Dan Martin of Garmin-Cervelo today won Stage 9 of the 2011 Vuelta, his first Grand Tour stage victory, after a hugely impressive ride on a day when several of the main contenders for the GC ran into severe dfficulty on a tough climb up to La Covatilla. Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins put in perhaps his best ever climbing performance, towing a very select group almost right up to the line and finished fourth. Bauke Mollema was second and leads the GC by 1 second, while Juan Jose Cobo of Geox-TMC finished third.
Chris Froome finished fifth, having put in an immense performance on the climb to help put his team leader Wiggins into a position from where he could attack. By the time the Team Sky pair crossed the line, even defending champion Vincenzo Nibali was starting to drop back. Froome is now 14th on GC, one place behind Wiggins.
Earlier on the climb, the Sicilian had appeared to be in great shape as he bridged across to Martin, wearing the combined jersey today, who had attacked a little over 5 kilometres from the summit and had briefly been joined by his cousin, Nicolas Roche of AG2R.
Born in Birmingham and representing Great Britain before electing to ride for Ireland - his mother is the sister of Stephen Roche - the 25-year-old Martin becomes the first Irish rider to win a Grand Tour stage since Philip Deignan did so in the 2009 Vuelta.
Behind, what had been a big group at the foot of the 16-kilometre climb to the finish was quite simply ripped apart as riders struggled to cope with gradients in the mid-teens, and even the less steep sections gave little respite as strong winds buffeted the bare slopes of the mountain.
Michele Scarponi of Lampre-ISD, who had looked in good shape on the lower part of the climb, would lose early 2 minutes to Martin by the summit; Rodriguez would finish 50 seconds behind the Irishman, just enough to see him lose the race lead.
However, he is certain to slip further down the standings after tomorrow’s 47-kilometre individual time trial in Salamanca. How much Wiggins, who alongside HTC Highroad’s Tony Martin and Leopard Trek’s Fabian Cancellara would ordinarily be one of the favourites for that stage, will have left in the tank after today’s efforts remains to be seen.
As yesterday, when Rodriguez had won on the short but steep final climb to San Lorenzo de El Escorial to take the overall lead, it was Katusha who controlled the front of the peloton on today’s 183-kilometre stage from Villacastin to La Covatilla, the 1,970-metre summit making its fourth appearance in the race.
Ahead of the final climb, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Movistar and Lampre-ISD also played a part in towing the main bunch as two breakaway riders, the German Sebastian Lang of Omega Pharma-Lotto and Dutch champion Pim Ligthart of Vaconsoleil-DCM.
The 31-year-old Lang, who retires at the end of the season, had attacked early on during today’s stage on the descent of the Category 3 Puerto de la Cruz de Hierro, and was subsequently joined not only by Ligthart but also by the 23-year-old Martijn Keizer of Rabobank and Andalucia-Caja Granada rider Jose Vicente Toribio.
At one point the break had a lead of more than ten minutes, but little by little the Lang, who has ridden all three Grand Tours in his final season and spent a couple of hundred kilometres on a solo breakaway on the opening road stage of the Giro, had shaken off Ligthart, his last remaining fellow escapee, by the time he passed under the 10 kilometre to go banner.
Although the German won the day’s combativity prize, it was inevitable that he would be caught as the GC contenders began to jostle for position behind him, but what was surprising was the way in which so many of those with GC ambitions were also found wanting on today’s final climb.
Vuelta Stage 9 result 1 MARTIN, Daniel Garmin-Cervelo 4h 52' 14'' 2 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank Same time 3 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 3'' 4 WIGGINS, Bradley Team Sky + 4'' 5 FROOME, Christopher Team Sky + 7'' 6 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 11'' 7 TAARAMAE, Rein Cofidis + 12'' 8 MENCHOV, Denis Geox-TMC + 12'' 9 ZUBELDIA, Haimar RadioShack + 12'' 10 KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik Astana + 12'' 11 POELS, Wouter Vacansoleil-DCM + 15'' 12 SEELDRAYERS, Kevin Quick Step + 19'' 13 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 19'' 14 PARDILLA, Sergio Movistar + 38'' 15 SÖRENSEN, Chris Saxo Bank-SunGard + 41'' 16 NIEVE, Mikel Euskaltel-Euskadi + 41'' 17 KRUIJSWIJK, Steven Rabobank + 41'' 18 MONFORT, Maxime Leopard Trek + 41'' 19 ROCHE, Nicolas AG2R La Mondiale + 47'' 20 LAGUTIN, Sergey Vacansoleil-DCM + 50'' Vuelta Overall Standings after Stage 9 1 MOLLEMA, Bauke Rabobank 37h 11' 17'' 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin Katusha + 1'' 3 NIBALI, Vincenzo Liquigas-Cannondale + 9'' 4 KESSIAKOFF, Fredrik Astana + 18'' 5 VAN DEN BROECK, Jurgen Omega Pharma-Lotto + 27'' 6 MORENO, Daniel Katusha + 35'' 7 FUGLSANG, Jakob Leopard Trek + 37'' 8 SEELDRAYERS, Kevin Quick Step + 42'' 9 ZUBELDIA, Haimar RadioShack + 42'' 10 COBO, Juan José Geox-TMC + 46''
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.