Vuelta a España (st. 3)
25-year-old Spaniard delivers supreme performance in first mountain-top finish at his maiden Vuelta, takes over GC leadership after 2nd place in Ézaro behind Geniez (FDJ). Valverde finishes 3rd, sits now second overall as Nairo Quintana progresses to 5th
A huge display from a team of stars, old and young. The Movistar Team stroke first at the short, intense climb of the Mirador de Ézaro, end of stage three of the Vuelta a España, by setting a young, promising rider from Murcia, Spain, in the lead with Rubén Fernández. Following a summer full of good results and perfectly-timed preparations for the end of the season, the man hailing from Churra was the strongest at the 1.8km climb from the village of Dumbría, from where he drove the pace almost entirely until the finish line, a job well rewarded with the red jersey.
As Geniez (FDJ) battled alone for a coveted stage win via the early break, the squad directed by Arrieta and Chente put all their rivals' hopes into jeopardy already through the first kilometer of the ascent, reducing the bunch to an eight-man group that included four of the Blues, soon down to three out a four-man attack: Rubén, Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves (OBE). Following a short move from the two Colombians, quickly caught by 'Bala' and Fernández, the 25-year-old Spaniard flew through the last 200 meters for the second place in the stage and a GC lead he visibly celebrated through the finishing banner.
Valverde, 3rd behind his countryman and friend, is already second overall (+7") as Nairo Quintana, sixth over the line, now sits in fifth GC (+17"), only behind his two team-mates, Chaves and Froome (SKY). The Movistar Team will have to defend the red jersey tomorrow on another uphill finish -a longer, less steep one- in the Mirador Vixía de Herbeira (Cat-2) at San Andrés de Teixido, following another lumpy 163km from Betanzos.
Rubén Fernández: "I couldn't expect this at all. I knew I was coming in good form to this Vuelta, as I had finished sixth overall in both Pologne and Burgos. Plus, my goal here was working for Nairo and Alejandro. However, I was told in the finale to ride by myself… and here we are, wearing red and the leader's jersey in my second Grand Tour. It hadn't really come through my mind to attack: I was just setting the pace in case Nairo could attack, I was trying to make things harder for the rest. At the end, they told e to ride on my own, and I could open that gap. I celebrated out of pure joy, because of the GC lead; by the earpiece I was told I would sit 1st overall after the stage… I couldn't be happier. My goal remains the same: we can't forget for a second about helping out our team leaders, which is the main objective, yet I'll surely defend this jersey with all I've got."
Alejandro Valverde: "We knew Rubén was in great form leading up to this race, and he proved it today. I'm so happy to see him taking over the lead. He's a young man, but we all know what he's made of. The work he did at the front to take us closer to Geniez was excellent; we couldn't have battled for the stage either if he hadn't worked, and that's why I feel he rode perfectly. He dropped all of our rivals but Chaves when we three went ahead, and later on, we could keep a steady pace to keep the gaps and avoid the late push by Froome taking us out of his wheel. Alberto lost a bit of time, but there's a lot to happen yet in this Vuelta. About me? Well, I didn't feel bad at all – let's hope I can keep it up through the next stages."
Nairo Quintana: "Well, everyone could see Rubén has come fresh to this Vuelta! His climb was phenomenal, he's a young boy full of talent. He was really strong today. When it comes to myself, I could feel the wear and tear of the Tour. Froome was a bit ahead, Alberto lost some ground… yet I feel like these gaps won't matter much at the end of the Vuelta. Let's keep going day-by-day; the legs are feeling all we went through in the Tour at the moment."
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez