Joaquin Rodriguez showed some serious climbing ability to distance Alberto Contador by some 30 seconds. However, the will be no change in the overall classification and Contador will win the 2012 Vuelta a Espana in Madrid tomorrow.
La Faisanera Golf - Bola del Mundo
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Menchov sprints for the last 150m and takes the win by 20 seconds over an exhausted Richie Porte.
Menchov and Porte are still together and still not at the finish. This is a torturous climb.
Rodriguez seems to be flying on as Contador now ups his pace.
Contador is just calculating his efforts and is slowly wheeling back up to Rodriguez as they pass Igor Anton.
Rodriguez has gone again and it seems Contador can't stay with him.
As they go under the kite, Porte and Menchov are grinding the pedals over. As Rodriguez attacks and contador goes in his wheel. Valverde is coming back to them slowly as they have 2km to go.
Rodriguez is pushing on the pace and now the red jersey group is down to Rodriguez, Moreno, Contador and Valverde.
Porte tries to attack but such is the gradient that he can't get any speed up.
Valverde, Rodriguez and Contador continue to mark eeach other down the climb as Porte leads Menchov up the final sections.
Apologies, got ahead of ourselves, the leaders still have 2km to go.
Into the final km, and the leaders group has hit the small single track road as Saxo Tinkoff fly up the early sections.
Porte seems to be pulling Menchov up the climb, and down the road, Anton has shed his small group and is looking to improve his GC placing.
Saxo Tinkoff now taking control in the front of the red jersey group.
Porte looks to be fresher, but it's hard to tell who has more steam.
Menchov puts a small dig into Porte, but Porte holds on to his wheel.
Rabobank pushing on at the front and Anton has formed a smal group of his own a bit ahead up the road.
There are thousands of people up here are we're still some way from the top. de Weert is in trouble as Porte drives on with Menchov in his wheel.
The three leaders still have 5 minutes of an advantage and are on the single track road.
Our three leaders are onto the point where we are at 8.5% just before we hit double figures and surely De Weert will drop off shortly. It's all action back in the bunch as Valverde attacks, and Contador is sitting on his wheel immediately.
Igor Anton not has a go himself to try see what he can do for his GC placing.
And the peloton, or at least the group with the race leader, is all back together.
Intxausti (Movistar) drives off the front of the peloton, but is followed quickly by Igor Anton (Euskaltel).
De Weert continues to sit in behind Porte and Menchov and now all three are pulling faces. It's hotter out there than it was earlier today, but they are pushing on slightly as their gap has increased to 5'14".
A few riders have decided to try and go for glory off the front of the peloton. They might be let away, but if they are they will more than likely be drawn back in again further up this climb.
This talented trio are working well together so far and this may be because they are all trying to save something for the finish when it will be each man for himself. Movistar have the peloton lined out back down the climb. Contador dances up half way down the line as Nicolas Roche looks in pain already.
Denis Menchov is a past double winner of the Vuelta and looks very comfortable as the climb gets a bit more difficult. Much more so than De Weert and Porte. With over 5 minutes advantage they are in good shape.
Capecchi has come back to the lead trio, but Menchov is trying to up the pace to tail him off again.
As they sort themselves out, Porte (Sky), Menchov (Katusha) and De Weert (OPQS) leave the other three behind.
Kessiakoff, Porte and Menchov have now joined the leading trio and now as they go under the 10km flag they have a strong group.
Capecchi has made a break and is joined by Bouet (AG2R) and de Weert (OPQS). Although as soon as they look to be getting an advantage the three sit up and look disinterested again. maybe just testing the waters.
The leading 17 men are now techincally on the Bola del Mundo. It doesn't look like the road is that steep just yet, but this climb does rise gradually to the leg-breaking 23% gradient at the end. Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) wants to keep the pace high on the front of the leading group.
Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) is making his presence felt up near the front, and in fact, he is probably the only rider not part of the leaders teams towards the front. Still five minutes of a gap between the leaders and the bunch.
Klass Lodewyck (BMC) is the latest rider to be swallowed up by the peloton.
Now Saxo Tinkoff begin to mass, but no work from them just yet.
Movistar make their presence felt in order to keep the pace high and limit any opportunistic attacks at this early stage. We're less than 3km from the bottom of the climb now.
The peloton is stretched out in twos and threes now as we hit four hours in the saddle. The gap is still 5'45" between our 18 men up front and the chasing group, which contains all of the big names.
Looks like our escapees are going to get on to the Bola del Mundo before they are caught and our winner may come from this list - Stybar (OPQS), Lodewyck (BMC), Bouet (AG2R), Geschke (Argos Shimano), Porte (Sky), Cobo (Movistar), Montaguti (AG2R), Duque (Cofidis), David de la fuente (Caja Rural), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Kessiakoff (Astana), Machado (Radioshack Nissan), Seeldrayers (Astana), Clarke (GreenEdge), Peterson (Garmin Sharp)
Steegmans and Igantiev have been collected by the peloton which looks to be flying, but there is still a gap of over five minutes. This is probably the fastest part of today's stage as they approach the foot of the Bola del Mundo.
The Bola del Mundo is over 11km in distance and starts rolling up with gradients of 7 and 8% before kicking up to between 12% and 16%. Then for the final 3km it will resemble the Cuitu Negru as the race rises up to the tv antennae that mark the top of the climb.
The Euskaltel Euskadi team are now descending at close to 100km/h to try and pull back the leaders. The leaders won't be hanging around through and still have over six minutes.
With just 30km left to race we are now fast approaching the serious stuff. The Bola del Mundo consists of two parts and will see the riders first climb the long Navacerrada climb, which has good roads and is in that sense, a normal climb. The last three kilometres, however, are where the fireworks will blow. This final section is a single track, concrete path that has ramps of 23%. Team cars won't be allowed up and team directors will jump out of the cars and on to motorbikes at this point.
The riders have gone across the mountain pass and through the sprint point. They will practically descend straight through the second sprint point too in a few kilometres. Maxime Bouet took the points from the first sprint. Seeldrayers has been picked back up by the leading bunch, but Steegmans and Ignatiev are gone off the back.
The full result over the top of the Puerto de Cotos was David de la Fuente, followed by Matteo Montaguti, Kevin Seeldrayers, Richie Porte and Juan Jose Cobo.
Kevin Seeldrayers (Astana) goes on the attack from the breakaway group.
The break are over the penultimate climb of the day and still have an advantage of 6'50". This time it's de la Fuente (Caja Rural) who takes full points over the top of the mountain. Simon Clarke is taking it easy after securing the mountain jersey.
Nicolas Roche, who attempted to steal a stage win yesterday, is well prepared for the Bola del Mundo having rode it during the Vuelta in 2010. However, he said he won't be making any excuses. "Some guys like to give themselves an excuse but I think every starter today will have a sore arse, bad back or won't have slept well. It's part of a Grand Tour."
Assan Bazayev (Astana) is the latest to abandon from the Vuelta. Meanwhile in the breakway Klaas Lodewyck (BMC), Mikhail Igantev (Katusha) and Gert Steegmans are in difficulty and are struggling to hang on to the back of the bunch on this climb.
For the third hour of racing the speed is down to 37.9km/h. And as we say that, the peloton finally seem to be making some inroads into the lead of the 20 man group out front. Their lead has been cut to under seven minutes.
The two sprint points today come after the climb of the Peurto de Cotos and as the stage isn't really flat at any stage, they will likely go uncontested. Simon Clarke is the highest placed rider in the points classification in the break today at 16th. He might decide to try and pick up a few more points and boost his results, but there is no fear that he will challenge Joaquin Rodriguez for the lead of this jersey.
The escapees are on the foot of the Puerto de Cotos, which is the penultimate climb of the day. Their advantage remains over seven minutes.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quikc Step) has abandoned the Veulta today. He will be among the favourites for the upcoming World Time Trial championships and will be more concerned about that than finishing this race.
The next point of interest for our racers is the feed station in the valley between the Morcuera and the next climb, the Puerto de Cotos. The Puerto de Cotos is 13.8km long and has an average gradient of 4.9%. Those figures don't seem too exhausting, but when you put them all in the one stage, they will drain riders. The gap between the leaders and the peloton is now 7'30".
The riders are now enjoying a descent down off the latest climb. The roads are wet, which is unusual in this Vuelta as until yesterday we hadn't seen a drop of rain in the best part of three weeks on the roads of Spain.
The peloton led by Euskaltel have decided to take over at the front of the peloton and are driving hard over the top of the Morcuera.
He is followed over by de la Fuente, Porte, Seeldrayers and Bouet.
At the top of the third climb of the day, the Peurto de la Morcuera, Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge) has left the bunch to wheel over the top first and cement his control on the climber's jersey.
Speaking to reporters yesterday Alberto Contador says he will be well prepared for the Bola del Mundo as it is an old training ground of his. He has plenty of time in the bag, and if his form continues he should be able to control things, however, with the agressive racing we have seen so far in this Vuelta, we won't take anything for granted.
The speed for the second hour of racing clocked in at 40.2km/h as the leaders head for the climb of the Peurto de la Morcuera. The third climb of the day, down the other side is a long descent that will give the peloton time to draw a breath before the next serious effort.
The lead group now have 10 minutes. They are Steegmans (OPQS), Stybar (OPQS), Lodewyck (BMC), Bouet (AG2R), Geschke (Argos Shimano), Porte (Sky), Cobo (Movistar), Montaguti (AG2R), Duque (Cofidis), David de la fuente (Caja Rural), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Kessiakoff (Astana), Machado (Radioshack Nissan), Seeldrayers (Astana), Clarke (GreenEdge), Peterson (Garmin Sharp), Sicard (Euskaltel) Kostyuk (Lampre) Capecchi (Liquigas) and Navarro (Saxo Tinkoff).
All the talk today will be of the Bola del Mundo, which Alberto Contador has said is tougher in parts than the Cuitu Negru, which is hard to imagine. The Cuitu Negru saw Contador repeatedly try to shake off both Joaquin Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde to no avail. Today on the Bola del Mundo it will be roles reversed as there will be no pressure on the race leader to instigate the attacks.
Over the top of the second climb of the day, the leaders have 9'15" of an advantage. Simon Clarke continues to amass points as he was first over the line at the top and was followed by Leonard Duque and David de la Fuente.
Thomas Peterson (Garmin Sharp) has taken the lead on the climb of the Canencia. They're still pushing on and have now a gap of 8'02".
This bunch are really determined and have pulled out another couple of minutes, now leading by 7'08". Part of this bunch may well begin to split over the course of the next three climbs.
The leaders will shortly be beginning the climb of the Peurto de Canencia and this will be followed in quick succession by the ascent of the Puerto de la Morcuera. The latter is a 9.2km Category 1 climb with an average gradient of 6.9%.
The 20-man escape group now have 5'36" on the bunch and are working well together.
We have heard or seen little of Juan Jose Cobo during this edition of the Vuelta. The 2011 winner of the race, the Spaniard hasn't been in the same form in 2012. Today he is in the break and though it may be too early to tell, it is likely he is there to provide assistance to Alejandro Valverde in the later stages rather than go for victory himself.
The gap is really jumping around today and now the lead riders have 4'45" on the bunch.
The next challenge for the peloton is the Category 2 ascent of the Puerto de Canencia. It's another long drag of 9.8km with an average gradient of 3.9%. The speed for the first hour of racing today was 39km/h. Not as fast a previous days, but for a stage as challenging as today it's enough to wear out some very tired riders.
The gap now sits at 3'35" as the riders enter the province of Madrid.
On the descent the leaders have been chased down slightly and a now just under four minutes clear of the chasing bunch. The temperature on top of the climb was 14 degrees, cold by the standards of the Vuelta. There are also some wet spots on the road and the escapees will need to take care on the way down.
As we said, over the top of the climb of the Peurto de Navafria, Clarke took full points, followed by David de la Fuente, Leonardo Duque, Eros Capecchi and Maxime Bouet. A strong climber, Clarke will not give up on that jersey easily.
Nearing the top of the first climb of the day, our leaders have an advantage of 5 minutes.
Going over the top of this climb, Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge) will be keen to claim the maximum points in order to hold on to his blue and white polka dot jersey. He holds the lead in this competition by a slender two point margin from Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha). This may well explain why Katusha have put a man in the break today in an attempt to mop up some of the early and give Rodriguez a better chance to overhaul Clarke later in the day.
The advantage for the lead pack is now extended to 5'18" while back in the peloton, Pablo Lastras (Movistar) has picked up a puncture.
The leaders have built up their lead to 4'22" and are now approaching the lower slopes of the first climb of the day. The Puetro de Navafria is a 10.1 km climb with an average gradient of 5.6% but exceeds 8% in spots. Toribio has given up trying to chase the breakaways and has been swallowed back up by the bunch.
Thomas Peterson (Garmin Sharp), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel Euskadi), Denys Kostyuk (Lampre ISD), Eros Capecchi (Liquigas) and finally Daniel Navarro (Saxo Tinkoff).
The lead group now have 2'15" over the peloton as Toribio continues in chase. The full group consitst of Steegmans (OPQS), Zdenek Stybar (OPQS), Klass Lodewyck (BMC), Maxime Bouet (AG2R), Simon Geschke (Argos Shimano), Richie Porte (Sky), Cobo (Movistar), Matteo Montaguti (AG2R), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), David de la fuente (Caja Rural), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana), Tiago Machado (Radioshack Nissan), Kevin Seeldrayers (Astana), Clarke (GreenEdge)...
Jose Toribio (Andalucia) has jumped away from the peloton to try and tack on to our leaders who are now 1'10" ahead of the bunch.
A big group of riders are trying to make something happen and have now got a gap of 35 seconds. The group includes Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma Quickstep), Kevin de Weert (Omega Pharma Quickstep), Juan Jose Cobo (Movistar) and Simon Clarke (Orica GreenEdge).
So far, Leonardo Duque (Cofidis) and Daniel Teklehaymanot (Orica GreenEdge) have tried to make a break and failed, and just now a bunch of 25 riders attempted to distance themselves from the bunch, but they were quickly reeled in.
As in previous days, the bunch are moving at very high speed and any attempted breaks are struggling to get away. A breakaway could do well today, but they will have to work hard to stay away. Of the five categories climbs, three are Category 1, one is a Category 2 and the final climb at Bola de Mundo is a HC climb. The climbs in the order they will reach them are; Navafria (1), Canencia (2), Morcuera (1), Cotos (1) and the Bolo del Mundo (HC).
There are 177 riders left in the Vuelta at the start of Stage 20. Andalucia's Jesus Rosendo pulled out after Stage 19. A very unfortunate time to have to pull out, but there is not question of struggling through a stage like the one the peloton will face today.
It's 27 degrees as the riders leave La Faisanera Golf, a lot cooler than some of the early days in this race and the riders will be thankful for small mercies.
Stage 20 is officially underway and the battle for the top step of the podium will begin almost immediately. The riders will roll slightly downhill for the first few kilometres but will hit the lumpy stuff after less that 5km. The first climb of the day will be the Puerto de Navafria - a 10km Category 1 ascent which will filter out the men from the boys.
The Vuelta last visited the Bola del Mundo in 2010 when Ezequiele Mosquera took the win, while Vincenzo Nibali took over the race lead. Alberto Contador (Saxo Tinkoff) starts the day in the red jersey, 1'35" ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and 2'21" ahead of long time leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). As this is the last chance for a change in the GC, his rivals will be forced to pull out all the stops today to try and displace El Pistolero.
The riders are now leaving Segovia and making their way through the neutralised section of Stage 20. Today will see the peloton tackle five categorised climbs in the 170km trip from Segovia to the mountain top finish at Bola del Mundo.
Good morning and welcome to our LIVE coverage of the penultimate stage of this edition of the Vuelta a Espana.