Whole Movistar Team devote themselves to Nairo Quintana's success in Sotres; Colombian finishes 4th in the stage, remains ninth overall -with Valverde in 8th-
As it happened on the first big climb of the 2015 Vuelta a España in Caminito del Rey, an outstanding job from the Movistar Team wasn't seconded by the stage result in Sotres, steep end to stage fifteen, which the riders directed by Eusebio Unzué drove almost entirely in search for the day's win.
Strong, intelligent pacing by the likes of Erviti, Sutherland, Ventoso and Rojas was constant from the very start, limiting gaps for a nine-man breakaway whose last survivor, Haimar Zubeldia (TFR), sticked to the front until the final two thousand metres. After keeping them on a leash around two minutes ahead and later let them grow their advantage towards 5', the 'Blue train' pushed on full steam until halfway through the decisive Jitu Escarandi (Cat-1), as Amador, Moreno and a phenomenal Visconti kept the rhythm high. An attack by Quintana with 10km to go, quickly neutralized by Astana, forced the Colombian to seek for his winning chances into the final slopes, where better condition by Rodríguez (KAT) bested Nairo's efforts. Quintana finished in 4th place, 15" down.
Alejandro Valverde defended himself on a steady pace for one more day to take 9th in the stage, which means that the Blues' two GC references stay in eighth and ninth overall, as Aru (AST) and Rodríguez are just 1” apart in the lead. Monday will bring the final day of mountains in Asturias, arguably the race's queen stage over 185km and more than 5,000m vertical gain from Luarca to the Ermita de Alba (HC), also including the climbs of Aristébano (Cat-2), Piedratecha (Cat-2), Cabruñana (Cat-3), Tenebredo (Cat-2), Cordal (Cat-2) and Cobertoria (Cat-1) with almost no rest in between.
Nairo Quintana: “For me it's already a big prize to recover so quickly, remembering how I was badly struggling two days ago, riding between team cars, doing everything I knew to stay into the race… being so sick and thinking of retiring from the race, and seeing how I performed yesterday and today – I think it's quite remarkable. I want to thank the whole team for taking care of me, believing on my chances and working as much as they did to seek for the win and make up a bit of time on the GC. I really wanted to try, but Purito and Aru remain really strong and I'm just getting back to my best form. I have looked at the Alba stage, and I like it, just like with any mountain one. I hope to keep feeling as strong as I did today, or even a bit better. My main goal remains the GC podium."
Alejandro Valverde: “We must thank all the team-mates for their phenomenal, extraordinary work today. At the end, it was our responsibility to crown that effort with a result, and Nairo was looking pretty well yesterday, but to be honest, Purito was quite superior today – hats off to him. You've got to accept what your real level is at the moment, and value everything that took you to this: it was a long season, a very successful one, with already a stage success here… one is not always as strong as he'd want to be, and we must remain happy. I'm already feeling the wear and tear of the whole season, after all the pressure I had to face until the very end of the Tour, to take that GC podium… it was really a fantastic season and we must applaud those who are strong enough to be ahead of us. We're still aspiring, I hope, to many things in this Vuelta. We'll fight to do so."
Tour of Britain: Promisigin fifth for Lobato in race opener
Sunday also marked the start of the 12th Tour of Britain, with sprinters like to have full protagonism in the upcoming days as Etixx, Lotto and Sky controlled the opening stage to Wrexham for Italian Elia Viviani's success, following a four-man breakaway lasting until the final 1.5km. Juanjo Lobato, well protected by his team-mates, took 5th place in a very tricky last kilometer, where he showed to be in great form at this point of the season. Monday will bring some slight slopes in Colne's finale, after 159km starting at Clitheroe.