David Moncoutie took stage nine of the Tour of Spain as the race started to take shape on the steep final climb of Alto Xorret del Cati.
The day got off to a sombre start as a minute’s silence was observed in memory of Team Sky’s soigneur Txema Gonzalez, who died of a bacterial infection on Friday. Team Sky riders and staff were present, lining up in front of the rest of the peloton for the minute’s silence.
Race leader Phillipe Gilbert, together with Juan Antonio Flecha – present although he abandoned yesterday – held a leader’s jersey aloft as applause broke out at the end of the minute.
Sky then headed back to the team bus as the race got underway. The peloton has agreed that the prize money from today’s stage, as well as the leader’s jersey signed by Gilbert, will go to Gonzalez’s family.
The racing started in earnest soon into the stage and Moncoutie was one of the most aggressive riders. Chasing King of the Mountains points, the Frenchman helped form the break that stayed away to the end.
Having foregone a ride in the Tour de France in order to concentrate on the Vuelta, Moncoutie was obviously the strongest on the steep final climb that kicked up just seven kilometres from the finish.
Knowing what was to come, no one in the break used the lower slopes to launch an attack. The upper slopes of the climb hit 20 per cent, and this is where the damage was done.
It was on this steep section that Moncoutie made his move, although it wasn’t particularly spectacular, it did the job. The French climber was simply able to ride the climb faster than any of his companions, and by the top of the climb had a gap that was more than big enough to see him to the finish.
Behind him the race for the general classification was hotting up. After a weak attack by Carlos Sastre, Joaquin Rodriguez launched a series of attacks that brought to the fore the contenders for this year’s Tour of Spain.
The only riders that could live with Rodriguez were Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali and Spaniards, Igor Anton and Xavier Tondo. The four formed a group at the front, and Sastre did eventually drag himself back up.
The selection saw Anton take over the leader’s red jersey, although Rodriguez is on the same time, and both him and Nibali look to be the men most likely to win this race.
Back down the climb was pre-race favourite Frank Schleck. The Saxo Bank rider lost 1-07 min to his rivals, although, after little racing since breaking his collarbone in the Tour, is likely to ride himself into form as the race goes on.
Sadly, the race will go on without the presence of Team Sky. The British squad had a difficult start to the race, losing Ben Swift, John-Lee Augustyn and Juan Antonio Flecha to a stomach bug and then being hit for six with the shock death of a highly-respected member of staff.
Sky will remain in Spain until Monday, when they head north for Gonzalez’s funeral.
Tour of Spain stage eight: Villena – Xorret de Cati, 190km
1. David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis 5-14-32
2. Serafin Martinez (Spa) Xacabeo Galicia
3. Johan Tschopp (Sui) BBox Bouygues Telecom
4. Jose Luis Arrieta (Spa) Ag2r La Mondiale
5. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) LIquigas
7. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel Euskadi
8. Assan Bazayev (Kaz) Astana
9. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervelo
10. Carlos Sastre (Spa) Cervelo
1. Igor Anton (Spa) Euskaltel Euskadi
2. Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas
4. Xavier Tondo (Spa) Cervelo
5. Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Caisse d’Epargne
6. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Caisse d’Epargne
7. Ezequiel Mosquera (Spa) Xacabeo Galicia
8. Nicholas Roche (Ire) Ag2r La Mondiale
9. Peter Velits (Cze) HTC-Columbia
10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) HTC-Columbia
Carlos Sastre and Tekay Van Garderen
Joaquin Rodriguez attacks
David Moncoutie wins
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Related links
Sky soigneur on Vuelta dies of bacterial infection
Stage seven: Petacchi wins stage seven
Stage six: Hushovd demonstrates climbing skills on way to Vuelta win
Stage five: Farrar beats Cavendish for Vuelta stage win
Stage four: Anton wins stage but Gilbert keeps red jersey
Stage four photo gallery by Graham Watson
Stage three: Gilbert attacks to win stage and take race lead
Stage two: Hutarovich beats Cavendish to Vuelta stage win
Vuelta stage one: Cavendish leads after HTC-Columbia win team time trial
The British riders to have led one of the grand tours
Vuelta a Espana 2010: Cycling Weekly’s coverage index