Vuelta a España (st. 12)
Movistar Team keeps together after difficult start in Collado de Alisas, finishes 8th in Bilbao with Alejandro Valverde as Nairo Quintana & 'Bala' remain first, third overall
It's a leader's jersey, and loads of sweat are required to keep it. That was evident in the first of two Vuelta a España stages joining the Cantabric mountains and the Pyrenees -193km between Los Corrales de Buelna and Bilbao-, a day which started off with serious attacks and didn't become easy at any point, even if the Movistar Team's leaders finished safely. At the top of the Puerto de Alisas (Cat-1), the peloton was split into four different groups, with lots of different breaks trying to stick -even Alejandro Valverde made one of them- and a seven-man split ultimately making its way – with David López and Peter Kennaugh (SKY) in. The close gaps in the GC between many of its members and Nairo Quintana thus forced Imanol Erviti and Rory Sutherland to work from early.
The serenity and experience from the two Blue powerhouses kept the group always within two-and-a-half minutes from the big bunch, a gap which Astana helped out bringing down. Despite subsequent attempts from the likes of Devenyns (IAM), Luis León Sánchez (AST) or even Alberto Contador (TNK) -followed by Dani Moreno- to alter harmony into the GC group, the peloton, led by a consistent Rojas and Jonathan Castroviejo in the finale, ended up contesting the winning sprint. Jens Keukeleire (OBE) came victorious, with Valverde in 8th to keep his third place overall as Nairo Quintana spent another day in red.
Friday will bring the longest stage in this year's Vuelta: 213km with four climbs in Gipuzkoa -Igeldo, Aritxulegi, Agiña and Lizaieta, all Cat-3- before a rolling, final loop between Navarra and France to finish in Urdax.
Nairo Quintana: “Calm days? Today wasn’t one, we didn’t find any in this Vuelta… and I don’t really hope for ay of those until Madrid. People getting into breaks are so close in terms of GC and force everyone to go fast, especially us in the pursuit. Plus, as we saw today, on a finish that really suited escapes and where we wanted to leave them some space, other squads looking for the stage pushed hard for the junction. That’s the reason why it wasn’t an easy day. Worried about Sky’s moves? Not at all. We were really calm: we controlled the whole race before Bilbao with two riders – Imanol and Rory – and later on, squads chasing the stage win completed that job. All in all, it was’t quite troubling today. We kept ourselves composed. Stages like today’s are ones that I like, too: I won here the Itzulia, in such circuits, and enjoying good weather and fantastic fans here makes it even better. Obviously, descents are not so easy, but this is cycling: we like it, and there are some risks inherent to it.”
Alejandro Valverde: “Of course I tried to fight for victory into that sprint, but there were so many strong riders for that finish and you had to take so many risks. I got boxed in at some point of the final straight and it wasn’t reasonable to ‘kill’ yourself for maybe just a fourth, fifth spot. However, that’s no excuse when you’ve got legs and win other days. It was a ‘big’ day, in the sense of big intensity. That, even when the big mountains are yet to start this weekend. We worked with Imanol and Rory all day, also with Rojillas and Dani – yet I think everyone is suffering in such a difficult Vuelta, I don’t feel like we spent extra energy. We remain in the best position we could, and that’s the only thing that matters.”
Jonathan Castroviejo: “As with all stages in this Vuelta, it was a tough day. There are like eighteen teams seeking for a place in the early break, and it often takes too long for them to form. Plus, the riders inside today’s were too close in the GC, and we couldn’t let them gain much time. As we kept that margin short, in the end there are some other squads trying to contest the stage win, and that makes it even harder. It was, however, easier than it looked like in the beginning. Sky tried to put us into panic, but a six-man break isn’t enough for that. We must keep working like this to keep the current results and reinforce our leadership."