All hail the escapados, the wildcards, the underdog Rockys on their $5000 bikes.
A few stages ago, it was Vancansoleil and Borut Bozic. Today’s stage 9 hero is Gustavo Cesar of the under-card Continental team Xacobeo Galacia. The Spanish rider jumped the gun with six escapados when the flag went down and held on for the biggest win of his career.
It was a day long non chase as the Silence-Lotto team of golden jersey Cadel Evans rode at the front. They let the gap balloon, knowing there were no high placed riders up the road. With 10 kilometers to go, the break had over six minutes of lead time.
That’s when drug felon Valverde and his Caisse d’Epargne team pushed Silence Lotto aside and hit turbo. With Garmin, Liquigas and Rabobank lending a leg, they slashed the deficit to two minutes before hitting the final climb.
Short but brutal, with grades of 19%, the Alto de Xorret de Cati ripped the break apart. Estonian Rein Taaramae took off then blew in spectacular fashion, tongue out, eyes bugged, legs dead. Like a rhino hit with a tranquilizer gun.
Behind them, it was Valverde doing the smack-down. He dropped Samuel Sanchez and Tom Danielson when the road narrowed. A line of parked team cars made maneuvers tight and single file. GC hopeful Robert Gesink fell off the pace.
Valverde’s next victims were Evans and Ivan Basso but they refused to crack. They reached the summit together, the crowd in full frenzy. The short descent allowed Gesink to catch back on with the elite group of riders. A nice piece of work by Valverde but not enough to spoil the day for Gustavo Cesar. Running on fumes, he crossed the line with the big stars behind him.
Speaking of fumes, Cadel Evans was steamed. In the sprint for the 3rd place time bonus, he claimed Gesink closed the door, nearly forcing him into the barriers. Worse, those precious seconds went to Valverde who seemed to benefit from fellow countryman De La Fuente’s sudden loss of pedaling action in the last 50 meters. A present that put Valverde in the gold jersey.
But none of that controversy mattered to Gustavo. Described in the wiki bio as playing the role of “luxury domestique,” Cesar scored one for the underdogs. For this day, he was the Vuelta’s brightest star.