For the second Saturday running, Alberto Contador found himself overhauled just short of the line when he seemed poised to win a Vuelta stage, race leader Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha today overturning what had been a deficit of almost a quarter of a minute to the Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank man with a kilometre left to go and riding past him to win Stage 14 at Los Ancares.
Rodriguez now has a lead of 22 seconds over Contador at the top of the overall standings. Movistar's Alejandro Valverde took third on the stage, but once again Team Sky's Chris Froome lost time to his rivals. The Briton remains third overall, but is now on exactly the same time as foirth placed Valverde, 1 minute 41 seconds behind Rodriguez.
In a repeat of the finale of last Saturday's stage to Andorra, Contador looked assured of victory as he entreed the final kilometre of today's 152-kilometre stage from Palas de Rei alone at the head of the race but again the rider who returned earlier this month after six months out of the sport due to his ban was found wanting once he was caught.
Last week, both Rodriguez and Valverde had bridged across but today it was only the Katusha man who proved able to bridge across to the 2008 Vuelta winner Contador, who had attacked with just under 2 kilometres remaining following a day on which his Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank team had ridden strongly to keep the day's break in check, and again on that final climb to pick the remaining escapees off one by one, with Katusha's Alberto Losada the last to be caught.
The pace the Danish team's riders were setting was putting a lot of Contador's rivals in trouble, with Rabobank's Robert Gesink, fifth overall this morning, among those to be dropped from the lead group. Froome, who had the Colombian climbers Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Uran to assist him, also found himself tailed off with 3 kilometres left to ride as Rodriguez, Moreno, Contador and Valverde rode off.
The Team Sky trio towed what was now a small group back up to the quartet ahead of them, but just as they did so, Contador attacked again, blowing that group apart as they tried to organise themselves to set off in pursuit of him.
Froome managed to go with Rodriguez and Valverde, and even attacked himself as he approached the flamme rouge, but Rodriguez managed not only to check that move, but also overhaul Contador and leave him in his wake for what had seemed, just moments before, an unlikely victory.
With the next three stages each featuring summit finishes, as well as next Saturday’s penultimate stage which ends on the Bola del Mundo outside Madrid, it’s far too early to start calling the winner, especially in a race where bonus seconds are awarded for stage finishes.
However, Rodriguez has continued to impress this week, one in which he was widely expected to surrender the race lead following Wednesday’s individual time trial.
Instead, he limited his losses to hang on to the red jersey by just one second from Contador, while it was Froome who dropped a place to third on GC.
Having also taken Stage 12 on the Mirador de Ezardo on Thursday, today’s victory is the third stage win by Rodriguez in this year’s race and follows a season in which he has won the Fleche Wallonne and finished as runner-up in the Giro d’Italia.
Meanwhile one jersey that did change hands today was the polka dot number sported by the mountains classification leader, now back on the shoulders of Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Clarke, one of the riders involved in today's break. Also in the break was David Moncoutié of Cofidis, who retires at the end of this season, and is chasing a fifth successive king of the mountains title in the race.
Vuelta Stage 14 Result 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 4h 10' 28'' 2 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 5'' 3 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 13'' 4 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 35'' 5 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 38'' 6 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 44'' 7 ANTON, Igor EU + 56'' 8 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 1' 04'' 9 MARCZYNSKI, Tomasz VCD + 1' 13'' 10 ROCHE, Nicolas ALM + 1' 17'' 11 VERDUGO, Gorka EUS + 1' 17'' 12 NIEMIEC, Przemyslaw LAM + 1' 26'' 13 MAJKA, Rafal STB + 1' 51'' 14 GESINK, Robert RAB + 1' 56'' 15 DE CLERCQ, Bart LTB + 1' 56'' 16 URAN, Rigoberto SKY + 2' 19'' 17 HENAO, Sergio Luis SKY + 2' 19'' 18 TIRALONGO, Paolo AST + 2' 19'' 19 MONFORT, Maxime RNT + 2' 19'' 20 CAPECCHI, Eros LIQ + 2' 19'' Last man home on Stage 14 183 LOBATO, Juan Jose ACG + 27' 43'' General Classification after Stage 14 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 53h 06' 33'' 2 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 22'' 3 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 1' 41'' 4 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 1' 41'' 5 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 4' 16'' 6 GESINK, Robert RAB + 5' 07'' 7 ROCHE, Nicolas ALM + 5' 51'' 8 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 6' 13'' 9 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 6' 34'' 10 ANTON, Igor EUS + 7' 16'' Points Classification after Stage 14 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 144 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 122 3 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 112 4 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 106 5 FROOME, Christopher SKY 91 Mountains Classification after Stage 14 1 CLARKE, Simon OGE 34 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 30 3 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 26 4 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 18 5 PAUWELS, Serge OPQ 13
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.