Noted mountain goat Leonardo Piepoli (Saunier Duval) won the ninth stage of the Vuelta at the top of Estación de esquí Cerler. Rabobank’s Denis Menchov finished 15 seconds behind Piepoli, but that was enough to vault Menchov into the Gold leader’s jersey.
A combination of the climbs, the fatigue of the sprinters, and the impetus to train for the coming world championships all transformed the 9th and 10th mountain stages into a DNF (“Did Not Finish”) Fest. Among those who had abandoned were Arkaitz Durán (Saunier Duval), Francesco Chicchi (Liquigas), Bradley McGee (Française Des Jeux) and Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Epargne), all of whom abandoned during the 9th stage. Three stage winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank), Jussi Veikkanen (Française Des Jeux), Janez Brajkovic (Discovery Channel) and Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre) abandoned early during the tenth stage.
Near the foot of the last climb Jurgen Van Goolen (Discovery Channel) attacked the lead group of 12 to 15 riders who had about a 1’30” lead on the Peloton, and Ludovic Turpin (Ag2r) quickly jumped to take his wheel. With about 10 km to go the bulk of the chasing group sat up to wait for the Peloton. José Gomez Marchante (Saunier Duval) chose that moment to attack to close the gap to the two leaders.
The leaders hit the steep part of the climb about 1 km later. Sastre and Menchov remained in what was left of the chasing group, working hard with help from Christian Vande Velde (CSC) setting tempo. Cadel Evans, Piepoli and Vladimir Efimkin were near the front of this group too.
At 7 km Tricky Beltran (Liquigas) attacked and opened a good gap. Unlike Gomez Merchant, Beltran did catch the leaders. Beltran dropped Van Goolen. Turpin soon fell back too, leaving Beltran alone at the front.
When Piepoli decided it was time to catch Beltran, some of the group could not follow him. Menchov stayed on Pieopli’s wheel and Sastre stayed on Menchov’s. There were various attacks from within the group as they caught Beltran, who stayed with the main group after they caught him.
At 1km to go the lead was cut to Piepoli, Sartre, Menchov, Beltran, Evans, Sanchez and another Euskaltel-Euskadi rider. Piepoli lead the group toward the finish. With about 200 km left Menchov sprinted out of the group to win the stage. He was followed closely by Evans, Sanchez third and Beltran fourth, all with the same time.