Vuelta a España (st. 17)
Valverde jumps into 2nd at Vuelta a España overall as Movistar Team takes another bite at the collective title after superb strategy lesson provoked by a long attack from Contador (STB), new race leader atop Fuente Dé
Only six seconds separated Alejandro Valverde and Movistar Team from crowning a day for history in the Vuelta a España. Stage 17, with 187 kilometers and three Cat. 2 and 3 climbs between Santander and Fuente Dé, offered an unexpected, drastic change that the telepehone squad’s members profited to show their best potential. An attack by Contador (STB) just over 50k from the finish line, in the ascent towards the Collado La Hoz (Cat. 2), surprised race leader Rodríguez (KAT) and Valverde himself while a 26-man breakaway with four Blues -Imanol Erviti, Lastras, Quintana and Intxausti- tried to open their way after an unsuccessful first try from the Navarran.
Contador launched himself across the descent and in the subsequent approach towards the final climb of Fuente Dé, with Quintana and Intxausti in that first group, while Valverde, on Rodríguez’s wheel, awaited his moment to become offensive. Less than 15k from the finish and two minutes behind Contador, the Spaniard left the race leader behind and started a pursuit where he was helped out by amazing work from Quintana, in a first turn, and Intxausti -already 10th overall-, with a long relay that left Alejandro just 30 seconds back with 3k from the finish.
The immense effort by Valverde was about to find reward with the stage victory, the Murcian just six seconds behind in 2nd place as he jumped towards an identical second overall, 1.52 after Contador and 36” before Rodríguez. Movistar Team, who set again Intxausti (7th) and Quintana (12th) withint the best, is now more than fifteen minutes in the lead of the collective overall and will have to deal with the advantage in the demanding, final four stages. The first one, the longest in this year’s Spanish grandtour, will cover 204km from Aguilar de Campoo to Valladolid, with wind as the biggest threat.
Alejandro Valverde: “Today’s result is almost impossible to improve for us. We had Purito more than two minutes over us and we ended the day over him. It was a really hard race and despite going perfectly for us, we just hope these stages don’t show up too often (laughs). The team was sensational and I only have thankful words for them. We made the fans enjoy so much and that’s important, too. Contador attacked at the Collada de la Hoz, I waited on Purito’s wheel and we made all the climb at 10-15 seconds, but the gaps opened through the descent. Our race was different to Katusha, because I was already happy in that position as I was leaving Froome more behind. I had to play my cards. I feel sorry about Purito, but the races go this way. When the first hard slope came up, I attacked to take as much time as possible. We had two team-mates up-front and the work by Nairo and Beñat was fantastic. I didn’t think about chasing Contador down, but I went on full throttle for the final 3k, even though I pushed hard more to take time than fighting for the stage, because reaching him was hard. This is another step in such a great Vuelta for us. We’re so happy. There are still some important days before Madrid, but now I’m only thinking about recovering because it was such a hard day.”