Vuelta a España (st. 10)
Exhibition by Quintana in Covadonga takes back to the lead in the Vuelta a España, after two strong attacks in the mythical Asturian climb. Valverde takes fifth over the line, remains 2nd in GC
Nairo Quintana completed one of the best rides in his excellent pro career on Monday atop the Lagos de Covadonga, end of stage 10 in the 2016 Vuelta a España (189km). Supported by a sensational Movistar Team, the Colombian wrote his name down the list of winners in the legendary climb in Asturias, and got back to GC leadership in the Vuelta a España with a minute’s gap over… his own team-mate Alejandro Valverde. The Spaniard – 5th over the summit – showed again that his experience and class are unrivalled in the pro scene, and remains fully in contention after spending two-and-a-half Grand Tours within the top guns.
The squad directed by José Luis Arrieta and Chente García Acosta -which suffered an early crash (10km in), with only minor blows and bruises (knee, hip and elbow – Nairo), for Quintana himself as well as Rory Sutherland– took command in the field with 60km from the end. The relentless duo of Rory and Imanol Erviti pushed hard into the flat before the Mirador del Fito (Cat-1) and on the section between the penultimate climb and the foot of the ‘Santina’, where Jonathan Castroviejo took the relay from the two big rouleurs. With the gap quickly shrinking from 2’30”, which the day’s break held at the bottom of the climb, 'Castro', José Herrada and a fantastic sensacional Rubén Fernández selected the group with big turns into the first half of the ascent. With 6km to go, the decisive moment came: an acceleration from Alberto Contador (TNK) forced Nairo to react.
Quintana’s two attacks helped him to drop Contador back, leave Chris Froome (SKY) behind and close in on solo leader Gesink (TLJ), eventually overtaking the Dutchman to win the stage with twenty-three seconds on Froome. The Briton, dropped at the beginning of the climb, started progressing in his usual, consistent style to reach Alejandro Valverde, who always rode on his own pace. The two ended up pretty much close to the Colombian from the Movistar Team, which takes the Blues up to 33 victories in 2016 and leads both the GC and Combination standings. ‘Bala’ has taken over the 1st place in the Points ranking.
The 58-second gap between Nairo and Froome in the overall classification means Quintana will have to keep attacking into the second part of the race, looking towards the decisive stage 19 TT in Calpe. For the moment, the Blues will enjoy a much-deserved first rest day in Asturias on Tuesday.
Nairo Quintana: “Let’s hope this one is a jersey we can keep for a longer period! What I felt and saw today was wonderful – it really makes me confident that I can fight to win this Vuelta. I felt well all over the day, leaving aside that crash in the beginning. The great work by the whole team was visible today, and made for a bigger motivation to win and reward them with the stage. I had always dreamt to win here and I could make that dream come true today. It really makes me happy to put my name under this stage, and especially how we did it, together with the team. It would have been impossible without them.
“I felt myself strong in the beginning of the climb and it was easy to get into the right position, thanks to the fantastic pace by all of my team-mates, above all Rubén Fernández. He made it look easy and avoided all previous attacks. As I saw he was running out of gas, Alberto’s (Contador) attack came – I followed him and jumped twice to open the gaps with Froome and seek for the stage win. Chris remains pretty much close for the remainder of the race. We must to continue to pick up the pressure, doing the same we’ve done until this point: attacking and attacking to keep him further. Should we keep this minute we have when the Calpe TT looms, he’ll be the main favourite. I think three minutes would be a reasonable gap to tackle the time trial with calmness.
“It feels great to lead the race. I always trusted my abilities, but sometimes you feel better while other times your body reacts worse. Now that everything goes through the right path, I enjoy and live everything with great excitement. What my body asks from me at this point is saluting my whole family, especially my mum. She always prays for me so everything can go right. I just love her – he’s the best mum I could ever dream of having. Also, this goes for the team – they’ve made possible for me to fulfil these dreams. It’s not only about those in the Vuelta, but the whole group in general. Tomorrow? We’ll have to keep our legs rolling for a while and trying to recover after the early crash.”
Alejandro Valverde: “So, the Lagos? They were tough! (laughs). I really feel happy about today. Winning the stage with Nairo, finishing right behind Froome… I’m super happy. I’m even surprising myself. It’s my third Grand Tour of the year, already 10 stages in, many demanding ones… and we’re still in the mix. I’m ‘enjoying’ the bike, between quotation marks as you endure lots of suffering. Results have been good up to this point, we’re offering spectacle to the fans and I just hope they’re enjoying our efforts. It’d be great to continue this way for long.
“I knew that Froome would come really fast from behind, and as Nairo attacked, I kept my own pace and stayed with Rubén, who set a fantastic pace. I was conserving some energy so as to follow Froome when he came past – even after his furious pace at the end, I only lost three seconds to him. Froome isn’t surprising: he always drops back, he was even trailing by 40” halfway through the ascent, yet he overcomes riders at an impressive pace. It’s not the first time – we all know about his excellent abilities. GC-wise, this minute Nairo has on Froome isn’t much, but there’s a lot of mountains ahead. God knows we’ll give our all to increase that gap.”
Picture ©: Photo Gomez Sport / Luis Ángel Gómez