Climbing powerhouse Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) won the eighth stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday – his second stage win of the 2011 race.
Rodriguez rode away from the favourite’s group, just as he did on stage five, to take the win and the overall lead of the race.
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) had tried to match Rodriguez’s pace on the climb in San Lorenzo de El Escorial and clung on for second place at nine seconds. Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) placed third at the same time.
Rodriguez and Katusha team-mate Daniel Moreno now occupy the top two positions overall, with Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard-Trek) in third.
British Sky pair Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins stayed in touch with the favourites to move up to 19th and 20th overall, both at 1-43.
With three categorised climbs on the day’s route, several groups of riders fancied their chances for an escape group early on. A flurry of attacks was met with some stiff opposition for the bunch, with Movistar and Liquigas both playing an active role in reeling in escape groups containing any threat to the overall classification.
Heinrich Haussler (Garmin-Cervelo) and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r) eventually broke free from the bunch’s clutches and were later joined by Adrian Palomares (Andalucia Caja Granada) and one of Friday’s breakaway riders, Julien Fouchard (Cofidis).
Montaguti crested the category one climb of Puerto de Mijares first, before the riders headed downhill. Two second category climbs then had to be tackled before the finish – Alto de San Bartolome and Alto de Santa Maria.
Koen De Kort (Skil-Shimano) attempted to bridge up to the lead quartet, but after an extended spell in no-man’s land was caught by the peloton.
Perhaps paying for his efforts the previous day, Fouchard lost contact with his three escape companions on Alto de Santa Maria. Katusha worked hard to whittle down the break’s advantage at the front of the bunch, no doubt mindful of setting up good stage finish for Daniel Moreno and/or Joaquin Rodriguez to grab some crucial bonus seconds.
Martin Kohler (BMC Racing) and Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi) attacked the bunch with 25km to go, causing Katusha to wind up the pace again. Txurruka dropped Kohler, and attempted to bridge to the break solo but his small frame didn’t lend itself to catching the escapees on the downhill.
It was all to no avail as the break was caught with 12km to go as Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) attacked the bunch. The Estonian’s move inspired several further attacks, as Angel Madrazo (Movistar) caught and passed him.
As the bunch reached the bottom of the final, brutally steep San Lorenzo de El Escorial climb all escapees were caught setting up a showdown for the favourites.
As the road reared up to 20 per cent, stage five winner Rodriguez launched his move, distancing Michele Scarponi (Lampre) and Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Omega Pharma-Lotto) and taking Katusha’s third win of the race.
Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) could not keep with the pace on the final climb and finished over a minute adrift of Rodriguez to lose the overall lead.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky) finished in 19th place, 20 seconds behind Rodriguez and keeps his 21st place overall at 1-43.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) was one of those riders who was distanced on the final climb, losing 32 seconds to Rodriguez and slipping to fourth overall.
Irish pair Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) and Daniel Martin (Garmin-Cervelo) rode well to place seventh and ninth on the stage.
Farrar, Freire and Golas out
There were several notable non-starters and withdrawals during the stage. After yesterday’s finish-line crash, both Michal Golas (Vacansoleil) and Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervelo) withdrew from the race due to their injuries. Spaniard Oscar Freire (Rabobank) also quit the race.
It’s another tough day in the mountains on Sunday, with a mountain-top finish to give the overall contenders something to think about before Monday’s decisive individual time trial stage.
Vuelta a Espana 2011, stage eight: Talavera de la Reina to San Lorenzo de El Escorial, 177.3km
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
2. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 9 secs
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 9 secs
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 9 secs
5. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 12 secs
6. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi at 15 secs
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Denis Menchov (Rus) Geox-TMC
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Cervelo
10. Frederik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana at same time
19. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at 20 secs
20. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 20 secs
156. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 18-49
Overall classification after stage eight
1. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
2. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 32 secs
3. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard-Trek at 34 secs
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 45 secs
5. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-ISD at 51 secs
6. Frederik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana at 53 secs
7. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto at 55 secs
8. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank at 59 secs
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step at 1-00
10. Maxime Monfort (Bel) Leopard-Trek at 1-01
19. Chris Froome (GB) Sky at 1-43
20. Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky at 1-43
150. Ian Stannard (GB) Sky at 1-18-03
Heinrich Haussler leads the escape group
Chris Froome stayed in the mix in the finale
Joaquin Rodriguez takes his second 2011 Vuelta stage win
Joaquin Rodriguez moves into the overall lead
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Vuelta a Espana 2011
: Stage reports
Stage seven: Kittel wins chaotic bunch sprint
Stage six: Sagan takes Vuelta stage win in controversial circumstances
Stage five: Rodriguez takes second win for Katusha but Chavanel holds on
Stage four: Moreno wins first mountain skirmish at Sierra Nevada
Stage three: Lastras solos to stage and takes red jersey
Stage two: Sutton grabs stage win to set things right for Sky
Stage one: Leopard-Trek win opening TTT to put Fuglsang in front
Vuelta a Espana 2011: Photo galleries
By Graham Watson
Stage seven photo gallery
Stage six photo gallery
Stage five photo gallery
Stage four photo gallery
Stage three photo gallery
Stage two photo gallery
Stage one photo gallery
Vuelta a Espana 2011: TV guide
Vuelta a Espana 2011: ITV4 TV schedule
Vuelta a Espana 2011: British Eurosport TV schedule
ITV to show 2011 Vuelta