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Race leader's determined fightback gains him more time at top of GC...

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Vuelta Stage 14: Granada – La Pandera: 157KM

Damiano Cunego of Lampre-NGC put a disappointing Saturday behind him to win his second stage of this year’s Vuelta on the summit finish of La Pandera this afternoon.

Behind him, race leader Alejandro Valverde made a remarkable recovery to stretch his lead after seeming to have cracked on the day’s final ascent as his rivals for the golden jersey launched a concerted attack on the Caisse d’Epargne rider.

Cunego had plummeted from seventh to 31st in the overall standings yesterday, but seemed determined to make amends today. He tried several times to get off the front before finally succeeding with 120 kilometres to go in a group of nine riders including Saxo Bank’s Jakob Fuglsang, who finished second on the stage.

As in the previous two days, the general classification contenders stayed near the front of the chasing group, with the pace first forced by Euskaltel-Euskadi, seeking to help Samuel Sanchez make up some of the time the Olympic Champion had lost yesterday, then Liquigas, whose Ivan Basso lay third. Clearly there were going to be some fireworks before the finish.

With 14 kilometres left as he negotiated the day’s penultimate climb, Cunego, mindful that the golden jersey group was gaining on the breakaway, made his move and it proved a decisive one.

It took rather longer for any of the race leaders to show their hand, but when Basso attacked with four kilometres left as the road turned right and reared up, Valverde, a previous winner of a Vuelta stage on this very mountain, seemed in real trouble.

Rabobank’s Robert Gesink, Cadel Evans of Silence-Lotto and Ezequiel Mosquera of Xacobeo-Galicia had all gone with Basso. But Valverde, isolated from his Caisse d’Epargne team mates, was slipping back down the road.

He seemed in real danger of losing the golden jersey to Gesink before finding an ally in Sanchez, the two Spaniards working together to bridge the gap. And once they had, Evans and Basso were unable to keep up with the pace they were now setting.

Indeed, Sanchez, who has based his season around the Vuelta and the forthcoming UCI Road World Championships in Switzerland, kept his momentum and was able to overhaul Mosquera, who had earlier launched another attack, to finish third on the stage and move up to a similar position in the general classification.

With a week left to race, Valverde seems to have the upper hand, although three Category 1 climbs on Friday’s stage to La Granja and Saturday’s time trial in Toledo may still cause some surprises.

Tomorrow’s route takes the riders the 168 kilometres from Jaen to Cordoba, with the only significant climbs being the Category 2 Alto de Sant Jeronimo, which is ridden twice towards the end of the stage.

Top 20 Stage 14

1) Damiano Cunego (Lampre-NGC)             04:04:23
2) Jacob Fuglsang (Saxo Bank)              00:02:23
3) Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)      00:03:08
4) Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia)     00:03:10
5) Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)   00:03:22
6) Robert Gesink (Rabobank)                00:03:26
7) Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)             00:03:40
8) Gonzalo Rabunal Ríos (Xacobeo-Galicia)  00:03:46
9) Ivan Basso (Liquigas)                   00:03:48
10) Juan José Cobo (Fuji-Servetto)         00:03:48
11) Kevin De Weert (Quick Step)            00:04:01
12) Christian Knees (Milram)               00:04:04
13) Bram Tankink (Rabobank)                00:04:08
14) Adrián Palomares (Contentpoli-Ampo)    00:04:10
15) Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-NGC)           00:04:13
16) Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne)   00:04:13
17) Alan Pérez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)         00:04:46
18) Philip Deignan (Cervelo TestTeam)      00:04:52
19) Beñat Intxausti (Fuji-Servetto)        00:04:58
20) Thomas Danielson (Garmin-Slipstream)   00:04:58

Top 10 General Classification after Stage 14

1) Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne)   60:30:53
2) Robert Gesink (Rabobank)                00:00:31
3) Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi)      00:01:10
4) Ivan Basso (Liquigas)                   00:01:28
5) Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo-Galicia)     00:01:34
6) Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto)             00:01:41
7) Joaquin Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne)    00:05:53
8) Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre-NGC)            00:06:24
9) Thomas Danielson (Garmin-Slipstream)    00:08:18
10) Juan José Cobo (Fuji-Servetto)         00:10:45

 

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.