Movistar Team leader shows his best form back again, finishes 6th in Orio; Kelderman new GC leader in Itzulia, Quintana now at 14"
Samuel Sánchez (BMC) won the liveliest stage so far in the 2016 Vuelta al País Vasco at Orio on Thursday. The three final climbs to Aia, the latter of them with slopes peaking close to 30%, showed at last the favourites' true colours and proved that Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) is steadily recovering to find his best form.
The Colombian got into full contention during the last climb, 15km from the finish. As his countryman Sergio Henao (SKY) jumped off the front, Quintana went after him together with Contador (TNK). The three reached the remnants of the early break -Verona (EQS), Maté (COF) and Wellens (LTS)-, but the subsequent pursuit by several other GC contenders made their adventure futile. After another short move from Contador into the slopes prior to Orio beach, Sánchez profited from chaos into the elite group to gain a few decisive meters. Nairo crossed the line in 6th spot.
A late split into the first group made Landa (SKY) lose the leader's jersey in favour of Kelderman (TLJ), now in yellow with 14" over Quintana, still in 8th place. Two days still remain in the Basque Country, starting with Friday's Queen stage around Eibar, with eight climbs and the brandnew, decisive ascent of Usartza (Cat-1) before the finish in the Santuario de Arrate: 5.5km at 8.4% average.
Nairo Quintana: "I've kept recovering through all these days after the virus we suffered following the Volta. I've tried to hang on during these previous, demanding days plus Tuesday's hilltop finish, hoping that I could do better in the last stages and especially into the time trial. I did well through that final climb, but after the ascent nobody wanted to keep pushing, and we got caught by those we had left behind. At the end, it was a matter of everyone defending his place overall. We're still close to the leaders; let's see what happens tomorrow – should some attacks favour a move from us, we won't hesitate. Let's hope we can make up some ground tomorrow. I won in Arrate in 2013: it brings me many good memories and taking a second win there would be fantastic."
La Sarthe: Lobato and Moreno 5th on Queen stage, overall
Over in France, the two Andalusians from the Movistar Team – Juanjo Lobato and Javi Moreno – took the reins during the Queen stage of the Circuit de la Sarthe, with its six climbs of the Montée des Avaloirs in the 190.3km trek from Angers to Pré-en-Pail. While Lobato dug deep into a terrain better suited for climbers to take 5th in the day -third within the bunch, behind Hardy (COF) and Voeckler (DEN); escapees Vorobyev (KAT) and Gretsch (ALM) had crossed the line prior-, Moreno completed his fine overall performance with an 11th spot in the stage and 5th in the GC, mostly decided as Fournier (FDJ) holds a two-minute lead with one day to go. Lobato is now 8th in the GC, as Carlos Betancur, quite close to the first group today, sits in 25th.