Belgian cyclist Philippe Gilbert won the ninth stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Sunday just in front of Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain, who extended his overall lead over Christopher Froome and Alberto Contador ahead of a decisive time trial tomorrow.
Racing up Barcelona’s Montjuic Olympic park, the two riders broke away from the peloton in the final kilometers, before the BMC Racing cyclist surged past Rodriguez just before the finish line to win the 196km stage in 4 hours, 45 minutes, 28 seconds.
Paolo Tiralongo of Italy was seven seconds slower in third, with Tomasz Marczynski of Poland leading a group of four — including Alejandro Valverde — who finished nine seconds behind Gilbert.
“It’s already been one year since I won the last time, it’s very long, so I’m very happy,” Gilbert said. “I knew with [Rodriguez] you cannot give him 50 meters in a time like this. I knew he was more riding for the race than the [stage] win and in the sprint I was faster than him, so it was no problem.”
Rodriguez was keen to add extra seconds to his advantage from a very fast stage that started in the mountains of Andorra, before rolling through the streets of the Catalan capital — his hometown — up to the finish at the site of the 1992 Olympics.
Rodriguez’s overall time was 53 seconds better than closest challenger Froome. The British cyclist dropped a further 20 seconds behind in the overall standings after finishing 46th on Sunday.
Contador looked ready to try and break away with 5km to go, but was caught and the two-time Tour de France champion finished nine seconds behind Gilbert to sit 1 minute back of Rodriguez in the overall standings. Valverde trails Rodriguez by 1:07.
Both Froome and Contador will view tomorrow’s time trial as a chance to try and bridge the gap to Rodriguez, who was savoring yesterday’s first rest day of the three-week race, before a 190km stage that sees the 67th edition of the Spanish classic head to the western regions of the country.
“I know I’m not going to enjoy [the time trial] and I’m not capable of adding a full minute to my lead in the mountains, so adding every second I can could make the difference on whether or not I finish on the podium, and, hopefully, for winning the Vuelta,” said Rodriguez, who lost the Giro d’Italia because of a weak time trial.
USA PRO CHALLENGE
Reuters, DENVER, Colorado
Christian Vande Velde of the US overcame a nine-second deficit to claim the USA Pro Challenge with a runner-up finish in the final stage individual time trial won by compatriot Taylor Phinney on Sunday.
Vande Velde, who finished second overall in the inaugural event last year, was 13 seconds behind Phinney on the 15.3km stage.
Last year’s winner Levi Leipheimer, who was leading into the final day, faded badly during the time trial and finished ninth to slip to third overall.
“I can’t believe I won,” Vande Velde said. “The team worked so hard all week. I am over the moon [because] I’ve been the bridesmaid so many times in my career. I wasn’t going to let one slip away this time.”
The 36-year-old Vande Velde’s last stage race win was the 2008 Tour of Missouri.
He had been involved in a tense battle with Teejay van Garderen for the overall lead for three of the seven days of the 1,338km race, before Leipheimer seized the lead on the final climbing day in stage six.