Post Stage Analysis

Cobo Escapes To Stage Victory
Valverde remains in Gold as Gesink slides down the classification

9 Big Photos from Stage 19sirotti
Juan José Cobo won today's stage after successfully attacking an elite group of riders who survived the final ascent of this year's Vuelta a España. The Fuji-Servetto rider, who crossed the line with his arms in the air and his tongue flapping in the breeze puppy-dog style, won ahead of race leader Alejandro Valverde and Cadel Evans. Robert Gesink, meanwhile, who began the day in second place overall suffered mightily during this hard climbing stage and dropped vertiginously down the general classification. Gesink crashed two days ago, and has struggled ever since. A tight battle still remains among the top five riders in the general classification with just tomorrow's flat time trial left to race.

A large breakaway attempted to go up the road early in the stage, but the teams of race leader Alejandro Valverde and second placed Samuel Sánchez were having none of it. Sánchez, in particular, wanted the race to come back together before the finish, where he hoped to use the final descent to gain time on Valverde and race for the 20 second time bonus on the line. Euskaltel-Euskadi worked hard throughout the day with the ambition of setting up Sánchez in the finale. Around kilometer 50, the general classification teams at last allowed a three rider break to go up the road. The pequeño escape included Dan Martin of Garmin-Slipstream, Eduard Vorganov of Xacobeo-Galicia, and Christophe Riblon of AG2R-La Mondiale. Over the top of the Puerto de Navacerrada, the threesome held an advantage of 6:30 over the main field.

On the Puerto de Morcuera, Robert Gesink began to suffer and went out the back of the favorites group. The Rabobank rider managed to rejoin the group on the descent, but it was clear that he had a rough day ahead. Euskaltel-Euskadi, meanwhile, continued to work hard on the front and the gap to the break steadily fell. With 50 kilometers left to race, the break held only 2:56 of its gap with still the final ascent of the Puerto de Navacerrada yet to go. Passing through Soto del Real, the terrain turned flat, offering good terrain for the chase.

At the base of the Puerto de Navacerrada, Martin, Vorganov, and Riblon held just 35 seconds of their advantage over the main field, still led by Euskaltel-Euskadi. With the break tantalizingly close, Johnny Hoogerland of Vacansoleil attacked from the main field in an effort to join the break. He never misss an opportunity to attack, this Dutch rider, and we've seen Hoogerland off the front of this year's Vuelta many times over the past three weeks. David Moncoutié and Alexandre Kolobnev soon joined him, while the original break fell back to the field. Soon, it was over for the Hoogerland move, which proved remarkably short-lived. Plainly, the general classification riders had ambitions today.

On to the final climb of the day, the Puerto de Navacerrada, the group began to shrink under the pressure of the pace set by Euskaltel-Euskadi. Robert Gesink dropped off the back and on the early slopes of the climb trailed the race favorites by 20 seconds, a gap that only grew as the climb went on. Rain fell steadily on the Puerto de Navacerrada and the temperatures plunged, dropping to 0°C at the summit. With around 23 kilometers to race, Iñigo Cuesta of Cervélo TestTeam made a bid for freedom, which Euskaltel-Euskadi denied. As they rode toward the summit, the field shrank steadily, until only top general classification riders remained. The group included Alejandro Valverde, Samuel Sánchez, Ivan Basso, Cadel Evans, Ezequiel Mosquera, Paolo Tiralongo, Juan José Cobo, Joaquim Rodríguez, Daniel Moreno, and Sylvester Szmyd. Valverde had two team-mates in the group, Rodríguez and Moreno, while Basso had one, Szmyd. Ninth placed Philip Deignan, meanwhile, proved unable to hold the pace of the front group, and fought a desperate battle from behind to hold his high placing.

With 5 kilometeres to go to the summit, Euskaltel-Euskadi ran out of legs, and Sylvester Szmyd of Liquigas-Doimo took over for Ivan Basso. Samuel Sánchez scampered up the road, but Szmyd proved quick to shut him down and the group remained together. As they approached the summit, Cobo took a hard dig. Sánchez followed with Valverde glued to his wheel and Mosquera not far behind. Over the summit with the descent in sight, Sánchez attacked in the hope of gaining time on his favorite terrain. Valverde must surely have anticipated this move from Sánchez and proved quick to follow. Through the early switchbacks of the wet descent, the two riders held a small gap over the rest of the race favorites.

With 10 kilometers to go, the group had mostly reformed on the descent with Ivan Basso trailing just behind. Basso soon rejoined the lead group and eight riders now led the bike race with the stage victory to decide among them. The first attack came from Paolo Tiralongo of Lampre-Ngc, but Rodríguez, working for Valverde, chased down the Italian. Inside 4 kilometers to go, Ezequiel Mosquera took a dig, but Valverde didn't like the looks of that move, and Rodríguez again brought the race back together. With a 20 second time bonus waiting for the winner, Valverde played a calculated game in this finale. If the race came down to a sprint, he could likely take the time bonus and add to his lead ahead of tomorrow's time trial. A stage win never hurts either, of course.

As they passed under the 3 kilometers to go banner, the front group remained locked together. Just when a sprint began to look inevitable, Juan José Cobo shot out of the group. The Fuji-Servetto rider snapped the elastic and soon had a small gap of 4 seconds over the chase group. Under the red kite, Cobo continued to hold his advantage, the stage win within his grasp. With the sprint coming up fast behind him, Juan José Cobo still had plenty of time to celebrate his stage victory. Today marked the first grand tour stage win for the 28 year old from Torrelavega, though Cobo has had numerous succeses in the shorter Spanish stage races. Behind him, Alejandro Valverde won the sprint for second and took the 12 second time bonus, while Cadel Evans finished third and gains 8 seconds in the general classification battle. Philip Deignan finished in the second group and successfully defended his ninth place in the general classification. The Irish rider has 1:03 over Cobo going into tomorrow's time trial. Robert Gesink, supported by his Rabobank team, finished 4:44 behind the lead group and the talented Dutch climber dropped from second to sixth in the general classification.

Here is today's general classification:
Alejandro Valverde Caisse d'Epargne
Samuel Sánchez Euskaltel-Euskadi 1:26
Ivan Basso Liquigas-Doimo 1:45
Cadel Evans Silence-Lotto 1:59
Ezequiel Mosquera Xacobeo-Galicia 2:11
Robert Gesink Rabobank 5:30
Paolo Tiralongo Lampre-Ngc 6:49
Joaquim Rodríguez Caisse d'Epargne 7:42
Philip Deignan Cervélo TestTeam 9:37
Juan José Cobo Fuji-Servetto 10:40

Tomorrow, the Vuelta races a short, flat time trial in Toledo. Alejandro Valverde looks solid to defend his race lead, but the remaining four riders in the top five of the general classification are close on time. Cadel Evans typically rides very well against the watch, and with a good ride could overtake both Ivan Basso and possibly Samuel Sánchez. Though he is strongest in the mountains, Sánchez can turn out a good crono when the occasion requires it. He sits just 19 seconds ahead of Ivan Basso, and should prove able to hold off the Italian, who hasn't ridden especially well against the watch lately. Ezequiel Mosquera, meanwhile, trails Evans by 12 seconds and Basso by 26. Though the time gaps look close, Mosquera will likely lose rather than gain time away from his favored terrain of the high mountains. Still, there should be a heated battle among the top riders of the general classification in Toledo.

For more details on tomorrow's time trial, please turn the page.

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Course Preview

Stage 19: Ávila – La Granja Real Fábrica de Cristales

Terrain Type: Mountainous. Three major climbs.
GC Importance: It’s the last chance for a climber chasing yellow jersey. The favourites will need to bring their best legs if they don’t want to lose time.

The last mountain stage in this year’s Vuelta a España starts where we left off. Ávila says goodbye to the race and the bunch heads east to get closer to Madrid. After almost 180 kilometers of really tough racing we will hit the finish line in the small town of San Ildefonso. The course includes three major climbs, and interestingly two of them are the same mountain climbed twice. It is truly the very last opportunity for the riders who are not good at flat time trials, so we expect to see the climbers struggling to drop their rivals in the steepest sections. The only difference between today and a mountain-top finish are a few kilometers of fast descent at the end of the stage.

Everything that could be said about the start town of Ávila has been said in last stage’s preview, so let’s skip to the end in…La Granja Fabrica de cristales? A glass factory? What’s that?... Let me explain: La Granja is the historical name for San Ildefonso, a town near Segovia created in the Middle Ages when a king decided it was the perfect place to stay on vacation. When the French Bourbons became the ruling dynasty in Spain (1700) they built a French style palace to be used as the summer residence for the Royal Family. This palace, and its beautiful gardens, is now an important tourist attraction in the region of Segovia. La Real Fábrica de Cristales (Royal Glass Factory) was a factory created personally by the King of Spain in the 18th century to provide Madrid with high quality glass. The winner today will surely be able to decorate his house with a fine crystal trophy.

La Granja de San Ildefonso has hosted the Vuelta a España several times before, thanks to its location, by the mountains and not too far from Madrid. The last time a stage finished in this town was in 2005. That day the profile was very similar, and a big breakaway was made. Carlos García Quesada attacked in the second climb to Navacerrada and rode solo to win the stage, while Roberto Heras kept the yellow jersey and won that edition of the Vuelta a España. Last year the penultimate stage began in La Granja and climbed Navacerrada in an individual time trial won by American Levi Leipheimer of Astana.

Today is definitely not the best day to have weak legs if you want a good position in the GC. The first 42 kilometers of rolling terrain are only a warm up for the three unavoidable climbs the riders will face. At kilometer 43 comes a third categorized climb, the Alto del León (also called Puerto del León). Five kilometers at an average gradient of 5,3% should not be remarkable in this mountain stage. If a big breakaway has not succeeded yet, it’s time to escape. After summiting there is a descent to Guadarrama and we turn north to find the second category climb, an interesting one.

The first category Puerto de Navacerrada is perhaps the most famous mountain in the region of Madrid. Not because cycling, though: Navacerrada hosts a very popular ski resort. It’s not big but it’s the closest to Madrid, so every winter weekend thousands of people go skiing there. In warmer months, Navacerrada is an ideal place for those riders seeking steep roads. This year, the race will climb it twice going from south to north, a 10-kilometer ride with an average gradient of 7%. From km 3 the inclination never goes below 7%, reaching a maximum 10% at 3 kilometers to summit. To make things tougher, after summitting the riders won’t be able to relax, because there are 7 kilometers of flat terrain before descending. We don’t expect attacks in this first visit to Navacerrada, but the teams with climbers might set a fast pace to make people suffer. Designed for heavy traffic, Navacerrada has wide roads, the riders will not have to worry about falling over the cliff.

The second major climb of the day comes after passing through Rascafría. The Puerto de la Morcuera, category 1, is easier than Navacerrada and has even a shorter downhill section near the summit. The total length is 11,5 kilometers, and the average gradient is 5,5%, reaching 1785 meters above sea level. Here we don’t expect to see one of the favourites suffer, but, if they take it seriously, this climb will make a selection in the breakaway and the main bunch. The sprinters and most domestiques will have already disappeared from TV. After the summit, a fast descending with almost no turns and 25 kilometers of flat passing through Soto del Real. Enjoy the green landscape because tomorrow we will be in extremely dry Toledo.

When we arrive in the town of Navacerrada we will take the same road to climb the same peak cheered by the same people as before. One difference: 156 kilometers and two hard climbs in the legs will make things more fun. If one of the great climbers needs seconds to win the Vuelta, it’s now or never. 12 kilometers of pure climbing, with gradient enough to create time gaps. If you don’t trust your descending skills, you’d better attack early and don’t wait for the 10% section, at 3 kilometers from the summit. Jump now and take risks, because the descent to La Granja has some dangerous turns. These 19 kilometers may reduce the time differences created at the summit of Puerto de Navacerrada. Or maybe some unlucky rider lose the Vuelta in this downhill section (no, Denis Menchov is not riding this Vuelta a España)

Who to watch

The combination of hard climbing and a final descent to the finish line strongly favors one rider among the others: the Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez, a master descender and a favourite to the final victory in Madrid. He has won several races with similar profiles, just remember Cuenca 2006 (Vuelta a España) and Beijing 2008 (Olympic road race). If a small group of GC contenders summits Puerto de Navacerrada he will surely be the first in La Granja. If the pace is too hard for him, watch for people like Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto, Alejandro Valverde of Caisse d’Epargne and Damiano Cunego of Lampre. Ivan Basso is the worst descender among the GC favourites, he will struggle to follow them if he really wants the yellow jersey.

However, a big breakaway with good climbers may succeed today. If the bunch let them go we should watch for riders like Paolo Tiralongo of Lampre, Pieter Weening of Rabobank, David Moncoutié of Cofidis, David de la Fuente of Fuji-Servetto and Jakob Fuglsang of Saxo-Bank. Who will be the first in the Royal Glass Factory? Pronto lo veremos. – Juan Bonilla

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