La Vuelta 15: THRILLER

That's why La Vuelta is my favourite stage race: no time to breath. Today again a nasty finish. The climb to Lagos de Covadonga is 12.2km long and has an average gradient of 7.2%, with the steepest part at 17.5%.
And that's a short stage so it's all for all, an open fight for the win and for the overall. 
That's why the peloton is nervous and there is a crash already after 25 km. Roux is forced to abandon and now FDJ.fr has just 4 riders. Also Pelucchi retired and at the end of the day injuries and sore bones will be many.
There is a five riders break-awayJohn Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano), John Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing) and Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural). Degenkolb is there for the intermediate sprint points and takes them ahead of Niemiec and Aramendia. No real chase by the peloton so the gap is up to 9'.
It starts raining. The mountains are misty and the road slipperyPuerto del Torno: a 7.2 km climb at 8.2% . Now Movistar is setting the pace in front of the peloton. Crash or mechanical, Dan Martin had to stop and to change his bike: dropped, he'll spend the day chasing.
Meanwhile Aramendia, Degenkolb, Meyer, Niemiec and Vandewalle have reached the top of the Puerto del Torno. The peloton is at 6 minutes.
Narrow roads, a rough descent, riders slow down. In front, Degenkolb has been distanced. Behind Sammy Sanchez is leading on the descent and even taking some risks  to get a gap. Yep, it's dangerous: a Movistar rider crashed in the forest, his bike left on the raod...
10 km to go, the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga is about to start. In front Cameron Meyer goes solo, the gap is down to 3’42”. Niemiec follows and joins. Behind Warren Barguil attacks with Caruso and Anacona. The main peloton is already reduced to a very selected group,  Chris Froome at the back, setting his own tempo. 
Now Barguil is solo, aiming to improve his GC position and maybe dreaming of the stage victory... but BOOM! Alberto Contador has gone and there is nothing for anybody.
It's Contador, Valverde and RodriguezAru joins. Froome is ostinately fighting his way back. Froome IS back. 
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Barguil attacks again. Contador responds again and Froome is dropped again. It's again Contador, Valverde and Rodriguez. They are flying and reach Vandewalle, dropped from the break. He takes their wheels. Amazing effort. Also Meyer is caught. Only Niemiec is still away.
The three in front should collaborate but they don't. Rodriguez tries to drop the other two, Contador is unstoppable. Last kms. Froome is fighting his way back again! Incredible! He joins Fabio Aru who was chasing solo. Niemiec wins. Last meters. The Spanish trio crosses the line: Valverde, Rodriguez, Contador. Then Aru and Froome. Then a splendid Dan Martin. Then a disappointed Barguil...
Froome: Riding well under pressureWHAT A RACE! 

Team Tinkoff-Saxo DS Tristan Hoffman:
"We all witnessed a very strong and motivated Alberto in a great effort to not only defend but also attack his nearest rivals in the GC. At the end of the day he actually lost time to Valverde and Rodriguez but he gained time on Froome. It was a difficult situation tactically but I think he managed the situation very well. Tomorrow, there's another big day in the mountains and we''ll do everything we can to maintain the lead". 

Joaquim Rodriguez:
"I'm happy about gaining time in the GC. Of course I would have preferred to take more time on Froome so that I could be more relaxed in tomorrow’s stage, but the collaboration in the front was not ideal. I think we took our responsibilities. We were the only ones to pull and attack on Covadonga.  Each time Caruso or I attacked, Contador counter-attacked. I’m not sure what his interest was.  Valverde, Contador and I showed equal forces and we know each other very well. It was a hard fight.  Valverde was less active today but I understand that. These three days have been hard for him.  Thursday and Friday are his stages, yet even today he took back time from Contador. That was smart of him. I still feel good and my team is good. I remain confident and I’ll keep trying"

Giant-Shimano DS Christian Guiberteau:
"It was a really good ride from the whole team today, and Warren finished it off with an impressive final ascent. He tried early on the climb to see if they would let him get away and then kept attacking but quite intelligently too, knowing when not to waste energy and following wheels when he could.
He is getting better and better here and it is a promising place to be ahead of the tough final week. He’s proving that he can be present on the climbs when the fights really kick off and at a young age this is very promising for his development.
Having John up the road also put us in a good position. We wanted to try and get some more sprint points if possible today and having him in the break meant that he could take points without stress and then also help Warren later on.
John was feeling good today and I think he surprised himself with how he was. The race was split all over the road with the tough conditions and having him there to give bottles and help to Warren before the final climb was very helpful.”

Movistar TeamAlejandro Valverde: 
"The team rode superbly, they were phenomenal. We took the front of the bunch into the first climb and we wanted to stay there in the beginning of the descent so we could avoid any troubles, since it was a really dangerous one. We were taking this easy, not risking any more than needed, but despite all of that, we suffered Castroviejo's crash. The situation in the finale was 'strange', under quotations, because everyone did their own thing. They were always attacking: firstly one, then the other... Purito tried it in the final slopes, Alberto jumped away lots of times... Froome also rode like he used to in this race, looking not as strong as usual but still keeping the pace.
I was a bit too optimistic yesterday when I attacked into the final climb, and I chose to stay more conservative today and do one last attack, in the final meters. It's true that Froome would have been a bit more distanced is we cooperated better, but I wasn't trusting neithwe Alberto nor Purito. With so many attacks from them two, I preferred to take the bonus into the sprint, as I did. The legs felt well today, but tomorrow's stage is tremendous, hellish. It will be really hard, and I just hope that strength stays with us and not to have any problems like Castro's again."

ORICA-GE DS Neil Stephens:
“We really weren’t shooting for the stars today. We were trying to get through with Esteban and also trying to give the other guys a reasonable recovery, as much as you can get in the mountains. Given that, we had a pretty good day really.
Esteban rode a really decent climb at the finish. His GC is pretty much the same and I tend to think over the next couple of days he will hold his own. 
There is obviously a very hard stage tomorrow and an extremely hard stage the next day but today, as far as I am concerned, was another day with all the boxes ticked.”

BMC DS Valerio Piva:
"Samuel sanchez was the only guy from our team in the front group, but he was not able to follow the best. He is OK. Tomorrow is also a very hard stage. We will see if he has a better feeling. Today he was not able to stay with the best."

TFR Kristof Vandewalle
Embedded image permalink“I am suffering with a broken rib still, from the crash of the TTT, and I also had problems with pain in my back today. But I tried to cover the attacks at the start.  At a certain moment I decided to go myself, and then we had five guys, I had hoped it would have been a bigger group, but they gave us a lot of time.
On the first categorized climb it was not so hard but the descent was very slippery and dangerous. There were several moments when I felt my back wheel sliding. We had to take it real slow. But I had a good feeling; I just could not do a top acceleration with my back. I pulled through and when it came to the last climb I just did my own pace that I could hold for the whole climb. Two guys went immediately but I knew that one of them would blow up.
I think if I was there at the end and fighting for the victory that Niemiec would have been hard to beat, but I am sure I could have been second. But the GC guys were faster today. Even if my back and ribs are not perfect I was still confident that I could do a good race today, and that I can still do something in the last week.”

TFR DS Adriano Baffi about Arredondo's abandon:
“Julian was tired since a lot of days, and we encouraged him to keep going in case he could recover and do something later in the race. But today he stopped, he is simply very, very tired.”
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Robert Gesink:
"It was my maximum effort. I have to be happy with that. I felt better than yesterday, so that's a good thing. It was tough, but it was a good race. The descent off the first climb was really, really slippery, and we went like 5kmh. That wasn't really fun, but in the end, it dried up. Tomorrow will be brutal. It will be 5,000 metres of climbing. Now I need rest and a hot shower."

Belkin DS Merijn Zeeman about Wilco Kelderman: 
"Wilco was really suffering on the last climb. He's not coming to his best form, and I think we must remember that he is young, and he already did one grand tour this year. That's also something to keep in mindIt was very hard today. It took 50km before the break went, on a hard parcours. Then the second climb was hard, with a lot rain, and the descent was very tricky. That takes a lot of energy. Today was another uphill finish, and tomorrow again in the mountains. That's a grand tour, and we have to cope with that, and do as good as possible."

Alexander Kolobnev:
"Had an nasty  crash on last downhill. Complete luxation of shoulder. Put it back by myself :-S and finish the stage. But now in hospital :-/ "

Rigoberto Uran:
"I did the best I could on another difficult finale at La Vuelta. I gave everything to be there with the top GC guys in the final few kilometers. Tomorrow will be another challenging day in the mountains and I need to immediately focus on it rather than dwell on today. I will be motivated to do as well as I can, with the help of my teammates, on the last stage before the rest day. Then we will see where I am in the GC, what we can do to improve, and what our strategy will be for the final part of the race."

Tony Martin:
"It's always a shame to abandon a race when it's not yet over. But, the first two weeks of racing here have been difficult and I also went absolutely full gas in the time trial for my victory. It took a while to recover 100 percent. It's no secret that I am aiming for the UCI World Time Trial Championships in a couple weeks. To me, winning these are even more important than ever before. I can help OPQS as we try to win a third straight TTT gold medal. I can also set a record if I win a fourth straight individual time trial championship. It will be particularly important to arrive fresh because there are less than three days between each time trial championship. So, I am optimizing recovery in function of my goals. I wish good luck to all of my teammates at La Vuelta, especially Rigo, as they defend his position in the GC and will do their best for another stage victory in the final days of racing. They have done well so far and I have no doubt this will continue."



1 Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 4:11:09  
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:05  
3 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha  
4 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:00:10  
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:17  
6 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky  
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp 0:00:28  
8 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano 0:00:44  
9 Rigoberto Urán (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:01:00  
10 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Team Katusha 0:01:02
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo 58:31:35  
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:31  
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky 0:01:20  
4 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha  
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:02:22  
6 Rigoberto Urán (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team 0:02:57  
7 Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp 0:04:55  
8 Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team 0:05:02  
9 Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:05:11  
10 Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano 0:06:36

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