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02/09/12 - 11:30
La Robla - Lagos de Covadonga
Vuelta a España • Stage15

La Robla - Lagos de Covadonga

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There's no change right at the top, with Rodriguez leading Contador by 22 seconds on GC. But Valverde moves up to third, 1:41 down, after that wobble by Froome, who is now 2:16 down in fourth. Dani Moreno completes the top five, at 4:51.


Confirmation of the top five today: 1. Antonio Piedra, 2. Ruben Perez +2:02, 3. Lloyd Mondory +2:02, 3. David de la Fuente +2:02, 5. Pablo Lastras +2:07.


Froome crosses the line 42 seconds down on the Big Three alongside the likes of Gesink and Talansky.


Valverde drives to the line to finish ahead of Rodriguez and Contador all in the same time, 9:24 down on the winner Antonio Piedra.


They're onto the final ramp now...


The Big Three return to the wheel of Quintana. It looks like a stalemate as they pass the Enol lake.


Now Quintana attacks ahead of the 2km to go banner. Froome is still 37 seconds down.


Contador goes again! Rodriguez matches him again. What a fascinating duel this is proving to be. One Spaniard cannot get rid of the other. Valverde and Quintana return to their wheel on a 13% section towards the summit.


Froome is 40 seconds behind his main rivals now.


Contador tries to put in another attack but Rodriguez is having nothing of it. They call a stalemate and ease off the gas for a bit. And while they do that, Valverde zips past with Quintana! Very cheeky move there...


ATTACK BY CONTADOR: Once again, the white jersey goes for it. Rodriguez manages to return to his wheel, but Valverde has been dropped and is being paced by Quintana.


Antonio Piedra salutes the crowd, blows some kisses and then crosses the line to take the win for Caja Rural.


Piedra does up his jersey in anticipation of the win...


Piedra passes the lake that gives this Covadonga climb its name. He is inside the last kilometre and has just the last ramp to go.


ATTACK BY CONTADOR: Rodriguez responds but Valverde takes a bit of time to get there. Quintana is dropped, so it's just the big three. Froome is 30 seconds and counting off the pace, with Uran and Henao.


Anton is being dropped by the others. The tactic has worked perfectly for Valverde, who has Quintana there with him alongside Contador and Rodriguez.


Valverde, Rodriguez and Contador pass Txurruka and Hernandez, then draw level with Quintana and Anton.


It's really not looking good for Froome, who is right at the back - just as Valverde puts in a big attack! The green jersey provokes a response from the red jersey and the white jersey... but not from any of the black jerseys...


Piedra makes the most of a couple of downhill drags towards the summit of this final climb. He still has a minute over the seven-man chasing group.


Britain's Chris Froome is right on the back of the main group, clearly struggling. If there's an attack now, he'll be done for. Quintana and two Euskaltel riders - Anton and Txurruka - are still hovering out just ahead.


Antonio Piedra has exited the tree-lined section of the climb and out into the open. This would be the biggest win of his career. He has 1:07 over the chasing group, which includes his team-mate David de la Fuente. Back with the main favourites - they have reeled in the Anton group.


Hernandez is caught by the Anton group and then puts in another dig. It's exciting stuff - but then again, the main pack with all the GC favourites is really not too far behind. Katusha are controlling things there. Although they let Robert Gesink ping off in pursuit of the Anton group.


The Anton group has been joined by a Caja Rural rider, who jumped out of the main pack. The gap is pretty small though - and they still have 9km to go.


The Euskaltel riders are Igor Anton and Amets Txurruka. They are riding with Nairo Quintana of Movistar and Daniel Navarro (Saxo Bank) in pursuit of Jesus Hernandez (also Saxo).


Lone leader Antonio Piedra is onto the steep 15% section fo this climb. He still has 1:15 over chasing pack. Back with the big boys: Hernandez has ridden on, while two Euskaltel riders have joined Quintana and Navarro just ahead of the pack.


Things have settled on the front of the peloton again - although they had until another Saxo rider pings off the front. It's Hernandez, who catches team-mate Navarro. They have Quintana of Movistar covering their moves. This is quite fascinating.


Team Sky now have Uran and Henao on the front as Quintana is reeled back in. With the leaders, it's Mondory of all people leading the chase, with de la Fuente in his wheel.


Individual riders from Saxo and Movistar have ridden off the front and up the road - Navarro and Quintana. Sky have regrouped and now Uran tries to ride clear as well.


Team Sky were setting the pace on the front along the valley, but now the peloton are onto the final climb, it's all Saxo Bank. Remember, we have two entirely discrete races now: one for the stage and one for the GC. This is massive from Saxo Bank - they have blown the front apart and Team Sky are in trouble.


Seven riders are in pursuit of Piedra, meaning two have been dropped from the leading group. Yes, Reynes and Lagutin appear to have been dropped. Piedra has 40 seconds over his chasing rivals.


Back with the peloton, the pace has increased with Team Sky now riding hard on the front.


But Antonio Piedra has managed to pull further clear now. He has 22 seconds over his fellow escapees. It will be interesting to see if he's riding for himself or for his Caja Rural team-mate David de la Fuente.


The break is back together after that dig by Kashechkin, Reynes and Geschke. But Piedra is further up the road - he has managed to built up a small lead, but is being reeled back in. Lastras looks to be controlling things as the elder statesman.


The break is starting to split up, with Lagutin and Piedra initially struggling off the back. They manage to get back with the eight others though. Then we have an attack by three riders, which sparks a reaction by Lastras.


The leaders are onto the HC Lagos de Covandonga, a 13.5km climb at an average gradient of 7% but certain ramps as high as 15%.


It's all Katusha on the front of the peloton. The Russian team have had a mixed day: Denis Menchov was in the initial 19-man break while Dani Moreno took a tumble on the Cat.3 Santo Emiliano.


The gap is actually back on the ride ahead of the decisive climb. It's 13:35 for the 10 leaders, who are: Kazakhstan's Andrey Kashechkin and Belgian Kevin Seeldraeyers (both Astana), Uzbec national champion Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM), Germany's Simon Geschke (Argos Shimano), France's Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R-La Mondiale), and Spaniards Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Antonio Piedra, David de la Fuente (both Caja Rural) and Vincente Reynes (Lotto Belisol).


Lloyd Mondory of Ag2r-La Mondiale took the second intermediate sprint ahead of Caja Rural pair David de la Fuente and Antonio Piedra, but it was uncontested. The peloton is 12:50 down still. No change in the top of the green jersey standings.


Everyone in the break is taking their turn to pull on the front. It's a rapidly changing relay as they approach the second intermediate sprint.


CRASH: Thomas Dekker (Garmin-Sharp) also seems to have left the road. Nothing serious, but he needs a wheel change.


The leaders are into the valley ahead of the final climb of the day. The pressure's off vis-a-vis being caught by the peloton, but the battle for stage victory will start very soon.


CRASH: Eritrean champion Daniel Teklehaymanot (GreenEdge) runs into a ditch on the descent.


With Juan Jose Cobo, the defending champion, doing some pace setting on the front for Moviastar, the peloton crosses the summit of the Cat.1 Mirador del Fito climb 12:51 down on the leading 10 riders.


David de la Fuente has taken maximum points over both climbs today and moves to 5th in the KOM standings on 13 points. Simon Clarke still wears the blue polka dot jersey as best climber - the Australian has 34 points.


The break is spreading out a little on this descent, but comes together on another slight rise. They still have 13:45 over the pack so are going strong. Some riders are being dropped off the back of the peloton, which is still tackling that Cat.1 Mirador del Fito climb. Katusha, Sky and Rabobank are on the front.


Kashechkin still leads the break ahead of de la Fuente. The fans are out in their droves. One of these 10 riders will certainly win today's stage. And it's David de la Fuente who crosses the summit of the Cat.1 Mirador del Fito in pole position ahead of Kashechkin, Mondory, Reynes and Lastras.


The view is pretty incredible for the riders on this climb, which overlooks the Atlantic coast of north Spain. It's sunny and clear, the sky is blue and the setting really special. The break has 14:30 on this 11% section of the climb.


Still the gap keeps on growing: 14:55 now as the escapees approach the hardest section fo the climb, with Kashechkin setting the pace ahead of de la Fuente, who has his local cycling club attending today's stage in support. Total indifference in the peloton - the main GC riders happy to not have to factor in bonus seconds at the finish.


Katusha are riding on the front of the bunch, with Movistar tucked in behind. There doesn't seem to be any concern - there need not be seeing that none of the leading riders are a threat in the general classification. With the break, it's Lagutin, with his shirt undone, taking a turn on the front before being relieved by Geschke.


The leaders are onto the second and penultimate major climb of the day, the Cat.1 Alto del Mirador del Fito - 6.7km at 8.3% with ramps as steep as 12%.


The gap is now almost 15 minutes as the riders approach the first big test of the day. Sergey Lagutin needed some mechanical assistance but the Uzbec is back with the leading group of 10.


Despite being written off by many, Chris Froome is still in third place on GC, 1:41 down on the summit. He certainly looks tired after a very busy summer, but the Team Sky rider is on song for a podium finish. "I like the atmosphere of La Vuelta more than the Tour," he said. "I like the Spanish culture and the attitude of the people. Spectators have many Spanish riders to encourage and they also encourage me. That helps me to keep my motivation high even though I'm a little tired."


A reminder of the 10 leaders: Kazakhstan's Andrey Kashechkin and Belgian Kevin Seeldraeyers (both Astana), Uzbec national champion Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil-DCM), Germany's Simon Geschke (Argos Shimano), France's Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R-La Mondiale), and Spaniards Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Antonio Piedra, David de la Fuente (both Caja Rural) and Vincente Reynes (Lotto Belisol). The gap is up to 13:30.


Javier Ramirez of Andalucia needs some medical attention in the peloton. Eusktaltel's Igor Anton is predicting something special from the man who seems incapable of winning a stage so far on this year's race: "This kind of finish fits perfectly for Alberto Contador. I hope to do well again because I feel great. In the Vuelta every day is important but tomorrow will be a more important stage." Anton is currently 10th on GC, 7:16 down on Rodriguez.


Red jersey Joaquim Rodriguez won his third stage yesterday - and it could have been four had the Katusha rider not sat up in the first week and allowed Valverde to pip him at Jaca. "I will have to ride on Alberto's wheel today," he said at the start. "If I can get a bonus on the top, the better. Lagos de Covadonga is less hard than Ancares, Cuitu Neugru and Bola del Mundo, but the difficulty of the stage will depend on the speed."


The 10 escapees have 13 minutes over the peloton on this rolling intermediate section of today's stage. We still have those two big concluding climbs, including the gruelling Lagos de Covadonga ascent.


The final two riders in this break are Frenchman Lloyd Mondory and German Simon Geschke. Mondory, 30, has been at Ag2R-La Mondiale throughout his career and this year won stage two of Etoile de Besseges. This is his third Vuelta. Geschke has also been at Argos/Skil Shimano throughout his career. The 26 year old is riding his second Vuelta and this year won stage two of the Criterium International race.


The gap keeps on growing: 13 minutes now. Sergey Lagutin of Vacansoleil is the Uzbec national road race champion and a former youth road race world champion. In fact, Lagutin has won the national award for the past five years but he's still in search of a maiden major UCI win. Spaniard Vicente Reynes joined Omega Pharma-QuickStep from Colombia High Road in 2011, The 31 year old is a sprinter who once won a stage in Paris-Nice.


Euskaltel have Ruben Perez in the break. The Basque rider won the opening stage in the Tour of Bavaria in 2009 and this is the 30-year-old's fourth Vuelta. His team-mate Igor Anton said this morning that this was a stage he had marked down to win. It will be interesting to see if this group is reeled in to allow Anton the chance to fulfil his prophecy. At this rate, it won't - although there's a long way to go.


The gap is just shy of 12 minutes now for the 10 leaders. Kashechkin is not the only Astana rider in the break - he's joined by 25-year-old Kevin Seeldraeyers, who joined the Kazakh outfit from Quick Step in the close season. The Belgian topped the youth classification in both the Giro and Paris-Nice in 2009 but has yet to take a major UCI win. This is his second Vuelta.


The leaders approach the feeding zone with a hefty 10:20 advantage over the peloton. In the break today are two Caja Rural riders, the better known of the pair being David de la Fuente. The 31 year old was part of Juan Jose Cobo's winning Geox-TMC team last year and before that spent a year at Astana following a long stint at Saunier-Duval. He's riding his seventh Vuelta. Team-mate Antonio Piedra is riding his fourth after three previous rides for Andalucia. Both are in seach of a first win.


Andrey Kashechkin has won nothing since returning from a two-year ban for blood doping alongside Astana team-mate Alexandre Vinokourov. 32-year-old Kashechkin's best result on the Vuelta was in 2006 when he finished third in Madrid in the same year Vinokourov won the race. Separating the two Kazakhs on the podium was Alejandro Valverde.


At 36 years of age, Pablo Lastras is the most experienced rider in this leading group. The Spaniard has won stages on all three Grand Tours, including three in the Vuelta. His most recent win came last year in stage three of the Vuelta - before that his wins came in 2002.


In the break, both Vincente Reynes (Lotto Belisol) and David de la Fuente (Caja Rural) have mechanical problems and need to see their team cars. The Katusha team of red jersey Joaquim Rodriguez are marshalling things on the front of the pack, who trail the leading group by 9:25.


The gap is up to 9:15 for the breakaway. This is one that could well stick right to the end - although the unwritten rule says they need four minutes advantage ahead of the final climb. The temperature is currently 24 degrees.


David de la Fuente leads the break over the summit of the Cat.3 Santo Emiliano ahead of Caja Rural team-mate Antonio Piedra and Kevin Seeldraeyers of Astana. The lead is up to 8:50 for the 10-man leading group.


Cataldo needs to see the race doctor after that crash. The escapees are now more than seven minutes clear of the peloton.


CRASH: Dani Moreno (Katusha) and Dario Cataldo (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) are amongst the riders who go down in the peloton.


The leaders are onto the Cat.3 Alto de Santo Emiliano (6.2km climb at an average gradient of 5%).


The average speed for the first hour of racing today was 47.3 km/h which is pretty high compared to previous days.


At the first intermediate sprint, Lloyd Modory (Ag2r-La Mondiale) takes it ahead of Ruben Perez (Euskaltel) and Pablo Lastras (Movistar). But it's an uncontested affair, predictably. The gap is up to 3:47 for the 10 riders, who are combining well.


The gap is up to 1:30 as things begin to settle a bit after a frantic opening hour or so in the Vuelta today. The best placed rider in the break on GC is Kazakh fallen giant Andrey Kashechkin, who is 22:34 behind red jersey Joaquim Rodriguez.


Valverde is back with the main peloton after successfully rejoining following that split on the descent. The pack is 40 seconds behind the leading group of 10 riders.


The ten leaders, all from the initial break, are: Andrey Kashechkin, Kevin Seeldraeyers (both Astana), Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Antonio Piedra, David de la Fuente (both Caja Rural), Vincente Reynes (Lotto), Simon Geschke (Argos) and Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R). They have 15 seconds over the main pack. The Valverde group is one minute further behind.


The race is really breaking up. We have a group of ten riders out ahead of the first group of the split peloton, and then a second peloton - including Alejandro Valverde - riding 50 seconds behind the main group of race favourites, including red jersey Rodriguez.


A reminder that John Degenkolb (Argos-Shimano) is no longer wearing the green jersey: the German is third in the standings behind yesterday's stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde. Valverde wore the blue polka dot jersey as best climber yesterday, but was overtaken at the top of the KOM standings by Simon Clarke of GreenEdge. So the Spaniard is in green instead today. Alberto Contador continues to wear the white combined jersey, despite trailing both Rodriguez and Valverde.


Crazy scenes on the Vuelta: the peloton has split on this long descent and around 40 riders are close to joining the 19 escapees ahead of the rest of the field.


The 19 leaders are approching the summit of the Puerto de Pajares, which is the first unclassified climb on today's route. They will soon begin the long descent into the valley ahead of the Cat.3 Santo Emiliano climb. The gap is 38 seconds.


The gap is 40 seconds for the 19 leaders. Lampre and Rabobank are on the front of the peloton - they are also two teams who are not represented in the leading group.


Cofidis and BMC have missed a trick and are leading the chase. It's interesting to see team-mates of the Big Four riders on GC: Katusha (Rodriguez), Saxo Bank (Contador), Movistar (Valverde) and Sky (Froome) all have men up the road in this group in Menchov, Pires, Lastra and Porte...


The 19 leaders: Andrey Kashechkin, Kevin Seeldraeyers (both Astana), Sergey Lagutin (Vacansoleil), Tiago Machado, Markel Irizar (both RadioShack), Richie Porte (Sky), Denis Menchov (Katusha), Ruben Perez (Euskaltel), Pablo Lastras (Movistar), Kristof Vandewalle (OPQS), Antonio Piedra, David de la Fuente (both Caja Rural), Vincente Reynes (Lotto), Bruno Pires (Saxo), Simon Geschke (Argos) , Lloyd Mondory (Ag2R), Benoit Vaugrenard (FDJ), Thomas Peterson (Garmin), Daniel Teklehaymanot (GreenEdge).


Around 20 riders have forced a gap of 15 seconds ahead of the peloton on the Puerto de Pajares. Names coming right up.


Before the first categorised climb of the day at Santo Emiliano we have a steady rise, the Puerto de Pajares. It is not classified but it's fairly relentless at 30km long. It's followed by a long 40km descent - so we can expect a break to form in the first third of the stage. Already a group of six has tried to break clear - to no avail.


There are three categorised climbs today: the Cat.3 Santo Emiliano (6.2km at 5% coming after 66km), the Cat.1 Alto del Mirador del Fito (6.8km at 8.3% after 140km) and the fearsome HC climb of Lagos de Covadonga (13.5km at 7% but eith ramps of 15%).


They're off! And the teams of Cofidis and Orica-GreenEdge come right to the front at the start of this important stage.


The remaining 183 riders are currently rolling through the neutral zone ahead of the official start. It's 19 degrees Celcius at La Robla. Spaniard Benjamin Noval (Saxo Bank) picks up a puncture and needs a wheel change.


Rodriguez now leads Contador by 22 seconds on GC with third place Chris Froome (Team Sky) dropping to one minute and 41 seconds off the pace after the Briton came home 38 seconds down on Rodriguez and behind Spaniards Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Daniel Moreno (Katusha). Froome and Valverde are now both 1:41 down on Rodriguez on GC in third and fourth respectively. Moreno rises to fifth, 4:16 in arrears.


Yesterday, Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez caught and passed compatriot Alberto Contador in the closing kilometre of stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana to take a third win atop the gruelling Puerto de Ancares climb in northern Spain. Trailing Saxo Bank-Tinkoff's Contador in the closing moments of the fearsome Cat.1 climb, Katusha's Rodriguez clawed his way back to pass his main rival inside the final 500 metres of an action-packed stage.


Welcome to live coverage of stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana - a second of three successive mountain-top finishes with a 186.5km ride from La Robla to the mythical Lagos de Covadonga.