Veloso Wins Stage 9 of Vuelta; Valverde Takes Race Lead
For the second straight day, an all-day break lit up the 2009 Vuelta. Today's move, however, was the one that stayed away. Gustavo Cesar Veloso (Xacobeo Galicia), one of two survivors of the getaway, took Stage 9, a rugged, 188.8-km ride from Alcoy to Xorret del Cati, in 5:21:04. Marco Marzano (Lampre), the other break survivor, finished second at 0:21, and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) took third at 0:40. The bonus seconds that Valverde received for his third-place finish made him the overall leader.
Warm (83 degrees Fahrenheit), humid (70 percent humidity), and windy conditions (19 kph) greeted the riders as they rolled out of Alcoy. Nonetheless, the hostilities began early. On the day's first climb, the Category 3 Puerto de Onil, Davide de la Fuente (Fuji), Julian Sanchez (Contentopolis), Marzano, Rein Taaramae (Cofidis), and Gustavo Dominguez (Xacobeo Galicia) escaped. Dominguez dropped back to the peloton, but the others forged ahead. Later, Veloso, Javier Ramirez (Andalucia Cajasur), and Stijn Devolder (Quick Step) bridged up to the break, which led the field by 4:55 at 49 km.
The break's advantage maxed out at seven minutes on the Puerto de Torre Manzana (122.3 km). With no one in the escape to challenge Cadel Evans's (Silence) race lead, Silence did no more than ride tempo at the front of the peloton. With 40 km left, the break's lead had not changed. The bunch appeared content to let a break member win the stage.
At the summit of the second ascent of the Puerto de Carrasqueta (151.5 km), the lead was down to six minutes. Liquigas was coming to the front to support Ivan Basso. Still, the pursuit was not determined.
With 20 km left, the bunch led the break by six and a half minutes. Eight km later, the lead dropped to six minutes, but it had yo-yoed between 6:00 and 6:30 for most of the previous 25 km. That state of affairs was about to change.
Caisse d'Epargne assumed command and ramped up the pace. The break's lead fell to four and a half minutes with eight km remaining and to two and a half minutes with six km left. On the lower slopes of the Category 1 Alto de Xorret del Cati, with the bunch two minutes in arrears, Taaramae attacked and dropped his companions.
Behind, the battle for the race lead began. Joaquim Rodriguez (Caisse d'Epargne) attacked, but Evans led Valverde and Basso to his wheel. Valverde took a dig, but Evans and Basso brought him back.
Near the summit, Veloso and Manzano overtook and dropped Taaramae. Veloso attacked and led Manzano over the summit. Behind, Valverde attacked and dropped Basso, who rejoined on the descent.
Veloso and Manzano crossed the finish line first and second, respectively, but the real race was behind them. On the run to the finish, Valverde, one of the best sprinters among the climbers, dashed for the third-place bonus seconds that would put him into the overall lead. He got them, and controversy followed when Evans contended that Robert Gesink (Rabobank) pushed him into the barriers. The Australian's protest was for naught.
In the overall, Valverde leads Evans by 0:07 and Gesink by 0:36. Stage 10 will be a rolling, 171.2-km ride from Alicante to Murcia. The stage is one that a sprinter can win. However, the Category 2 Alto de la Cresta del Gallo is just 11 km from the finish. A break could win, and that break could contain one or more GC contenders. What will happen? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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