Jerez de la Frontera to Alto de Peñas Blancas 167km
After seven days of racing where the gaps were measured in seconds, the eighth stage of this year's Vuelta offered gaps of minutes. The 167km (104.4mi) from Jerez de la Frontera to Alto de Peñas Blancas marked a dramatic transition from flatter roads to mountain roads. The opening 153km (95.6mi)were basically flat, while the final 14.5km (9.1mi) climbs almost 1,000 meters (3280 feet).
Cannondale Pro Cycling's Ivan Basso knew this was a day where he needed to finish at the front to remain a contender for this year's Vuelta crown. Every team and every team leader knew this as well. Those 14.5km, featuring grades as steep as 13%, were going to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff.
The opening kilometers reflected the change in stakes. In previous days, an early break rolled off largely unchallenged. Today, the Astana team of race leader Vincenzo Nibali chased down several early moves before letting fourteen men get away 21km (13mi) into the stage.
This seemed odd, as eleventh-placed Bartosz Huzarski of NetApp-Endura was in the mix. At 45 seconds down, he was a threat to Nibali's overall lead. The break rode to a 3:30 lead, when Huzarski sat up for no apparent reason.
With Huzarski back in the bunch, his NetApp team helped Astana set the pace. This was a surprise. Maybe their real goal was working for their climber Leopold Konig.
As the road got closer to the climb, the peloton picked up the pace. Whereas the gap had grown to 4:38 on the flat roads, it was down to 54 seconds. As the leaders turned onto the final climb, Cannondale had ridden hard to put Basso in a comfortable position as the road lurched skyward.
The thirteen were quickly reduced to three. BMC's Dominik Nerz, Sky's Dario Cataldo, and Vacansoleil's Rafael Valls. The three kept a steady tempo and were able to keep much of their gap until the RadioShack team, working for Chris Horner, were able to reduce the gap to 30 seconds with 8.5km (5.3mi) remaining.
With five kilometers (3.1mi) remaining, the last two holdouts sat up and surrendered to the RadioShack led chase. This is when the race for both the stage and the overall heated up.
Euskatel's Igor Anton, a great climber who had lost his overall hopes, attacked for the stage win. Behind, the group rode steadily for almost two kilometers before the group came alive. BMC's Ivan Santaromita started the festivities. Chris Horner followed the BMC rider, then attacked. And he was, in turn, absorbed by the group, wherein Basso moved to the front to grind down the opposition. He was able to get a gap, with Saxo-Tinkoff's Nicholas Roche and NetApp's Leopold Konig following.
Then, with a kilometer remaining, Basso was attacked by Konig. Konig caught and passed Anton while Basso kept on the pressure. Konig got the stage win, with Katusha's Dani Moreno jumping for second, Roche third, and Basso finishing on the same time as Roche in fifth place.
Roche's third place and time bonus were enough to vault him into the race lead and the points also gave him the King of the Mountains lead, with Horner remaining in second place. Former race leader Nibali finished sixteenth and dropped to fourth overall.
Basso's effort moved him into twelfth place, with two more mountain stages before Tuesday's rest day. His ride today not only moves him up the general classification standings, but also gives confidence for the upcoming climbs. Tomorrow, he'll need to take his good form on the steep lower slopes to the finish. The 163.7km (101mi) stage from Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén has a hilly profile, including a second category climb, but in all likelihood, the strong men of the Vuelta will all be together when they reach the finishing wall, a one kilometer hill (.625mi) with a 20% gradient, that leads to the line. Expect Cannondale Pro Cycling to protect Basso and move him to the front so he can start the wall in the first few riders.
Stage 8 Jerez de la Frontera to Alto de Peñas Blancas
1. Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 4:09:46
2. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha 0:00:01
3. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 0:00:05
4. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr same time
5. Ivan Basso (Ita) Cannondale Pro Cycling same time
Stage Results Cannondale Pro Cycling
58. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:07:51
74. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 0:12:14
139. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:18:53
140. Maciej Paterski (Pol) same time
154. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) same time
160. Daniele Ratto (Ita) same time
171. Guillaume Boivin (Can) same time
177. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) same time
1. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Saxo-Tinkoff 31:39:30
2. Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack Leopard 0:00:17
3. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha same time
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:18
5. Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp-Endura 0:00:29
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
12. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:01:28
53. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 0:15:03
85. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 0:33:09
97. Maciej Paterski (Pol) 0:38:21
106. Daniele Ratto (Ita) 0:41:45
113. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 0:46:40
136. Guillaume Boivin (Can) 0:51:03
141. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 0:54:05
166. Lucas Sebastian Haedo (Arg) 1:02:04