Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert claimed the Vuelta a Espaa’s ninth stage on Sunday, with local hope Joaquim Rodriguez retaining possession of the overall leader’s red jersey. Gilbert prevailed in a dash for the line, with Rodriguez in second and Italian Paolo Tiralongo taking third at the end of a taxing 196.3km run from Andorra, the longest stage in this year’s Vuelta. The in-form Catalan-born Rodriguez was looking good for the stage win before being joined and eventually beaten by Gilbert. But he will have been pleased with his day’s work as he extended his cushion in the overall standings over his main rivals for outright victory. He now leads Team Sky’s Chris Froome by 53sec, with former winner Alberto Contador one minute adrift. Alejandro Valverde, who picked up his third stage win in this year’s Tour on Saturday, is 1min 7sec adrift in fourth.
Rodriguez, all smiles, said: “I gain a second here and a second there like a good little ant. “I’m following this strategy because I realize I’m going to suffer in Wednesday’s time-trial. If I continue to gain a few seconds here and there, then a podium place or even victory is not out of the question.”
Stage winner Gilbert reflected: “The Montjuic climb was very tough. “And when I saw Rodriguez set off, I knew this was the moment if I wanted to win. Then, in the sprint, I knew that I was going to be quicker than him.”
Sunday’s run from Andorra to the Catalan capital was marked by an early four-man breakaway comprising Martijn Maaskat (Garmin), Bert Lindeman (Vacansoleil), Mickael Buffaz (Cofidis) and Javier Chacon (Andalucia). The quartet built up a five-minute gap at one point before being caught by the peloton 25km from the finish. The riders have a rest day on Monday before the action resumes with Tuesday’s 190km 10th stage between Ponteareas and Sanxenxo.