Tuesday/31 August 2010
Philippe Gilbert managed to maintain his red jersey after a hilly day through Granada yielded a wild finish in Valdepeñas de Jaén, but the second straight steep finish was too much for the Belgian’s legs as he faded back to fifth on the climb to the line. Instead it was Igor Anton, third the day before into Málaga, who had more in the legs at the end of a stage rip with three categorized climbs and innumerable other switches in pitch and tempo as the coastline undulated along. He outdueled Gilbert and Peter Velits along with Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquin Rodriguez, Tejay van Garderen and Ezequiel Mosquera — a quartet with real GC potential in the latter stages of the race, so watch for these names in the future.
Laurent Fignon, shown here in happier times as the winner of back-to-back Tours de France in 1983 and 1984, passed away in Paris before the Vuelta began Stage 3.
The mood at the start in Málaga, though, was solemn as the peloton and assembled media, fans and team and race personnel learned of the passing of two-time Tour de France champion Laurent Fignon. Remembered more by fans — and especially American fans — as the blond-haired, granny-spectacles-wearing Frenchman who turned a 50-second lead heading into the final-day time trial at the 1989 Tour into an eight-second deficit at the finale than one of the most dominant stage racers and all-around powerful cyclists during the 1980s, Fignon lost a long battle with cancer and passed away at age 50 in Paris.
Fignon was a rider whose candid tale of what drug use really meant back in those pelotons twenty, thirty years past and how their use of chemicals of ever-increasing potency might just have led to the ultimate breakdown of their bodies to damage no drug nor level of endurance can mend. “In those days everyone was doing it,” he explained in his recent book We Were Young and Carefree. “But it is impossible to know to what extent doping harms you. Whether those who lived through 1998, when a lot of extreme things happened, will get cancer after 10 or 20 years, I really can’t say.” It is a rough wake-up call of the fact that even the best of champions, whose natural abilities would have them far ahead of the pack regardless of the situation, feel the same need to “keep up with the Joneses” as any other athlete (or us fans, for that matter).
But at least the UCI, WADA and national federations have ever-tightening rules about those things in place. Define the line and dare people to cross it, I say… and when they do, cut them down for being stupid enough to flout the easily-identifiable rules. In that spirit, Fignon’s memory on the minds of the 194 riders remaining, the stage began amidst 90-degree weather along the Mediterranean coast. As the field passed through Benajarafe, sixteen kilometers into the stage, a quartet of a different kind sprinted off the front of the pack and established the day’s early breakaway. Comprised of Guillaume Bonnafond (AG2R), Sergio Carrasco Garcia (Andalucia-CajaSur), Dario Cataldo (QuickStep) and Dominik Roels (Milram) the group managed to carve out a maximum advantage of around seven minutes before the climbing began.
From there it became largely a matter of calculation. The peloton slowly reeled in the pack, allowing them to stay clear until the final dozen kilometers. Carlos Sastre, hoping to claim his home tour finally as a former Tour de France champion coming back to domestic soil, lost contact with the 23-man group off the front that developed. Despite getting some cooperation and forming a chase group, Sastre and company would finish a minute and a half back of the leaders. But then, we’ve seen Andy Schleck (whose stated goal right before the race began was to try to help his brother Frank win a grand tour) lose valuable minutes as well and it still doesn’t mean he’s out of contention. There is still a lot of race left, many a climb to separate out the contenders from the pretenders.
But once the final set of 23 was set it was all just a matter of jockeying, as Rodriguez hoped to take time from Gilbert and Gilbert hoped to pad his lead and Anton looked for some semblance of an opening. The final three kilometers would stand as the proving ground, another steep finale yielding pitches as steep as 24 percent in places. It was a recipe for another explosion of the group into fractious parts, but this time around the field stayed tighter in the climb than they did in Málaga. Rigoberto Uran jumped just outside the banner pronouncing the final kilometer. Anton jumped with chasers on his tail, catching and passing Uran. Rodriguez made a jump, and Anton chased that down as well. Finally the Euskaltel-Euskadi earned the first Vuelta stage victory for his team in three years, the Basque side falling on hard times in the home race recently. Anton earned his stripes this day, the 27-year-old gaining the second to bump up to a tie for second place with Rodriguez and taking over the points jersey from Gilbert with his stage win.
With the spotlight shifting to the sprinters yet again tomorrow, it was a rewarding sight to see the uphill finishes of the past two days. The variety of excitement in the racing has been as beautiful as anything offered in the Giro or Tour this season. If the rest of the Vuelta stays as exciting as the beginning has been, we might just see a spectacle unlike anything Spain has seen when it comes to cycling…
STAGE 4 RESULTS
|1||Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||5:00:29|
|2||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||0:00:01|
|3||Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia|
|4||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha|
|5||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||0:00:05|
|6||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC-Columbia||0:00:08|
|7||Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia||0:00:12|
|8||Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale|
|9||Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne|
|10||Rigoberto Uran (Col) Caisse d’Epargne||0:00:19|
|1||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||13:56:30|
|2||Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||0:00:10|
|3||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha|
|4||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||0:00:12|
|5||Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia||0:00:16|
|6||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) Team HTC-Columbia||0:00:29|
|7||Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervélo Test Team||0:00:49|
|8||Frank Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||0:00:50|
|9||Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne||0:00:54|
|10||Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia||0:00:55|
|1||Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||41||pts|
|2||Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto||37|
|3||Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||34|
|4||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Doimo||34|
|5||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) FDJ||25|
|6||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC-Columbia||20|
|7||Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2R-La Mondiale||18|
|8||Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia||17|
|9||Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin-Transitions||16|
|10||Peter Velits (Svk) Team HTC-Columbia||16|
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
|1||Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacobeo Galicia||13||pts|
|2||Dario Cataldo (Ita) Quick Step||8|
|3||David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, le crédit en ligne||6|
|4||Oscar Pujol (Spa) Cervélo Test Team||5|
|5||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram||5|
|6||Egoï Martinez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi||5|
|7||Sergio Carrasco (Spa) Andalucia-Cajasur||5|
|8||Mickael Delage (Fra) Omega Pharma-Lotto||3|
|9||Luis-Leon Sanchez (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne||3|
|10||Mikael Cherel (Fra) FDJ||2|
|3||Omega Pharma – Lotto||0:01:18|
|4||Team HTC – Columbia||0:01:48|
|5||Euskaltel – Euskadi||0:02:56|
|6||Cervelo Test Team||0:04:36|
|7||Liquigas – Doimo||0:04:50|
|8||AG2R – La Mondiale||0:07:19|
|10||Lampre – Farese Vini||0:08:32|