Vuelta a España (st. 11)
Froome (SKY) wins Vuelta stage 11 in Peña Cabarga after duel against Nairo Quintana, who remains in the GC lead after 2nd place, only losing four-second bonus. Alejandro Valverde strengthens podium position: 3rd in stage, overall
The tough slopes of Peña Cabarga offered another duel between GC contenders, even if a close one today, in the Vuelta a España. Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) and Chris Froome staged what seems like a two-man show in the overall fight… with permission from Alejandro Valverde, who keeps exploring his limits and surprising everyone. In the end, the Briton won ahead of Nairo Quintana, who only conceded the four-second bonus difference between first and second; in turn, ‘Bala’ took 3rd at only six seconds. All of that, after a really fast day of racing.
The four hours prior to the decisive climb were covered at 46kph average, thanks to furious pace for the early break -ultimately formed by 23 riders, including Ben Hermans (BMC), at just under seven minutes in the GC- and a courageous Tinkoff, which started pushing after halfway through the stage to keep the escapees on a leash. The Movistar Team only had to take leading roles -following initial efforts from the relentless Imanol Erviti and Sutherland- at the bottom of the climb. Rojas, Castroviejo and a fundamental Rubén Fernández kept the GC group strung out, with no attacks, till the last 2km.
An acceleration by Chaves (OBE) anticipated the decisive move by Froome, who twice tried unfructuously to leave Nairo behind while Valverde fought to keep gaps short and later jump for the bonus seconds. There was a switch in the GC –54” between Nairo and Froome, now 2nd, ‘Bala’ sits in 3rd, 1’05” in arrears-, yet margins remain quite the same before two not-to-decisive stages in Bilbao (Thursday) and Urdax (Friday). A remarkable fact also happened after today: Movistar Team leads all classifications in the Vuelta, with Quintana first in the GC, KOM and Combination rankings; Valverde in green as Points leader; and the Blues on top of the Team prize.
Nairo Quintana: “I’m fine. We crossed the finish line together with Froome today, though he won the stage as he’s usually faster in sprints. I keep in mind from today’s that Chris is showing to be strong, probably the biggest threat GC-wise – we must keep focus and look for other demanding stages, like Aubisque or Formigal, where we will surely see some fireworks.
Froome’s tactics today? It’s difficult to think about how he rides. He’s a man who plays different approaches, and gets different or similar results. Last Saturday, at another short climb like La Camperona, I put time on him, and today, into similar terrain, we came together across the finish. We’ll see how the two of us react on longer climbs, into longer stages. We’ve also got our strategy, but we must remain cautious about him: he’s probably the one to beat.”
Alejandro Valverde: “I remain happy about today’s result. We did a nice job. It’s true, Froome won, but Nairo proved to be as strong as him, and Chris only beat him into the sprint. I got that third place after working a bit for Nairo – you couldn’t do much else really, as the climb was short and there was no margin for playing strategy. As we all know, I’m into a completely new challenge for me, and it was clear to me that Froome would overtake me in the GC sooner or later. Fortunately, I remain in third spot.
“Our main plan today we letting a break go. The smaller the better, but having 23 riders ahead with no GC threats, it really didn’t matter to us. We had to keep our guys as fresh as possible. At some point, the gap was five minutes, but surprisingly, Tinkoff started pushing hard. We must congratulate them, as well as Froome, for the work they did today. It all remains as it was before today. The more time we get on Froome before the TT, the better. Today’s was another proof of the essence of cycling: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”