Team RadioShack’s Andreas Klöden (GER) could not have relinquished the leader’s yellow jersey at the Tour of the Basque Country, Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco, in today’s 177 kilometer 3rd stage, under better circumstances. He raced smart, expending as little energy as possible to stay near the front. He didn’t get hurt or hurt himself time-wise on the field of serious contenders. He’s exactly 0 seconds down from the new leader, Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez (ESP), and he handed his team a gift in that they won’t have the mental responsibility of defending a leader’s jersey that really isn’t solidly on anyone’s shoulders at this point. Now tomorrow, that may well change.
Today’s stage was not considered mountainous by Basque standards having only one category 3 climb and two cat 2s. Though the climbs had an impact, the main bunch of contenders weren’t shaken and kept pedaling together for about 173 kilometers through several breaks and attacks. Then, an uncategorized climb reeked havoc. Not so much on the uphill side, though there were some jumps, but the descent to the finish into Zuia-Murgia was the defining moment.
At about 12.7 kms to the finish, after several short-lived attacks, a serious one formed comprised of Katusha’s Alexander Kolobnev (RUS), HTC-Highroad’s Tejay Van Garderen (USA), and Quickstep’s Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL). They quickly got an 8 second gap on this last climb and started to string out the peloton. Then, weird things happened. Seeldraeyers road right off the course into the grass at almost the top of the climb. It looked quite odd, but on replay he caught a wheel, and only stayed upright and unhurt by dumping down onto the not-to-steep grass ditch. But that put him out of any contention for the stage.
In no time the new breakaway consisted of Garmin-Cervélo’s Christian Vandevelde (USA), Katusha’s Kolobnev and Geox-TMC’s Fabio Duarte (COL) climbing up the last kilometer of the uncategorized bump. At this point, Astana’s irrepressible Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) bridged. With about 3.8 kms to go, Vino took off with a hair-on-fire descent that challenged some of the other rider’s manhood. He timed it perfectly. Perhaps many in the peloton didn’t see him as an immediate threat and almost sat up for a moment, giving him all the gap he needed to seal the stage. He pumped like a time-trialing machine at that point and was never caught. As many have said about him, he’s predictably unpredictable, and sometimes illogically aggressive, but when he senses a victory, he knows how to hurt himself.
The contenders, bunched behind, seemed to collectively realize that Vino was only 18 seconds back on the GC, and so they started driving hard in chase to minimize his damage. He ended up with an 8-second win over Rabobank’s Oscar Freire (ESP) who lead the bunch sprint of some 59 other riders tightly enough packed to earn the same time.
Team RadioShack’s Chris Horner (USA) came in 8th and Andreas Klöden (GER) was 19th. RSH’s Ivan Rovny (RUS) was given the same +8 seconds time, and was the 60th member of that tight pack of riders driving for the line.
Tomorrow’s stage could prove decisive. The 177-kilometer mountain stage has 7 categorized climbs, but the defining one should be the last, the Alto de Uzartza, which jumps in the rider’s faces after they’ve pedaled for about 170-kilometers (106 miles). It looks like another warm sunny day in the Pyrénées, with lots of water bottles being rammed forward in the domestique’s hands. There’s a slight downhill finish afterward, just over 2 kms long, but the rider that can break free on the climb can handily win this stage. RadioShack’s Klöden and Horner are perfectly placed, but the quality of riders surrounding them is a concern. I guess that’s why it’s called a race.
GC after Stage 3
1 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 12:30:09
2 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack
3 Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi
4 Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioShack 0:00:01
5 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:06
6 Xavier Tondo Volpini (Spa) Movistar Team
7 Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre – ISD
8 David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Movistar Team
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
10 Beñat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:09
Team RadioShack on GC
47 Ivan Rovny (Rus) 0:06:06
57 Matthew Busche (USA) 0:10:07
78 Markel Irizar Aranburu (Spa) 0:14:39
81 Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) 0:16:49
97 Levi Leipheimer (USA) 0:23:24
140 Jason McCartney (USA) 0:45:59
By George Hurst, staff writer