The survivors of the break cross the line in dribs and drabs. Behind, it's a GC stalemate as Marc Soler leads the pack home around three minutes in arrears. So, Primoz Roglic will keep his red jersey and there will be no significant changes in the top 10.
Circuito de Navarra - Bilbao
Vuelta a España - 5 September 2019
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It's Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural) who, of course, finishes second ahead of Fernando Barcelo (Euskadi-Murias). That's his second bridesmaid finish and his team's third.
Victory for Belgium's Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-QuickStep) who has time to savour it and sit up with the two chasers behind still scrapping for seconds...
We have no idea what's happening with the GC favourites because all eyes are on Gilbert, whose ridden under the flamme rouge with a gap of eight seconds over the two chasers...
Just nine seconds now! Nail-biting stuff...
Still 16 seconds for the Belgian - this descent is not one that lends itself to riding back on. But Barcelo and Aranburu could try and do something on the entry into Bilbao - but will they have enough road to do so?
This would be Gilbert's sixth win on the Vuelta - six years after his last one. Revival.
Marc Soler, in domestique mode, comes to the front of the pack to help pace Quintana and Valverde towards the summit. Meanwhile, Gilbert continues his descent. He needs to keep his cool and hold off the chasing duo, who are 19 seconds down.
Aranburu and Barcelo have joined forces in pursuit of Gilbert but the gap is 25 seconds as the Belgian goes over the top with a win in his sights.
Gilbert has now dropped Barcelo. Back with the pack, it's exploded. Higuita is suffering as the Jumbo-led pack sweep up some of the escapees. Roglic is in second wheel.
The Basque fans - with their flags - are out in their droves on this epic climb. Gilbert has Barcelo in his wheel and Aranburu a bit further behind.
This is the kind of stage that Gilbert used to win for breakfast back in his pomp. With teammate Declercq off the back, it's up to the Belgian to deliver now. He's there with Conti, Aranburu, Rojas and Barcelo.
We're on the final climb, the Cat.3 Alto de Arraiz (2.2km at 12.2%). It's crazily steep from the outset - a maxxive double-digit ramp that has both Grmay and Grossschartner reeled in. Conti is on the front but many of this break are feeling the pinch.
Bilbao is not the prettiest of places although some of the modern architecture is at the very least interesting. In any case, the two leaders are about to be pegged back.
The race passes through the centre of Bilbao ahead of the loop up and out of town on the Alto de Arraiz before the fast downhill finish back into the city. Still 15 seconds for the two leaders.
Still 20 seconds for Grossschartner and Grmay. They're on this long and gradual descent to the foot of the final climb, with the industrial skyline of Bilbao on the horizon.
Still 25 seconds for our two leaders with the peloton now at 3'45".
Our man 'The' Juan 'And Only' Antonio Flecha has ridden today's final climb and here's his report - I definitely recommend watching this one, it looks brutal, and beautiful!
It's Grossschartner who takes maximum points over the top ahead of Grmay. Conti - not Marcato - takes third just before the other escapees come over 45 seconds down. It looks like Degenkolb has rejoined the break, with Ventoso and Haussler almost back in the fold, too.
The Austrian lone leader has 40 seconds on the main break with Grmay somewhere in between. The pack is 4'15" down.
I think the news of an attack from Lastra was misinformation - the Spaniard is still firmly in the break. It's Grossschartner who still leads with Grmay in pursuit. Marcato leads the break ahead of the two QuickSteppers, Declercq and Gilbert.
The break is on the Cat.3 Alto El Vivero (4.3km at 7.7%). Grossschartner has ridden past Lastra with Marcato in pursuit. It's Declercq who leads the chase from the break.
Lastra has attacked after the descent and ahead of the next climb.
CLOSE SHAVE: Willie Smit, the penultimate rider on the back of the break on this descent, miscalculates a right-hander and has to unclip to steady the ship. He avoids hitting the barriers and lives to fight another corner.
The peloton, meanwhile, has been stretched out, nay, blown apart, by Jumbo-Visma, who have Robert Gesink tapping out tempo on the front .
Degenkolb, Haussler and Ventoso have been dropped, as have Smit, Lastra and Aranburu - although the second trio are only just off the back. It's Marcato who takes the spoils over the summit ahead of teammate Conti and then Gilbert.
Meanwhile, back with the leaders, they're onto the wooded section - and some of the beefier men like Degenkolb are struggling to keep up. It's the two UAE riders - Conti and Marcato - who are setting a fast pace.
The pack are surging along the wide main road and they will soon hit the bottleneck as they hit the foot of the climb, with the width of the road narrowing by at least two thirds.
Right, we're onto the Cat.3 Alto de Urruztimendi (2.5km at 9.2%). It's a narrow climb with some serious gradients and a very heavy, coarse surface. The gap is 5'35".
It's getting hillier now as the break hits a small climb ahead of that trio of third-category ascents that precede the fast downhill finish in Bilbao. They have 5'05" to play with. Caja Rural desperately want a win - and they have their two riders who have finished second in stages so far, Aranburu and Lastra.
Ventoso is back with the escapees - he was clearly unimpressed with the pace because he kept on shaking his head as they slowly reeled him in. The gap is 4'30" now. Jumbo-Visma are monitoring the situation on the front of the pack for their man Roglic in red.
Fran Ventoso, inexplicably, has ridden clear of the break. Not sure what his game is. The move has only just formed!
The riders in the pack are finally enjoying some rest as they sit up and allow this break to stretch out its lead to 3'45".
The 19 leaders: José Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Manuele Boaro (Astana), Heinrich Haussler (Bahrain-Merida), Felix Grosschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fran Ventoso (CCC Team), Philippe Gilbert, Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Tosh Van der Sande (Lotto Soudal), Tsgabu Grmay (Mitchelton-Scott), Willie Smit (Katusha Alpecin), Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb), John Degenkolb, Jacopo Mosca (Trek-Segafredo), Valerio Conti, Marco Marcato (UAE Team Emirates), Alex Aranburu, Jonathan Lastra (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Fernando Barcelo and Cyril Barthe (Euskadi-Murias).
It looks like the peloton has finally given this break its grace: the gap has grown to two minutes. Names coming up.
So, we have 19 riders out ahead including some interesting names - Rojas, Gilbert, Grmay, Degenkolb, Arndt, Aranburu, Haussler, Grossschartner...
Lone leader Smit has about a dozen riders hot on his heels. Make that 18. After all that, the break has formed on the descent.
Smit completes the descent and comes into the town of Dima. He has about 20 seconds.
The Katusha rider is Willie Smit, the South African with a golf handicap of 2. He's opened up a good gap and has a few others in pursuit.
Flat tyre for Fernando Gaviria of UAE. It's not going to be a day for him, in any case, given that climb at the end (x3).
The pack has reached the end of this long plateau and are now dropping down on a winding road through pine trees. There's a Katusha-Alpecin rider with a small gap over the Jumbo-led peloton. The average speed for the first 100km has been 47kmph, which is why no break has managed to go. That's a monster average.
Sam Bewley (Mitchelton-Scott) was one of the riders who bridged over and neutralised that move by the CCC rider. The rangy Aussie is now trying to force a move himself, with an Ag2R-La Mondiale rider in pursuit? Could it be Pierre Latour - many people's favourite for today?
We now have a CCC Team rider off the front with a small gap. A handful of riders are trying to bridge over - but with the peloton ever alert, that could spell the end of it.
Zdenek Stybar (Deceuninck-QuickStep) leads the peloton in a bid to force a split. It's all strung out but still no break has formed.
It's started to rain.
Good old Felix Grossschartner - he's had a pop off the front. It comes to nothing, but at least the Bora-Hansgrohe rider is trying to break up the status quo.
With over 70km ridden - and still 100km to go - we still don't have a break.
It's been a great Vuelta for the wildcard teams so far with three of them - Burgos-BH, Cofidis and Euskadi-Murias - picking up stage wins; Cofidis have also seen Nicolas Edet wear the red jersey for a day while Burgos-BH have had their stage winner, Angel Madrazo, in the polka dots since day two. The only wildcard team who haven't got on the score sheet, so to speak, are Caja Rural-Seguros RGA. They've gone close - Alex Aranburu and Jonathan Lastra have both come second once - but no cigar as yet. In fact, Caja Rural have not tasted victory on the Vuelta since the now-retired Antonio Piedra won Stage 15 in 2012 at Lagos de Covadonga of all places.
Some words from Astana's directeur sportif Dmitri Sedoun this morning...
The trio of climbs in the final third today will have the red jersey candidates on red alert. This is what Philippe Gilbert of Deceuninck-QuickStep thinks: "It should be a day for the breakaway. There will be a lot of wind today and it’s a bit of headwind and crosswind so there may be echelons. If the battle is on, some GC riders might be trapped." Well, we're still waiting for that break, Phil. Perhaps you could hurry things on a little?
There was a brief split in the peloton but it's come back together. Still no breakaway has formed.
There was actually only 165 riders who took to the start today following the withdrawal of youngster Benjamin Thomas, who had a fever from a bacterial infection. The 23-year-old was riding his second Vuelta and was in the break yesterday, finishing seventh.
The pack was all strung out by the descent but it's coming back together now we're back on flat roads. Nothing was rectified on the climb, so for any prospective breakaway contenders, it's a question of going all over again.
Sergio Henao (UAE Team Emirates) takes 3pts over the top of the climb ahead of Tosh van der Sande (Lotto Soudal) and Robert Power (Team Sunweb). That puts Henao up to 20pts in the KoM standings - that's 3rd place, 12pts behind leader Madrazo.
The peloton covered 43km in the first hour of racing today.
It's time to climb. After another failed attempt by three riders to kick clear, the peloton hits the Cat.3 Alto de Azazeta (4.9km at 3.9%).
We're approaching the first climb of the day, which may finally force a selection. It's been a real tussle so far for aspiring escapees who have been given no joy by the rampaging pack.
Quentin Jauregui (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and Rémi Cavagna (Deceuninck-Quick Step) are the latest duo to try their luck. Cavagna was in the move yesterday, but this one comes to nothing. Again.
We're now officially half way through this Vuelta!
The battle continues as multiple teams fight to get into the break. Euskadi, Ineos, CCC, Caja Rural, Katusha, Ag2R-La Mondiale have all been active, but to little effect so far.
De Gendt's dig comes to nothing. Meanwhile, Vasil Kiryienka of Team Ineos has a puncture. Practically the only thing he's done in the entire race. Would it be remiss to suggest that this could well be the Belarusian's last Grand Tour? I'm not sure if he's retiring, but he doesn't have a contract at Ineos yet next season, or elsewhere, and he's not the force of old.
And now it's time for Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) to have a pop. The Belgian, who is riding his third Grand Tour of the year, has had a subdued race so far, unable to make as big an impact as he may have hoped.
A nice snap from the start here...
Hector Saez (Euskadi-Murias) joins Bevin. But their brief foray off the front soon comes to an end.
Runner-up in the time trial to Pau a couple of days ago, the Australian Patrick Bevin (CCC Team) has zipped clear of the peloton. The CCC Team are trying to salvage something from the race following the withdrawal in the first week of their GC man Victor de la Parte, who came down in that big crash that took out Rigoberto Uran, Nico Roche, Hugh Carthy and others.
Numerous attacks in the opening moments of this stage but a move has yet to stick. A reminder that Angel Madrazo extended his lead in both the KoM standings and breakaway classification yesterday, even though he was the first rider to be dropped form the 14-man break. The Burgos-BH man now leads Geoffrey Bouchard by 11pts in the polka dot standings and has notched a total of 552km out ahead of the race - his nearest opponent being Jonathan Lastra, who was runner-up yesterday and has not ridden 380km in breaks.
It's blustery today with a crosswind coming in from the left at a speed of 20kmh. That could prove problematic on some of the early exposed roads up on this plateau.
They're off! The 166 riders of the peloton get today's breakaway-friendly stage under way...
The neutral start today was at the Navarra motor-racing circuit...
Here's what's on the menu today in today's tasty Basque offering.
Such was the advantage of the break, the peloton was 10km away and still in another country when Iturria punched the air to celebrate a famous victory - which comes after earlier wins for fellow wildcard teams Cofidis and Burgos-BH. The peloton was eventually led home by the Jumbo-Visma team of red jersey Primoz Roglic some 18’35” in arrears, the Slovenian easily retaining his 1’52” lead over Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in the general classification.
Yesterday, local Basque rider Mikel Iturria soloed to an emotional maiden professional win to defy an indecisive chase group in a nail-biting conclusion to Stage 11 after a daring attack from the breakaway 25 kilometres from the finish. Distanced by his fellow escapees on the third and final categorised climb of the 180km stage from Saint-Palais in France, 27-year-old Iturria of the Basque wildcard Euskadi-Murias team roared back into contention on the lumpy approach to Urdax-Dantxarinea.
Hola and welcome to live coverage of Stage 12 of La Vuelta - a 171.4km undulating ride through the Basque Country from Navarra to Bilbao via four Cat.3 climbs.