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Vuelta a España: Michael Albasini Wins From the Break

Vuelta-sm_medium Sometimes it pays to join the early breakaway. Michael Albasini of HTC-Highroad celebrated stage victory in Ponferrada after the early escape survived to contest the stage victory. Eros Capecchi finished second, while Daniel Moreno took third.

With the weekend's high mountain stages looming, the field proved content to let the break ride today. The main filed crossed the line 1:32 behind the Albasini. Bradley Wiggins successfully defended his race lead and will wear the Red Jersey into the mountains.

Vincenzo Nibali moved up to second after he picked up some intermediate time bonus love. The Liquigas-Cannondale rider now lurks 4 seconds behind race leader Wiggins. Chris Froome dropped to third at 7 seconds. Nicholas Roche, meanwhile after his day out in the break, moved up to fourteenth overall. Here are the current standings.

The Vuelta a España returns to its favorite terrain this weekend with two difficult mountain stages. Saturday's stage runs 175.8 kilometers from Astorga to Lagos de Somiedo and includes three categorized climbs. The stage finishes with nearly 17 kilometers of straight-up climbing. For added fun and games, the hardest sections of the final climb come near the finish. It's always good to save the best for last. Expect a reshuffling of the general classification, though the favorites will likely be hoping to save their legs for Sunday's jaunt up the fearsome Alto de l'Angliru.

On Sunday, the Vuelta returns to the Angliru, one of the signature climbs of Spain's grand tour. It's a nasty piece of work, to be sure. The stage runs 142.2 kilometers from Avilés to the Alto de l'Angliru. It all starts out innocently enough with some flat riding and two relatively short categorized climbs, but nothing will ever make the Angliru an easy finish.

Gaze for a moment on the Angliru profile. I especially like that bit around kilometer 10: 17.5%. Now, that is some climbing.

Yes, there will be time gaps at the finish of this one, for sure. Can Wiggins hold the jersey through the high mountains? Or, will Nibali, now just 4 seconds behind, successfully defend last year's victory? This weekend should begin tell the tale.