Philippe Gilbert of BMC Racing has taken his second stage victory of the 2012 Vuelta, winning a hard fought finale on an uphill drag in La Lastrilla to take Stage 19 of the race, the excitement of the closing kilometres redeeming what had otherwise been a forgettable day ridden at a slow pace.
Ben Swift of Team Sky, narrowly beaten by RadioShack-Nissan's Daniele Bennati yesterday, tried to get on the Belgian's wheel but faded in the closing 100 metres or so, with Alejandro Valverde of Movistar coming second and Daniel Moreno of Katusha third.
Heading into tomorrow's penultimate stage which features a summit finish on the Bola del Mundo, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank's Alberto Contador, who tackles that climb on regular training rides from his home near Madrid, leads by nearly two minutes and looks poised to take his second overall victory in the race he previously won in 2008.
It's been a thrilling and unpredictable race so far, though, and the big question is whether Valverde or long-time leader Joaquin Rodriguez of Katusha have it in them to spring one last surprise?
Most of today's stage was ridden at a slow pace that saw just under 40km covered in the first hour, with the 178km route from Peñafiel eventually completed around half an hour after the slowest pace predicted in the itinerary published by orgaisers.
The peloton finally shook itself out of its collective slumber and began to ratchet up the pace shortly after the two men in the day's break, Aitor Galdos of Caja Rural and Andalucia's Jose Vincente Toribio, had been swept up some 28 kilometres out from the finish on the outskirts of Segovia.
Approaching the final 12km, it briefly looked as though Rodriguez and Valverde had gone on the attack, but instead they were looking for bonus seconds and points at the day's second intermediate sprint, their move policed by a vigilant Contador and his team.
Valverde crossed first, he and Rodriguez immediately sitting up, but as the race headed into the last 10km the pace a the front was causing splits in the peloton, and 3km out its was the Cofidis rider Egoitz Garcia who initiated the attack from which the group that contested the finale would form.
Under the flamme rouge, AG2R-La Mondiale's Nicolas Roche had got of the front of that bunch but was quickly reeled in, Argos-Shimano's John Degenkolb, seeking a fifth stage win, tracking him, but once Gilbert hit the front, there would be no stopping him.
Less than a fortnight ago in Barcelona, the Belgian got his first win since joining BMC Racing at the start of the season following what had been a momentous 2011, including a hat-trick of victories in the Ardennes Classics.
Ominously for his rivals in the world championship road race that takes place in that corner of the world in a little over a fortnight's time, he seems to be riding himself back into form at just the right time, and it won't be lost on them that the two stages he has won have been on stages with tricky uphill finishes.
Vuelta Stage 19 Result 1 GILBERT, Philippe BMC 4h 56' 25'' 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV Same time 3 MORENO, Daniel KAT " 4 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT " 5 MEERSMAN, Gianni LTB + 3'' 6 MOLLEMA, Bauke RAB + 3'' 7 SWIFT, Ben SKY + 3'' 8 BAKELANTS, Jan RNT + 3'' 9 NOCENTINI, Rinaldo ALM + 3'' 10 HENAO, Sergio Luis SKY + 3'' 11 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 3'' 12 VERDUGO, Gorka EUS + 3'' 13 GESINK, Robert RAB + 3'' 14 NIEMIEC, Przemyslaw LAM + 3'' 15 KREDER, Michel GRS + 6'' 16 ANTON, Igor EUS + 6'' 17 MONDORY, Lloyd ALM + 6'' 18 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 6'' 19 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 6'' 20 BOUET, Maxime ALM + 6'' Last man home on Stage 19 177 JI, Cheng ARG + 7' 44'' General Classification after Stage 18 1 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 77h 21' 49'' 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 1' 35'' 3 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT + 2' 21'' 4 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 9' 48'' 5 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 11' 29'' 6 GESINK, Robert RAB + 12' 00'' 7 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 12' 58'' 8 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 13' 09'' 9 ANTON, Igor EUS + 13' 52'' 10 INTXAUSTI, Beñat MOV + 15' 13'' Points Classification after Stage 19 1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 186 2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 183 3 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 157 4 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 124 5 FROOME, Christopher SKY 93 Mountains Classification after Stage 19 1 CLARKE, Simon OGE 38 2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 36 3 DE GENDT, Thomas VCD 33 4 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 31 5 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 28
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.