Vuelta a España (st. 14)
Courageous Valverde ultimately struggles against other GC contenders, yet keeps 2nd overall; excellent Erviti finishes 3rd in ‘hostile land’ after entering day’s winning break
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Each one on their own fight, yet both in the same scenery -the hellish slopes of La Camperona (Cat-1) after 201km on stage fourteen of the Vuelta a España, also including the Collada de Hoz (Cat-2) and the also inedit San Glorio (Cat-1)-, two riders from the Movistar Team shone in the opening of three mountain stages in the north of the country: Imanol Erviti and Alejandro Valverde. The former, part of the 23-man escape that, reduced to just eleven riders, reached the foot of the final ascent with six minutes of advantage, challenged the cliché of pure rouleur always put on him and, as he showed climbing the Tourmalet with the GC contenders in this year’s Grande Boucle, made a brilliant ascent, only beaten by two strong climbers in Ryder Hesjedal (GRS) and Oliver Zaugg (TCS).
Behind, Valverde, always well protected by all his team-mates, started the climb with courage as he attacked the rest of the favourites. Only four riders -Caruso and Rodríguez (KAT); Contador (TCS); and Aru (AST)- would initially follow him, the Spaniard ultimately struggling to concede 22″ on the race leader and 29″ to Froome (SKY), who kept his own pace, reached the GC guys and dropped them at the finish. The GC fight tightens podium-wise, with Contador now 42″ away from Alejandro, who stays 2nd and leader of the Combination as the Blues top the Teams’ standings before Sunday’s climb towards one of the most legendary climbs in Spain: the Lagos de Covadonga (HC, 152km.)
Imanol Erviti: “It was quite a fought stage; it cost us lots of energy to form the break; actually, it didn’t go away until 40km into the stage. The group was really big and forced the bunch to stay close and ride fast, which made things eve harder, considering today’s route. We had to push forward all day long. Once you’re into the ‘party,’ you must try and contest the win. We fought hard, but Ryder rode superbly and Oliver Zaugg was stronger than me, too. The Vuelta a España organisers look like they’re always looking for these slopes, even under the rocks – seems to be fashionable. These climbs are difficult for my big body, but we do what we can.”
Alejandro Valverde: “It’s a gap that we got between the other contenders and us today, but I don’t think it’s so, so important. To be honest, I didn’t really know the climb and I attacked from the foot, yet the climb was too hard for me. The roads were coarse, the bike was sticking to the pavement. I lost time, but I’m OK with today’s result. Froome showed he’s going to be a strong rival for the remaining stages, he’s still there. We will go step by step; there are two important stages left before the rest day, starting with tomorrow’s Los Lagos, a really different climb to today’s. Maybe it’s not up to me to cause the splits, but others – no matter Purito, Froome… We’re four or five riders in quite similar condition to each other and really dropping the others could be difficult. Let’s see how we recover and tackle tomorrow’s course.“