Philippe Gilbert, almost unbeatable in 2011, has clinched his first win since moving to BMC Racing by taking Stage 9 of the Vuelta in Barcelona this afternoon. The Belgian, together with race leader Joaquin Rodriguez, a native of the Catalan capital, got clear of the peloton on the slopes of Montjuic with under 4 kilometres left to ride, shortly after an attack from Alberto Contador had been brought back.
With Rodriguez crossing the line in Gilbert's slipstream around 10 seconds ahead of the group containing his rivals on GC, the Katusha rider also gained 8 bonus seconds on them due to his second place today. Following the 196-kilometre stage that began in Andorra La Vella, Rodriguez leads Team Sky's Chris Froome by 53 seconds, with Contador a further 2 seconds back in third place overall.
It’s been 13 years since a Vuelta stage last finished in Barcelona, notable for a riders’ strike that caused the stage to be shortened due to rain making the road surface treacherous.
Today’s stage, played out under blue skies, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Olympic Games that proved a landmark in the city’s post-Franco era journey to become the vibrant tourist and business destination it is today.
Rather than the Vuelta, today’s finish on Montjuic, site of the Olympic Stadium, evoked memories of the visit of the Tour de France in 2009, when David Millar’s long solo break was reeled in ahead of the climb to the finish, but today’s finale was a very different affair.
On that rain-soaked day when Thor Hushovd took the victory, just 2.5km remained as the peloton hit the Placa de Espanya at the foot of Montjuic, but today there were another 7km still to ride, with the route heading over the far side of Montjuic with a Category 3 climb thrown in.
Heading onto the climb, Contador attacked, but the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank rider was swiftly brought back, the pace of the ascent causing the peloton to be strung out behind him and making it difficult for any one team to control the race and try and bring it back to a sprint finish.
On the final part of the climb, crested 3.5 kilometres left, it was three men with a solid Classics pedigree who came to the fore, the first being BMC Racing’s Alessandro Ballan. Rodiguez quickly bridged across to the Italian, as did Gilbert.
That pair were soon out in front on their own, staying clear on the descent and subsequent drag up to the finish despite the efforts of riders such as Nicolas Roche of AG2R-La Mondiale to catch them.
Four men got clear at the start of today’s stage in Andorra’s capital, Garmin-Sharp’s Martijn Maaskant, Mickaël Vuffaz of Cofidis, Andalucia rider Javier Chacon and Vacansoleil-DCM’s Bertjan Lindeman.
The peloton kept a tight leash on them, however, conceding a maximum advantage of around five minutes, and Chacon, the last to be swept up, was caught as the race entered its closing 15 kilometres.
This evening, the riders transfer by plane from Spain’s Mediterranean coast to its Atlantic one ahead of tomorrow’s rest day, but it will be a long slog of nearly 1,000 kilometres for team staff travelling by road.
Vuelta Stage 9 Result 1 GILBERT, Philippe BMC 4h 45' 28'' 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT same time 3 TIRALONGO, Paolo AST + 7'' 4 MARCZYNSKI, Tomasz VCD + 9'' 5 BENNATI, Daniele RNT + 9'' 6 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 9'' 7 BOUHANNI, Nacer FDJ + 9'' 8 VERDUGO, Gorka EUS + 12'' 9 MEERSMAN, Gianni LTB + 12'' 10 ANTON, Igor EUS + 12'' 11 NOCENTINI, Rinaldo ALM + 12'' 12 NIEMIEC, Przemyslaw LAM + 12'' 13 MOLLEMA, Bauke RAB + 12'' 14 LOSADA, Alberto KAT + 12'' 15 MONDORY, Lloyd ALM + 12'' 16 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 12'' 17 RUIJGH, Rob VCD + 12'' 18 CAPECCHI, Eros LIQ + 12'' 19 CARDOSO, Andre CJR + 12'' 20 BOOM, Lars RAB + 12'' Last man home on Stage 9 194 RATTO, Daniele LIQ + 12' 20'' General Classification after Stage 9 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 34h 44' 55'' 2 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 53'' 3 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 1' 00'' 4 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 1' 07'' 5 GESINK, Robert RAB + 2' 01'' 6 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 2' 08'' 7 ROCHE, Nicolas ALM + 2' 34'' 8 ANTON, Igor EUS + 3' 07'' 9 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 3' 18'' 10 MOLLEMA, Bauke RAB + 3' 27'' Points Classification after Stage 9 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 85 2 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 76 3 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 76 4 FROOME, Christopher SKY 51 5 BENNATI, Daniele RNT 50 Mountains Classification after Stage 9 1 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 21 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 17 3 CLARKE, Simon OGE 16 4 LIGTHART, Pim VCD 11 5 MATE, Luis Angel COF 10
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.