Denis Menchov Climbs to Victory on Bola del Mundo
Team Katusha's Denis Menchov earlier today rode to victory in the penultimate stage of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana, which finished atop the feared Bola del Mundo, thereby proving that long breakaways can indeed pay off.
Menchov's teammate Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez was the best climber of the GC favorites in today's stage, but he was too far behind in the general classification before today's stage to be able to gain the necessary lead over Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank's Alberto Contador and Movistar's Alejandro Valverde who maintained their first and second places, respectively, overall on the eve of the grand finale in the Spanish capital of Madrid.
Twenty riders formed a large breakaway group at kilometer sixteen. The breakaway group consisted of Juan José Cobo (Movistar), Maxime Bouet and Matteo Montaguti (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Fredrik Kessiakoff and Kevin Seeldraeyers (Astana), Klas Lodewijk (BMC Racing Team), David De La Fuente (Caja Rural), Romain Sicard (Euskaltel), Leonardo Duque (Cofidis), Thomas Peterson (Garmin-Sharp), Mikhail Ignatyev and Denis Menchov (Katusha), Denis Kostyuk (Lampre-ISD), Eros Capecchi (Liquigas-Cannondale), Kevin De Weert and Gert Steegmans (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Simon Clarke (Team GreeneEdge), Tiago Machado (RadioShack-Nissan), Richie Porte (Team Sky Procycling) and Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano).
As the stage evolved Clarke consolidated his lead in the King of the Mountains competition by passing first atop the Puerto de Navafria (km 39), the Puerto de Canencia (km 72.8) – where the peloton group was ten minutes behind the breakaway group – and the Puerto de Morcuera (km 90) where it rained badly.
With 11 kilometers to go, the front group was reduced to just six riders. Bouet, De Weert, Capecchi, Menchov, Porte and Kessiakoff. At the 10 kilometer to go mark only Menchov, Porte and De Weert remained at the front. 200 meters before the finishing line on the steep climb Menchov accelerated and claimed the stage win.
"I’m very happy with this victory, it’s a relief," Menchov commented after being celebrated on the podium.
"I never ceased to work hard and be professional, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. The Tour de France didn't go as I expected it to this year. In the Vuelta, already in stage 1 I realized that I hadn’t recovered from the Tour and the Olympic Games. It wasn’t possible for me to ride at my best level, so I worked for Rodriguez until today," Menchov added.
In the General Classification fight, Rodriguez attacked with 1.9 kilometers to go. He crossed the line with a 20 second advantage over Valverde and 40 seconds over Contador. Those differences, however, did not generate any rider order change in the overall rankings. Chris Froome even maintained his fourth place despite a puncture with 1.5 kilometers to go. He completed the stage as well as he could without getting a wheel change.
Vuelta-leader Contador now looks set to take the overall victory in this year's Vuelta after tomorrow's final ride to Madrid.
"I really enjoyed this stage, so many people were out there supporting me and the other riders and I will always remember it. I still can't believe I've won the Vuelta, to tell you the truth. I think it's been a very beautiful and well-fought Vuelta and one which is a success for cycling in general."
When asked to comment on today's stage Valverde told