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Gilbert breaks Martínez’s heart to win Vuelta’s first mountain stage

Classics specialist Philippe Gilbert won a thrilling finish to stage three of the Vuelta a España in Málaga, as breakaway leader Serafín Martínez was denied a first professional win after being swallowed up with just one kilometre to go.

On a day featuring the Vuelta’s first serious climbs, a break of seven riders including Martínez escaped on the opening ascent of the second-category Puerto de Ojén and built a lead of nine minutes. As the group hit the lower slopes of the first-category Puerto del León, about 50 km from the finish, it began to splinter and Xacobeo Galicia‘s Martínez seized the opportunity to launch a successful solo attack.

Katusha, riding for Joaquim Rodriguez, responded by driving the chase at the front of the peloton, shelling several riders out of the back including, surprisingly, Andy Schleck.

Serafín Martínez (image courtesy of Guy Dedieu)

The chase group nibbled away at Martínez’s lead on the long descent into Málaga, but with two kilometres to go he still had a lead of around 25 seconds as he approached the stage’s sting in the tail, an uncategorised 1.8 km hill with a 100-metre ascent. But as he laboured up the climb after his day-long exertions his pursuers, featuring most of the main GC contenders, leapt across the gap and sped past him just as he passed under the flamme rouge. Spent and heartbroken within sight of his maiden race win, Martínez slid backwards and would eventually coast across the line in 67th, nearly two minutes down.

Liquigas‘s Vincenzo Nibali was the first of the contenders to attack, but Gilbert almost immediately counter-attacked and sped away from the pack, with only Rodriguez able to keep him within his sights. But the Belgian Omega Pharma-Lotto rider was able to comfortably hold him off on the steep final section and savour his second Grand Tour stage win (his first at the Vuelta).

Euskaltel-Euskadi‘s Igor Anton was 13 seconds down in third, with Nibali and Lampre‘s Slovenian rider Grega Bole a further two seconds back, continuing a fine 2010 which has seen him win a stage at the Critérium du Dauphiné and place second overall at the pre-Vuelta Tour of Poland.

Stage 3 winner Philippe Gilbert

Gilbert’s win should have come as little surprise, having won April’s Amstel Gold classic on a similar (though slightly steeper) final ascent of the famous Cauberg hill, and finishing third at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but it was a hugely impressive acceleration by him in the final kilometre, which left everyone else bar Rodriguez gasping in his wake.

The winning margin was enough to give Gilbert the leader’s red jersey, 14 seconds ahead of Rodriguez. All the other top contenders (except for Andy Schleck, who is riding only in support of his brother Fränk anyway) are within a minute of the leader; we are unlikely to see any significant gaps appear until Saturday’s first big mountain stage.

Gilbert was delighted to have captured both the stage and the race lead after a tough day in the saddle:

I was dropped in the last three kilometres of the Puerto del León. I lost maybe 30 seconds but I didn’t panic because I had studied the course really well.  On the downhill I took a lot of risks to come back. When I made it across to the bunch I quickly moved to the first 20 positions to avoid any crashes.

I managed to start the final climb in the first five positions. I accelerated 600 metres from the finish line. It’s a similar climb to the Cauberg in the Amstel Gold race.

I came to the Vuelta to gear up for the World Championships and with the ambition of winning a stage. The second goal is already reached. The surprise comes from the fact that I get the red jersey as well. It’s a nice surprise because it’s my first leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour. Now I’ll do my best to respect this jersey.

A disappointed Martínez at least had the consolation of taking the polka dot jersey as the leader of the mountains classification. He said:

I was creeping at the end but with five kilometres to go I thought I’d win because I heard on the radio that I had a 1:30 lead, but I looked back and madre mia! the dream fell out.

The polka dot jersey is a consolation prize and I’ll try to keep it as long as I can but the main goal of our team remains to win a stage.

Former race leader Mark Cavendish was dropped on the first climb and finished 25 minutes down, but he will live to fight another day with his priority remaining sprint stages and the points competition.

Stage four to Valdepeñas de Jaén today is an undulating affair with three medium mountains and a similarly tricky uncategorised hill to tackle in the final two kilometres. It could well be another day for the Classics specialists. What price a Gilbert double?

Stage 3 result:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 4:06:12′

2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:03

3. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +0:13

4. Vincenzo Niabli (Liquigas) +0:15

5. Grega Bole (Lampre) same time

General classification:

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 8:55:56′

2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:14

3. Kanstantsin Sivtsov (HTC-Columbia) +0:22

4. Tejay Van Garderen (HTC-Columbia) +0:26

5. Vincenzo Niabli (Liquigas) +0:28

Points classification

1. Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 25

2. Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ) 25

3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 20

4. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) 20

5. Igor Antón (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 16

Mountains classification

1. Serafín Martínez (Xacobeo Galicia) 13 pts

2. David Moncoutié (Cofidis) 6

3. Niki Terpstra (Milram) 5

4. Egoi Martínez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) 5

5. Mickael Delage (Omega Pharma-Lotto) 3

For up-to-the-minute news, results and analysis of the race, visit either the official Vuelta website or the always excellent steephill.tv.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

4 Responses to Gilbert breaks Martínez’s heart to win Vuelta’s first mountain stage

  1. Sheree says:

    I too was surprised at Gilbert’s form. I was anticipating that he’d use the Vuelta to get into shape for the World Championships.

    • Tim says:

      As he said, he had aims to do both, but I guess yesterday was a pleasant bonus en route to the Worlds. I wonder if the bug that knocked over the Sky boys was the same one Cav suffered from? I’d sack the chef … 😉

  2. ProtourBlogger says:

    Hey, sorry for the late response and thanks for your comments!
    Looking back, I too wonder why I haven’t bet on Gilbert – everyone who follows cycling knows he’s good at stages like these. His form is very good again, should be fine at the Worlds as well.
    As for Columbia and Sky, well, they should know better, but that’s the way you have to race. Cycling is the toughest sport IMO. I feel it every day 🙂

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for swinging by.

      Gilbert did look very strong, didn’t he? He would be a good shout for the Worlds, as I’m led to believe the course could well suit the Classics specialists.

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