of the day, the steep Sierra de la Pandera. Over the top of the Alto de Los Villares, Cunego had around 40 seconds over the remains of the breakaway and 4:30 over the main field. There remained 11 kilometers to race.

Riding solo under light rain fall, Cunego made the left turn on to the Sierra de la Pandera. Rated Especial, the finishing climb is relatively short, but includes steep ramps with gradients of 12% - 14%. The race followed an access road for the military installation at the summit, and potholes and cracks pockmark the pavement. With 8 kilometers to race, Cunego hit the final climb with 48 seconds over the remains of the breakaway and 4:34 over the main field. The Italian looked good for his second stage victory of the race.

As the main field hit the lower slopes of the Sierra de la Pandera, Liquigas-Doimo continued to work on the front with Sylvester Szmyd setting tempo for Ivan Basso. The numbers began to dwindle, though at least for now, the favorites remained together. Two kilometers later, Tom Danielson could no longer follow and dropped out of the favorites group. The American reportedly suffered a stomach ailment yesterday. Alejandro Valverde, Samuel Sánchez, Cadel Evans, Robert Gesink, Ivan Basso, Ezequiel Mosquera, Juan José Cobo, and Paolo Tiralongo all remained together behind Szmyd.

With Szmyd pulling off the front, it was action time for the general classification riders. Basso began to force the pace at the front. The Italian never really attacks, he simply ups the tempo. Samuel Sánchez, Juan José Cobo, and Paolo Tiralongo dropped out the back. Cadel Evans sat glued to Basso's wheel, and soon came to the front to take a dig of his own. Alejandro Valverde dropped back, and with 3 kilometers to race, Valverde and Sánchez rode behind Basso, Evans, Mosquera, and Gesink. Seeing an opportunity, Mosquera attacked the group, Gesink covered, but Evans and Basso could not follow Mosquera. Now, Mosquera led, followed by Gesink, then Evans and Basso together. Further down, Valverde trailed Mosquera by 24 seconds. Sánchez, meanwhile, had recovered and was steadily working his way up through the others to Mosquera.

With 2 kilometers to race, Valverde caught Basso, while Evans rode just behind. Up ahead, Sanchéz had reached Mosquera and the two rode together 20 seconds ahead of Basso and Valverde. Robert Gesink dangled between the two groups. As the road flattened out, Valverde dropped Basso and caught Gesink, while Mosquera and Sanchéz continued to ride ahead. Evans, meanwhile, recovered and passed Basso. The general classification race spread out over the final kilometers, though the time gaps remained close with not much more than 30 seconds between Mosquera at the front and Basso in the rear.

At the line, a smiling Damiano Cunego had plenty of time to celebrate his second stage win of this Vuelta a España. Until this Vuelta, the Italian had not won a grand tour stage since 2004. Of today's stage, he said the race was "very very hard." "I wanted to get in the early break in order to win the stage," he said. "I rode the grupetto yesterday, and I'm very happy to win the stage today," said the winner. When asked who he thought would win this Vuelta, Cunego picked Valverde, because of the controlled way the Spanish race leader has ridden this grand tour. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank survived to finish second on the stage. The young Dane came to the Vuelta to ride for the general classification, but it hasn't worked out for him this time around. He has twice come close to stage victory after long days out in the break. Surely, his day will come before long.

Samuel Sánchez proved the first of the general classification rides to cross the line. The Euskaltel-Euskadi rider accelerated in the closing meters and opened a small gap over Mosquera. Sánchez also took the time bonus for third. Mosquera finished fourth, then Valverde, Gesink, Evans. Gonzalo Rabunel Ríos from the early breakaway finished ninth before Basso in tenth.

The top six in the general classification remain close on time, despite three hard days in the mountains. Alejandro Valverde still leads the overall standings by 31 seconds over Robert Gesink of Rabobank. Samuel Sanchéz is third, 1:10 behind Valverde, while Ivan Basso dropped to fourth today, and trails Valverde by 1:28. Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto is fifth at 1:51 and Ezequiel Mosquera, who has ridden an attacking race through the mountains, is sixth at 1:54. After Mosquera, the time gaps widen significantly. Joaquim Rodríguez is seventh at 5:53. American Tom Danielson still clings to a top ten position, and is currently ninth at 8:28.

Here is the current general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Epargne
Robert Gesink Rabobank :31
Samuel Sánchez Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:10
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo 1:28
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 1:34
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto 1:41
Joaquim Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne 5:23
Paolo Tiralongo Lampre-Ngc 6:24
Juan José Cobo Fuji-Servetto 10:45
Kevin de Weert Quick Step

Tomorrow, the Vuelta leaves the mountains, at least for now. The stage runs from Jaén to Córdoba over rolling terrain, and finishes on a hilly circuit, which twice climbs the category 2 Alto de San Jerónimo. For more details on tomorrow's stage, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 14 Granada - Alto Sierra de la Pandera

Terrain Type: ¡Still More Mountains!
GC Importance: ¡Sí!

The final stage of the mountains triple begins in Granada and finishes on the Alto Sierra de la Pandera. The stage includes three categorized climbs, and the profile is slightly easier than those of the preceding two stages. Still, it will be a difficult day of racing, since the riders will carry the hard climbing of the previous days in their legs. As is typical of the Vuelta, this stage is short and punchy. The course covers just 157 kilometers.

Granada sits inland from the coast at the base of the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Fed by snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada, the Beiro, Genil and Darro rivers all come together in Granada. On a hill southeast of the city sits its iconic monument, the Alhambra or Red Fortress. Built by the Moors in the 14th century, the Alhambra sits on a spacious plateau and within its walls stand a series of palaces intricately decorated in the Islamic style. An extensive park within the walls includes a grove of British elms brought to Granada by the Duke of Wellington in the early nineteenth century. Present day Granada houses one of the three largest universities in Spain and is famed for its nightlife. The city has hosted the Vuelta on 23 previous occasions and its proximity to the high mountains makes it a natural stop for the Spanish grand tour. Literally translated, Granada means pomegranate. Perhaps one of the Garmin-Slipstream riders can win the stage in tribute to their new sponsor, Poms.

The Alto Sierra de la Pandera joined the Vuelta family relatively recently. At 1870 meters, the Pandera is the highest peak in the Sierra Sur de Jeán mountain range which rises to the northwest of the more prominent Sierra Nevada. Three riders have celebrated victory at the summit of the Alto Sierra de la Pandera. Roberto Heras, Alejandro Valverde, and Andrey Kashechkin are the past stage victors. Perhaps Valverde would like to make it two on the Pandera.

Profile Details

Setting out from Granada, the course heads north over uneven terrain. Though there are only three categorized climbs on the profile, the road constantly rises and falls as it heads north to the Sierra Sur de Jeán. The stage passes through Piñar at kilometer 38.7, as it steadily gains elevation. Between kilometers 38.7 and 55.6, the road rises around 400 meters, and the course reaches a high point at Torre-Cardela before descending to Guadahortuna. There is no named climb here, just incidental climbing. The road continues its uneven course until kilometer 76, where the first categorized climb of the day appears.

Rated a category 3, the Alto de Huelma climbs for 7 kilometers and tops out at 1170 meters. The total elevation gain for the Alto de Huelma is 250 meters, and no one will lose sleep over this one. This first official climb of the day summits at kilometer 83. There remains 74 kilometers to race. From the summit of the Alto de Huelma, the course begins a lengthy descent. A short climb interrupts the fun, but overall, it’s downhill for 30 kilometers after the Huelma. The road bottoms out at La guardia Jaén at kilometer 113. Then, the climbing begins again.

The first intermediate sprint of the day comes at kilometer 122.5 after a brief climb outside La guardia Jaén. The course loops north of the Sierra de la Pandera, and skirts the city of Jaén. From Jaén, the Vuelta makes a sharp left-hander and heads south toward the final climb of the day. Some more incidental climbing follows the sprint outside La guardia Jaén, before the road descends to Los Villares. The second intermediate sprint comes at Los Villares, which lies directly south of Jaén. The mountains are closing in fast now.

Similar to stage 13, the final two climbs double-up, and only a short plateau separates them. The Alto de Los Villares carries a category 2 rating and peaks at 1190 meters above sea level. It is a 10 kilometer grind with an average gradient of 5.5%. Not one of the hard climbs, the Alto de Los Villares should still whittle down the field, and only a small group will likely survive to contest the finish on the final climb of the day. Four kilometers of flat racing follow the summit of the Alto de Los Villares. Then, it’s on to the final climb of the day.

The Alto Sierra de la Pandera is relatively short and steep. It carries an Especial rating, because of its unforgiving pitches and the hard climbing that precedes it. The Sierra de la Pandera does not dilly-dally. The opening kilometer rises at a steep 12.5%. That’ll smart. Overall, the Pandera climbs for 8.4 kilometers and tilts up to a maximum gradient of 13%. The average is a not-so-pleasant 8%. Though the Alto Sierra de la Pandera starts steeply, the most difficult kilometers come in the middle, between kilometers 4 and 7. The steep 13% section of road comes at the 5 kilometer mark, and there is another section of 13% pitch at kilometer 6. Only super-climbers need apply. The Pandera ends not with a bang with a whimper, as the road actually descends just past kilometer 7. Fear not, in the final half kilometer, the road steepens again, and the gradient hits 8.3%. Only a small group, or indeed more likely a solo rider, will survive to contest the stage win on the Alto Sierra de la Pandera.

Who to Watch

There will be many tired legs in the bunch today after the previous two stages of difficult climbing. It’s not likely that the general classification standings will remain close by the start in Grenada, though that certainly does not rule out a hard-fought stage. For any general classification rider who has lost time, this stage may serve as the last-chance saloon. Make or break, all of the general classification riders will need good legs for this one, and we will likely see the overall standings change by the finish.

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