Vuelta a Espaņa - Taaramae reigns in Spain

Sat, 03 Sep 16:40:00 2011

Estonia's Rein Taaramae soloed to a strong win in the mountainous stage 14 of the Vuelta as red jersey Bradley Wiggins cemented his race lead.

Cofidis Rein Taaramae La Vuelta - 0

The 24-year-old Cofidis all-rounder secured the first Grand Tour victory of his career after breaking clear from a 15-man escape group on the second of three climbs in the 176-km stage from Astorga to La Farrapona - Lagos de Somiedo.

Team Sky pair Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome crossed the line 45 seconds down on the lone winner to take valuable time on most of their main rivals - including defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas).

The Italian cracked on the final climb and finished alongside double stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), two minutes and six seconds behind Taaramae.

Wiggins stays seven seconds clear of fellow Briton Froome in the GC, but Nibali, who trailed Wiggins by just four seconds before the stage, drops to seventh place, 1:25 down.

Other losers on the second of three consecutive mountain stages ahead of Monday's rest day included Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) and Swede Fredrik Kessiakoff (Astana).

Fuglsang, the first red jersey of the race, finished the stage 1:24 down on Taaramae and sinks to fifth in the GC, 58 seconds down, while Kessiakoff drops two places in the GC after coming home almost two minutes in arrears.

Spain's Juan Jose Cobo (Geox) attacked the red jersey group on the final climb to take second place, 25 seconds behind Taaramae, and ride to fourth in the GC, 55 seconds down, while young Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) finished alongside the Sky pair and is now their closest rival in the standings, 36 seconds back.

Hlts Vuelta stage 24

Taaramae, the current Estonian time trial champion but without a professional win since 2009, was part of a 17-man break that formed just 3km into the stage. Over the largely flat opening 100km, the leaders had built up an advantage of eight minutes over the pack.

The gap dropped to six minutes over the summit of the Cat.2 Puerto de la Ventana climb before the escape lost two riders to a nasty fall on the fast descent. Garmin-Cervelo's Sep Vanmarcke and BMC's Karsten Kroon both crashed over a barrier and plummeted through trees down a steep slope beside a tight bend.

Both riders were aided back up to the road by spectators but Dutchman Kroon withdrew from the race. Kroon was one of two riders to abandon the race on Saturday after Italy's Michele Scarponi (Lampre) chose not to sign-on.

With the break's gap whittled down to just three minutes, Taaramae launched an attack on the Cat.1 San Lorenzo pass and was soon joined by Spaniard David de la Fuente (Geox).

Meanwhile, back in the peloton Spaniard Daniel Moreno (Katusha) broke clear to form a small chasing group of riders that also included Movistar pair Benat Intxausti and Marzo Bruseghin.

The Moreno group pulled out a lead of around a minute on the main pack, but they were caught inside the final 6km of the steady final climb of La Farrapona, which was making its first appearance in the Vuelta.

Spotting his chance, Cobo jumped off the front and soon joined team-mate De la Fuente after the latter had been dropped by the strong Taaramae.

Despite a late rally, Cobo was unable to catch the Estonian, who kissed his shirt as he crossed the finish line to take the biggest win of his career.

It was a remarkable turn-around for a rider who had been suffering from fever in the opening week of the race and lost 20 minutes in the first mountain stage.

But further down the road from Taaramae, the real drama was happening. Aware that Cobo was a threat in the GC, Sky pair Wiggins and Froome upped the pace on one of the steepest 11-percent sections of the decisive climb.

Just as they had done so explosively en route to La Covatilla in stage nine, the British duo set a blistering pace to drop their rivals one by one.

Green jersey Rodriguez is now more than four minutes down in the GC, while Nibali, who had been creeping closer and closer to the summit since last Monday's ITT at Salamanca, now has it all to do on Sunday's 144km stage 15, which culminates with legendary climb of the Angliru.

One minute and 25 seconds is not the biggest margin to make up - especially on a climb as tough as the Angliru - but given the way both Wiggins and Froome are riding, Nibali will be feeling the heat ahead of the race's second rest day.

Felix Lowe / Eurosport

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