Rodríguez leads Vuelta after Stage 5

Overnight leader Valverde embroiled in pile-up 20 kilometers from line

Alberto Contador, Purito Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde (left to right) on the Vuelta's Stage 4.
Alberto Contador, Purito Rodríguez and Alejandro Valverde (left to right) on the Vuelta's Stage 4. DANI SANCHEZ (DIARIO AS)

Having obtained the overnight lead of the Vuelta a España on Monday, Alejandro Valverde vowed to do everything in his power to retain it until the final stage in Madrid on September 9, but misfortune dictated otherwise on Tuesday.

At the line on Stage 3's final ascent of Alto de Arrete on Monday, his compatriot Joaquim "Purito" Rodríguez seemed to relax a few meters from the line, allowing Valverde to pip him to the stage win.

"I'm very angry," said Rodríguez afterward. "I lost a stage that was practically in my hands. I knew the profile of the stage and that I had to be in the lead going into the final bend. It was a perfect finish for me, but five meters from the line I stopped pedaling and Valverde beat me by millimeters."

What a difference a day makes.

On Stage 4 of the 2012 Vuelta, a 160.6-kilometer stretch from Barakaldo ending on the steep slopes of Estación de Valdezcaray in La Rioja, Movistar's Valverde found himself caught up in a crash 20 kilometers from the summit, losing 36 seconds overall on the race favorites and the new overnight leader - none other than Katusha rider Rodríguez, who rolled in a minute and four seconds behind, among the chasing pack, to sit atop the general classification.

Valverde may regret not having taken the opportunity to attack earlier as he and Movistar teammates Nairo Quintana and Imanol Erviti became embroiled in the pile-up that also snared Saxo Bank's Nicki Sorensen.

That, though, served to aid Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, the two favorites to ascend the podium in Madrid in September.

"There were many important factors in the stage today," said Contador. "I managed to avoid the crash but the stage was made extremely difficult because of the heat, and myself and Chris Froome were not in great shape at the end. I feel good but the heat is doing a lot of damage in this Vuelta. In any case, the race has only just begun and there are plenty of stages to come."

Simon Clarke, of Orica-Greenedge, took the stage win in 4:30.26, with world time-trial champion Tony Martin harassing him to the line. The German was just two seconds off the wheel of the Australian, who claimed his first ever major stage win.

"I've had so many seconds and thirds and so I'm so happy to finally get my first win as a professional," said Clarke. "I knew Tony would be strong and we worked together on the final climb. He's a very good time trialist but I knew I could take the sprint."

Rodríguez leads Froome by one second in the general classification, with Contador five seconds behind his compatriot in third. Valverde slipped to ninth, 36 seconds off the pace, a loss that could have been worse were it not for the herculean effort of Quintana to drag the Spaniard up Valdezcaray in pursuit of the group containing Contador and Froome.

The Vuelta moves to the flat for Wednesday's Stage 5, a stretch designed for the sprinters that starts and ends in Logroño.

Rodríguez will likely hold onto his lead going into Thursday as the speed merchants vie for a stage win. The last winner of the Logroño stage of the Vuelta to claim the leadership in the same stroke was Denis Menchov, in 2005.

Degenkolb claims second stage on partial Vuelta rest day


John Degenkolb of Team Argos-Shimano claimed victory on Stage 5 of the Vuelta a España Wednesday in a mass sprint finish in the Rioja capital of Logroño. The German racer has now won two stages of this year's competition, having been first over the line on Stage 2, the inaugural flat stretch of a route featuring 10 altitude finishes.

"The success of this sprint was based on the team's preparation for the final kilometer," said Degenkolb. "This morning we had talked of whittling down the group and at the end we only had one man to beat, Bennati. I was confident that I could win, but not as easily as was the case in the end."

There was no change at the top of the general classification after a stage that the majority of teams were happy to take at a leisurely pace. Race leader Joaquim Rodríguez of Movistar, Britain's Team Sky rider Chris Froome and Saxo Bank's Alberto Contador all rolled over the line in the leading group with half an eye on Thursday's Stage 6.

"Today was a very calm day," said Rodríguez after the stage. "There was really no danger except at the end, which was a little stressful. The rest of the time we were very comfortable but tomorrow I have the day marked to try to do something."

Stage 6 is a medium mountain stage, with two category 3 climbs on the 175.4-kilometer route from Tarazona in Zaragoza province to Jaca, at the foot of the Pyrenees in Huesca.

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