Both Valverde & Quintana -the latter briefly dropped in the finale- stay within the favourites' group on stage eight to Albacete, keep 1st and 2nd overall in Vuelta. Valdelinares coming up
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The expected splits into the crosswinds eventually happened during stage eight of the 2014 Vuelta a España -the longest of this year’s race, over 207km between Baeza and Albacete-, causing enormous stress into a bunch whose top two riders overall, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team), were able to get over the day without losing any time, yet with a slight dose of panic in between.
Around 30km from the finish, and after magnificent positioning work from Erviti, Izagirre, Castroviejo, Herrada or Malori, both the Spaniard and the Colombian made the first selection of fifty riders, which also included Andrey Amador. Unfortunately, and when things seemed to settle at the front with 10k remaining, a second split kept Alejandro into the main group, yet leaving both Andrey and Nairo behind. The latter two were able to bridge again, joined by the Giant squad as they tried to get sprint contender John Degenkolb back on track.
Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) sprinted to the day’s win while Valverde and Quintana made it safely across the line to keep their respective GC places -15″ between them- and start thinking about the second mountain-top finish: Valdelinares (Cat-1, 10.2km at 5.8%), end of 185km starting at Carboneras de Guadazaón and also featuring the Cat-2 Alto de San Rafael.
Alejandro Valverde: “It was a crazy finale, but it was something that we expected. We know Albacete never disappoints the fans: with such long straights and the crosswinds, splits are bound to happen. The whole team was fully focused, well placed, and thanks to my team-mates we made the front group and got well through the day. I was hearing something on my earpiece, though there was much noise and I couldn’t know if Nairo had been dropped or not. I couldn’t look back because I was making a big effort to stay up-front. The team rode exceptionally well to keep us all perfectly placed and it was difficult afterwards to stay all of them into that first group – they did a great work. Mountains will be back tomorrow and it will be another important stage. Valdelinares is a climb which I think does well for both of us. It’s a demanding one, because it has steady slopes and you get up to 2,000 meters high, which is an altitude that already plays an effect on performance. Let’s hope our legs respond well so we can keep the front, as well Nairo as myself“.
Nairo Quintana: “We were already informed before the stage winds could blow on our side in the finale, and we knew we had to stay attentive. When we got to the unprotected zone, the bunch was so nervous, strecthed out, and lots of splits started to form everywhere. I had to close a gap and I couldn’t keep the wheel in front into the second. I got boxed in for a bit, my team-mates were left behind and Alejandro was the only one at the front. When the split got formed, we chose to open up the group and work with the Giant squad, which was interested on getting back to contest the stage, and fortunately we could bridge back to the peloton and get through the day well. We accomplished our goal today as we didn’t lose any time.”