Philippe Gilbert takes ninth stage
BARCELONA, Spain -- Belgian cyclist Philippe Gilbert won the ninth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, just in front of Joaquin Rodriguez of Spain.
Rodriguez extended his overall lead over Christopher Froome and Alberto Contador ahead of a key time trial in three days.
Racing up Barcelona's Montjuic Olympic park, the two riders broke away from the peloton in the final kilometers before the BMC Racing cyclist surged past Rodriguez just before the finish line to win the 122-mile leg in 4 hours, 45 minutes, 28 seconds.
Paolo Tiralongo of Italy was seven seconds slower in third, with Tomasz Marczynski of Poland leading a group of four riders -- including Alejandro Valverde -- that finished nine seconds behind Gilbert.
"It's already been one year since I won the last time, it's very long so I'm very happy," Gilbert said. "I knew with (Rodriguez) you cannot give him 50 meters in a time like this. I knew he was more riding for the race than the (stage) win and in the sprint I was faster than him, so it was no problem."
Rodriguez was hoping to add extra seconds to his advantage from a fast stage that started in the mountains of Andorra before rolling through the streets of the Catalan capital -- his hometown -- up to the finish at the site of the 1992 Olympics.
Rodriguez's overall time is 34:44:55, some 53 seconds better than Froome. The British cyclist dropped another 20 seconds behind in the overall standings after finishing 46th on Sunday.
Contador looked ready to try and break away with 5 kilometers to go but was caught, and the two-time Tour de France champion finished nine seconds behind Gilbert to sit 1 minute back of Rodriguez in the overall standings. Valverde trails Rodriguez by 1:07.
Both Froome and Contador will view Wednesday's time trial as a chance to try and bridge the gap to Rodriguez, who will savor Monday's first rest day of the three-week race before a 118-mile leg that sees the 67th edition of the Spanish classic head to the western regions of the country.
"I know I'm not going to enjoy (the time trial) and I'm not capable of adding a full minute to my lead in the mountains, so adding every second I can could make the difference on whether or not I finish on the podium. And, hopefully, for winning the Vuelta," said Rodriguez, who lost the Giro d'Italia because of a weak time trial.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press