Cunego Wins on Aitana; Evans Takes Race Lead
Damiano Cunego (Lampre) has won Stage 8 of the 2009 Vuelta a Espana. Cunego overtook the survivors of a day-long break to win the mountainous, 204.7-km ride from Alzira to Alto de Aitana in 6:04:54. David Moncoutie (Cofidis) finished second at 0:33, and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) took third at 0:36. Cadel Evans (Silence), who finished fourth at 0:44, is the new overall leader.
The riders took on the first mountain stage of the 2009 Vuelta under cloudy skies and 77-degree Fahrenheit temperatures. After a flurry of attacks, the break of the day occurred at 37 km. Moncoutie, Sebastien Hinault (Ag2r), Pieter Weening (Rabobank), Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil), William Bonnet (Bbox Bouygues Telecom), and Paul Voss (Milram) sallied off of the front. The sextet went unchallenged, and their lead had ballooned to nearly 15 minutes at 79 km.
Not long after the escapees' lead maxed out, two things happened. First, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), who was expected to contend for overall victory but who was 51st at 3:10, abandoned. He revealed that he had felt unwell and that he had not eaten that morning. Second, Caisse d'Epargne went to the front.
The Spanish squad's pressure made inroads in the fugitives' lead. The advantage dropped from 12 minutes at the feed zone (95 km) to 11 minutes on the Category 2 Alto de Guadalest (131 km) to eight minutes at the base of the Category 2 Alto de Tudons (152.6 km). At the base of the descent of the Tudons (176 km), the bunch led the break by just under four minutes.
On the lower slopes of the Special Category Alto de Aitana, Hoogerland accelerated and dropped Bonnet and Voss. Behind, Inigo Cuesta (Cervelo) and Davide de la Fuente (Fuji) attempted to bridge up to the break. Hoogerland continued to attack until only he and Hinault were left.
Moncoutie fought his way back to Hoogerland and then attacked the Dutchman. Hoogerland followed the French veteran. Behind, Cuesta and de la Fuente reeled in the remnants of the break.
Caisse d'Epargne kept up the pressure. With 10 km left, the peloton was down to about 20 riders. Among them were Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez (both from Caisse d'Epargne), Sylvester Szymd and Ivan Basso (both from Liquigas), Cunego, Evans, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel), Tom Danielson (Garmin), Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia), and Tadej Valjavec (Ag2r).
With four km left, Moncoutie dropped Hoogerland. He led the chase group by 1:23 with two km left. For a time, he looked like a winner.
Behind, Basso attacked. His companions took his wheel, and Cunego attacked. He caught Hoogerland just shy of the one-km banner and set out after Moncoutie. The Italian caught the Frenchman and powered home for the win.
In the overall, Evans leads Valverde by 0:02 and Sanchez by 0:08. Stage 9 will be another standing shaker. The 188.8-km ride from Alcoy to Xorret del Cati will feature seven categorized ascents, with the Alto Xorret del Cati occurring just three km from the finish. Who will prevail? Valverde? Basso? Evans? Check at www.roadcycling.com and find out! Located in the US? Watch Vuelta video highlights in our videos section at www.roadcycling.com/video