Gilbert tops Rodriguez in Malaga.

Gilbert. I like uphill finishes.

The M&M stage of the Vuelta (Marbella to Malaga) was action-packed and true to prediction.

A hilly stage profile and an uphill finish in Málaga made it clear to any shrewd prognosticators that this was a perfect scenario for Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) or Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha).

It was Gilbert who got the gap and Rodriguez who closed hard but fell short. Third place went to the orange basque telephone team’s Igor Anton. The big win put Gilbert in the retro red jersey of overall leader and he can be glad he gets a clean new one. Mark Cavendish’s red jersey probably had vomit on it.

“The target was to win the stage, so getting the overall leader’s jersey is a bonus,” said Gilbert, also the winner of this year’s Amstel Gold race. That’s not counting the bonus the pharmaceutical company will be adding to his paycheck.

As predicted the uphill finish into Malaga suited the Belgian rider perfectly. “It’s a similar climb as the Cauberg. I climbed on the big ring with a 53 and I rode fast: at 35km/h. I felt it was a long time since I last won a race. It was stage one of the Tour of Belgium in May. The surprise comes from the fact that I get the red jersey as well. It’s a nice surprise because it’s my first leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour. Now I’ll do my best to respect this jersey,” said Gilbert.

The tragic hero of the day’s escape in scorching hot weather was Serafin Martinez of the Placebo Galicia squad. Sorry, Galicia. He almost got himself a Vuelta trifecta —  stage win, leaders jersey and mountains jersey. He made it to the final red kite before being gobbled up.

Taking it very easy today was Andy of the Brothers Schleck. Last seen at the back of the peloton saving his energy for some Spanish mountain when Frank needs him. Or maybe he was just on his cell phone discussing jersey designs for his new Luxembourg squad.

Andy must be enjoying the lack of pressure after the Tour de France. No Contador, no chain problems, no cobblestones. Maybe he’s even having a glass or two of the famous Malaga desert wines.

David Moncoutie, the Vuelta-loving Frenchman did some work today gobbling up mountain points in his quest for a third King of the Mountains title. We’re big fans of Moncoutie because apparently he simply doesn’t care what kind of bike he rides, how light it is or what techno gadgets it has. Like the weekend warrior, all he wants is just to go for a ride.

Riding under “no pressure” the young Tejay Van Garderen sits in 4th place overall in the Vuelta after three stages. Nice work for the youngster that Versus analyst Robbie Ventura thinks has a monster future.

Christian Vande Velde crash watch: the popular American rider pulled off an amazing hat trick of sorts: crashing in stage three today like he did in the Giro in 2009 and 2010 — not to mention, failing to start stage three in this year’s Tour de France after his stage two crash. A truly astonishing record. Out of curiosity, who’s the tire sponsor for Garmin? Vande Velde is still unwisely ignoring Twisted Spoke’s air bag and air-donut suggestions.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email