By Kenny Pryde
On a stage that took riders from the flat roads of Lleida into the mountains of the tax dodgers favourite state, Alejandro Valverde triumphed as yet again the four riders who had arrived at the Vuelta as pre-race favourites justified their status.
The six rider break which formed after 75 kilometers of hectic racing - Javier Ramirez (Andalucia), Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural), Amael Moinard (BMC), Cameron Meyer (Orica Green Edge), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) and Martijn Keizer (Vacansoleil) - had over four minutes lead with 30 kilometers to go on on the 174km stage, but nobody was much bothered - apart from the riders in the break, obviously.
Yet again the smaller Spanish teams were in there, justifying their invitations - Andalucia and Caja Rural have had a rider in every long break of the race - and today was no exception.
Again it was Sky who took up cudgels to really toughen the race up in the run up to the final climbs of the day. Inside 30 kilometers to go British National road race champion Ian Stannard had the peloton lined out. The stage win - or catching the break - wasn't really the focus, instead Team Sky was putting the fear of god into team leader Chris Froome's rivals.
With 10km to go the break, down to four riders, had 2-14 and the Sky team numbers were dropping off the front, but the peloton was reduced to around 60 riders and thinning out very fast. The strong tailwind that was blowing up the valley helped keep the pace high - the stage average speed was 42.4kph! - and gave the break hope.
Almost inevitably however, the break came apart, with Meyer deciding to go solo with four kilometers to go, just as the climb to the line got really steep. Behind, the Sky train had been reduced to Rigoberto Uran and fellow Colombian Sergio Henao and less than a kilometer later, Froome only had Henao for company.
In front, multiple track world champion Meyer looked smooth and determined and, for a couple of minutes it looked like he would stay clear, but, with two kilometers to go he was caught by Froome and Contador who had a small gap to Rodriguez, Valverde and Dani Moreno of Katusha, the latter doing a power of work to get his team leader back to the front.
As race leader Rodriguez had predicted the day before, the finale would be steep and it was Froome who led and Froome who attacked as the others sat on his wheel - until Valverde, then Contador finally put in what looked like the definitive effort with less than a kilometre to the finish.
Contador furiously spun a small gear while behind, Rodriguez and Valverde decided to jump Froome inside 500 meters to go, overhauling Contador on the line, ‘robbing' him of a stage win and - more importantly - the 12 second time bonus on the line. "It was really fast all day," said Valverde after the finish.
"From about 30 or 40 kilometers out, Sky rode an incredible pace at the front and there were a lot of guys going out the back as soon as we hit the final climb. I saw (Robert) Gesink in trouble and decided to push on although I didn't think it was the sort of climb where it would be possible to create big time gaps."
When Froome attacked with a little more than two kilometers to go, only Contador was able to go with him as they gapped Valverde and Rodriguez. "I asked Rodriguez to chase, but he said to me that it was so steep there was no way that they could keep it up and he was right, they came back to us." At which point, all Valverde had to do was wait for the right moment to time his final devastating counter attack.
Vuelta a Espana 2012, stage eight, Lleida - Andorra
1. Alejandro Valverde (Sp) Movistar 174km in 4-06-39
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Sp) Katusha
3. Alberto Contador (Sp) Saxo Bank Tinkoff-Bank all same time
4. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 15 secs
5. Dani Moreno (Sp) Katusha at 23secs
6. Benat Intxausti (Sp) Movistar at 33secs
7. Igor Anton (Sp) Euskaltel Euskadi at same time
8. Winner Anacona (Col) Lampre at 39secs
9. Robert Gesink (Hol) Rabobank at same time
10. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-ISD at 42secs
11. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin Sharp at 44 secs
12. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R at 1-02
20. Cameron Meyer (Aus) Orica GreenEdge at 1-37
General classification after stage eight
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha 25-53-04
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 33secs
3. Alberto Contador (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank at 40secs
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team at 50 secs
5. Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank at 1-41
6. Daniel Moreno (Spa) Katusha at 1-48
7. Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale at 2-14
8. Igor Anton (Sp) Euskaltel Euskadi at 2-47
9. Laurens Ten Dam (Neth) Rabobank at 2-58
10. Bauke Mollema (Neth) Rabobank at 3-07
Valverde wins again
Chris Froome tried his luck on the final climb but ended up losing time
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Startlist
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Latest news
Porte puts Olympics snub to the side ahead of Vuelta debut
ITV to show Vuelta highlights
Froome to lead Sky at Vuelta
Degenkolb just can't stop winning
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Reports
Stage one report: Movistar win team time trial
Stage two report: Degenkolb wins, Swift third
Stage three report: Valverde victorious after Contador attacksStage four report: Rodriguez takes over lead after Valverde crashesStage five report:Degenkolb wins again
Stage six report: Froome gains time on ContadorStage seven report: Degenkolb makes it three at Vuelta
Stage eight report: Valverde doubles his score in AndorraStage nine report: Gilbert pips Rodriguez in Barcelona
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Photos
Stage two gallery
Stage three gallery Stage four galleryStage five gallery
Stage six gallery
Stage seven gallery
Stage eight gallery
Stage nine gallery
Vuelta a Espana 2012: Route info and analysis
Vuelta a Espana 2012 route revealed
Vuelta 2012 route leaves time triallists out in the cold
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