Post Stage Analysis
An Irishman in Ávila
9 Big Photos from Stage 18 — sirotti
The young Irish rider Philip Deignan won today's Vuelta stage in Ávila after he outsprinted breakaway companion Roman Kreuziger. The two distanced the early break on the descent from the final climb of the day, and survived to contest the finish inside the medieval city walls of Ávila. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank finished third in his third top five stage finish of this Vuelta. The race favorites finished together, though Gesink lost 1 second in the general classification to Alejandro Valverde at the finish.
It was a cold, wet day in Spain for this stage running from Talavera de la Reina to Ávila. The usual flurry of attacks animated the early kilometers. After 20 kilometers of racing, Philippe Gilbert of Silence-Lotto escaped up the road. The Belgian no doubt fancied his chances with the wet weather and the cobbled final climb through the crenallated city walls of Ávila. Mikael Cherel of Français des Jeux soon joined him and the two rode together toward the first climb of the day, the Puerto de Miljares. Gilbert's move proved short-lived as more riders attacked from the field on the Puerto de Miljares.
At kilometer 40, nine riders held a small gap over the main field. The nascent breakaway included: Jesús Hernández Blásquez of Astana, Philip Deignan of Cervélo TestTeam, Rein Taramae of Cofidis, Tadej Valjavec of AG2R-La Mondiale, Rémi Di Gregorio of Français des Jeux, Igor Antón of Euskaltel-Euskadi, Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas-Doimo, David Herrero of Xacobeo-Galicia, and Manuel Vasquez Hueso of Contentpolis-Ampo. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank, David Moncoutié of Cofidis, and Jesús Del Nero Montes of Fuji-Servetto soon joined the fun, while Matti Breschel of Saxo Bank, Mikael Cherel of Français des Jeux, Bingen Fernández Bustinza of Cofidis, and Philippe Gilbert of Silence-Lotto chased. As they approached the summit of the Puerto de Miljares, the break had swelled to sixteen riders and they held an advantage of 2:12 over the main field where Caisse d'Epargne had taken up their customary position at the front. The temperatures on this first climb of the day hovered around 9°C. As the break passed over the summit of the Puerto de Miljares, Moncoutié scooped up the points to add to his lead in the mountains classification.
There were no significant attacks among the general classification riders on the first climb of the day, though Robert Gesink temporarily found himself in difficulty. The Dutch climber sits second in the general classification and suffered a deep cut on his knee after crashing yesterday. Thanks to the help of his team, Gesink returned to the main field, and the favorites crossed the summit of the Puerto de Miljares together. Euskaltel-Euskadi took up the pace-making on the front, despite the presence of Igor Antón in the break. The Basque team hoped to make the day difficult for Gesink and perhaps create an opportunity for team leader Samuel Sánchez to move up in the overall standings.
Following the first climb of the day, the stage fell into the familiar pattern of the break racing out in front, while the general classification teams rode tempo behind. Euskaltel-Euskadi continued to work on the front throughout the day. Gerald Ciolek and Tom Danielson, meanwhile, abandoned on the road. Passing through the intermediate sprint in El Barraco, Jakob Fuglsang took the points, while Bingen Fernández won the second sprint at El Herradón. Bumping along the uneven terrain on the way to the final two climbs of the day, the break now reached its maximum advantage of around 5:00 over the main field.
On to the Alto Collado Mediano, which despite its category 2 rating included gradients up to 12%, the gap began to fall as Caisse d'Epargne took a turn at the front. Up ahead, Philip Deignan pushed the pace in the break and Matti Breschel suffered badly on the steep gradients of the Collado Mediano. Roman Kreuziger passed over the summit first. Securely in the mountains lead, Moncoutié did not sprint for this one. On the descent, Breschel made it back across, and still sixteen riders raced out in front of the main field where Caisse d'Epargne rode on the front. With 45 kilometers to race, the gap stood at 3:30.
As the break approached the final climb of the day, the Alto del Boquerón, Philippe Gilbert attacked solo from the break and soon had a small gap over the remaining fifteen riders. Manuel Vasquez Hueso of Contentpolis-Ampo set off in pursuit of the Belgian, while David Herrero Xacobeo-Galicia follwed not far behind. With Caisse d'Epargne on the front, the main field had largely given up the chase and the stage winner would certainly come from the breakaway. With 3 kilometers to go to the summit of the Alto del Boquerón, Herrero and Vasquez caught Gilbert, who quite suddenly dropped out of frame. According to his sports director, the Silence-Lotto rider suffered a flat. Unfortunately for Gilbert, he never again saw the front of the bike race.
The break, meanwhile, reformed and the twelve remaining riders approached the summit of the final climb. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank and Roman Krueziger of Liquigas-Doimo both tried to split the group, but could not open a gap. Over the top of the climb, Roman Kreuziger and Philip Deignan of Cervélo TestTeam scampered up the road. David Herrero and Jakob Fuglsang set off in pursuit and with 10 kilometers to race, 10 seconds separated the two pairs on the road. Just outside 5 kilometers to race, Fuglsang set off alone after the leading two, Kreuziger and Deignan. As they passed through the modern section of Ávila, the roads shone with moisture. On to the cobbled climb to the old city walls, Kreuziger and Deignan still held their advantage over the tiring Fuglsang. No doubt they were happy to find the cobbles mostly dry. The lead two rode side-by-side up the cobbled climb through the crenallated city walls and into the final kilometers.
Under the red kite, Kreuziger and Deignan remained locked together with the stage win to decide between them. Kreuziger sat on the wheel of Deignan, and looked to have the advantage. With 500 meters to go, Kreuziger attacked, but could not distance Deignan. At the line, Philip Deignan overpowered Kreuziger, and the young Irish rider won his first ever grand tour stage. Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo Bank finished 16 seconds later for his third top five finish in this Vuelta. Philippe Gilbert rolled in more than three minutes later after never recovering from the flat tire that put him out of contention.
A very smiley Philip Deignan said, "it is a very great day for me." The Cervélo rider not only won the stage, but also moved up to ninth in the general classification. "Kreuziger was really strong coming into the finish. He attacked at 500 meteres, and I got onto his wheel. Then I had the power to come around," Deignan recounted. He also explained that after such a long day out in the break, the finish came down less to who was the better sprinter between Kreuziger and him, than to who had the better legs left. Deignan also commented that the cool, wet weather favored him.
The main field finished just under ten minutes behind the winner. Juan José Cobo of Fuji-Servetto tried an attack on the cobbled climb, but couldn't hold the gap over the other favorites. As they approached the line, a few small gaps opened in the field, and Cadel Evans, Alejandro Valverde, Daniel Navarro, and Samuel Sánchez finished 1 second ahead of the rest of the field. Valverde still leads the overall classification with more mountains on the menu tomorrow.
Here is the current general classification:
Tomorrow, it's more mountains! The stage runs between Ávila and La Granja Real Fábrica de Cristales and climbs three major climbs before descending to the finish. For more details on tomorrow's stage, please turn the page. — Gavia
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Stage 18: Talavera de la Reina - Ávila
Terrain Type: Middle mountains, with a first category climb early in the stage
Tired of flat and hot stages in La Mancha, the Vuelta heads north to the mountainous area of southern Castilla- León. Here we find the highest peaks in the center of Spain, forming a mountain range called Sistema Central, which always hosts the last mountain stages before the finish in Madrid. The first of two stages in the Sistema Central begins in Talavera de la Reina and after 165 kilometers of difficult riding it finishes in Ávila. There’s certainly some climbing terrain for a brave rider to attack early, but most GC contenders will wait for the harder gradients of tomorrow. The biggest climb today, the first category Puerto de Mijares is more than 100 kilometers from the finish line, so the climbers will think twice (or not think at all) before attacking here.
Talavera de la Reina is a big town and has been the economic center of the region of Toledo since the times of the Roman Empire. It hosted the 2008 Spanish Championships, where Alejando Valverde got the yellow and red jersey, as well as some stages in the Vuelta. In fact, two years ago, there was a very similar stage, beginning in Talavera and climbing Mijares but with 20 kilometers of flat section before the finish in Ávila.
The city of Ávila is one of the most beautiful old towns in Spain and was declared a World Heritage site in 1985. It boasts the famous Walls of Ávila, built in the Middle Ages to protect the city from the Muslims of Al-Andalus. Now it is the perfect place for riding a bike, and the organizers have frequently placed a circuit around the town before the finish line. The cobblestones and steep sections were the ingredients to create exciting stage endings in previous editions of the Vuelta a España. Did I mention the past? Sure: Ávila has proudly hosted the race 22 times before, seeing great riders such as Bernard Hinault, Laurent Fignon and Tony Rominger win here. A good example of what Ávila can offer us is the stage from 1999, with an incredible attack by Frank Vandenbroucke ( the great VDB, early in his career). The most recent time Ávila hosted a stage was in 2007. Luis Pérez of Andalucia won that day, after a solo ride in the final loop around the town.
Yet today’s course has more to offer than just the final kilometres. With only 37 km of racing, the riders will face the longest climb of the day. The Puerto de Mijares, rated category 1, is long but not steep (average gradient: 5,2%). Its first slopes, with gradients of about 7%, will split the breakaway and only the climbers will survive. Some sections in this 20-kilometer climb are almost flat, but if the important teams set a hard pace most riders in the bunch will find it difficult. We don’t expect to see the sprinters in the main group when we get to the summit, at 1580 meters above sea level. Then there are 15 kilometers of descending and a hilly section with no categorized climbs, but two intermediate sprints. The first one comes in a little but well known village called El Barraco, famous for giving birth to great riders such as Ángel Arroyo, Chava Jiménez and Carlos Sastre, winner of last year’s Tour de France. His father, Víctor Sastre, created the Fundación Deportiva Víctor Sastre, a cycling school that promotes this sport among children, specially among those suffering social exclusion, giving them a new hope.
After the second intermediate sprint in El Herradón, the riders will climb the Alto Collado Mediano, a short but really steep hill (11% in the most difficult part). If there’s something left in the legs, a brave cyclist might try attacking in the last mountain today, the Alto del Boquerón (anchovy in English). This one is rated third category and from its summit remains less than 20 kilometers to race. A small group should stay together at the front, but an ambitious rider may think he’s capable of riding solo all the way to the finish line. Good luck to him. If not, we can expect an interesting battle by the Walls of Ávila.
Who to watch
Ávila is the last chance for one of the smaller teams to win a stage in this year’s Vuelta a España. After today there is a final mountain stage, a time trial and the final sprinters party in Madrid, so these teams will be willing to work hard to place their best riders in the successful breakaway. We can expect a big breakaway at the beginning, but only the ones with good legs will survive the Puerto de Mijares. Look for riders like David Moncoutié, winner of mountains jersey last year, Damiano Cunego of Lampre-NGC, if he hasn’t withdrawn to prepare the Worlds, Carlos Barredo of Quick Step, winner in San Sebastian, Vasili Kiryienka of Caisse d’Epargne, David Herrero of Xacobeo, Sandy Casar of Française des Jeux and the Euskaltel-Euskadi riders –always on the attack-.
It will likely be a breakaway battle, so impossible to predict. Add any rider you like to the list above, it’s free and fun. Watch also the local teams Andalucía and Contentpolis-Ampo to keep trying to win a stage. However, the stronger teams may decide it’s no country for brave men and work to arrive together in Ávila. In that case, the best uphill finishers will have their chance. Among them, Alejandro Valverde is probably the strongest, and time bonus would help him in his main goal: wearing the yellow jersey in Madrid. Other riders such as