Vuelta a España (st. 15)
Colombian escapes alongside colossal Jonathan Castroviejo and Rubén Fernández 8km into intense stage 15 in La Vuelta, takes 2nd behind Brambilla (EQS) to distance Froome (SKY) by almost four minutes overall and reinforce his winning chances just seven days from Madrid
The Movistar Team took a giant step forward to win the 2016 Vuelta a España into a historic stage. Right from eight kilometers into the short (118km) day fifteen in the Spanish grandtour, from Sabiñánigo to Formigal, the squad managed by Eusebio Unzué got themselves into a break that might become decisive for the final outcome. Nairo Quintana hit hard at the end of the second Pyrenes stage and now sits almost four minutes ahead of both Chris Froome (SKY) and Esteban Chaves (OBE), just seven days from glory in Cibeles.
A 14-man split, with three from the telephone squad -Nairo, Jonathan Castroviejo and Rubén Fernández- plus three from Tinkoff, including Alberto Contador, took both the Briton and the Bogotan out of situation and soon opened a gap which grew up to 1'30" at the foot of Petralba (Cat-3), the first real climb of the day. Imanol Erviti and Alejandro Valverde put on big efforts to isolate Froome and keep him out of morale, a series of attacks which the 'green jersey' holder kept coming into Formigal. Only the efforts from Orica, BMC and most notably Astana, in order to defend their overall positions, could try to reduce Nairo's gap as his lead group reached three minutes at the bottom of Cotefablo (Cat-2).
Despite the accelerations from Yates (OBE) and Sánchez (BMC) cutting the margin in half -Froome always riding alone-, the prodigious efforts by Fernández, into the climb, and Castroviejo, superb in the flats, allowed Nairo consolidating his advantage towards the end of the last climb. Quintana finished 29” ahead of Contador, 1’49” up against Chaves and 2’30” over ‘Bala’ and Froome, as Gianluca Brambilla (EQS), the only able to follow his wheel in the end, took the stage. 3’37” is the margin Nairo will enjoy against Froome, heading into the last five real competition stages in this Vuelta, prior to the final parade into Madrid.
Nairo Quintana: “It went way, way better than we expected. To be honest, we were thinking more about taking some moves in the finale. However, you never really know what’s gonna happen. It turned out to be a really great stage in the least of expected ways. We opened bigger gaps here than in yesterday’s big mountains. At the start, a split was created into a lumpy section, full of twists and different slopes where our bodies suffered a lot after yesterday’s efforts. We struggled, yet we kept focus, went ahead with Alberto and our teams cooperated well.
“My team helped me out so much: a huge labour from Jonathan Castroviejo and Rubén Fernández -I was screaming to them: ‘Full gas, full gas, we’re leaving Froome behind’- and then, the rest of the team, taking care of what was going on behind. We opened a gap, we kept it high and at the final climb, I gave everthing to keep Chris well behind. Fortunately, I’ve opened the gap I considered I needed before the TT; I just hope I can keep it and stay strong until Madrid. We will remain cautious, yet we know we’ve got a great team: Alejandro, Castro… all of us are confident.”
Alejandro Valverde: “I really didn’t enjoy today’s racing much, I struggled as badly as yesterday, though a bit closer to the front (all laughing and joking). It was a different way of suffering. We knew that such a short, tough course could create havoc. We took a big lead in the overall standings now – even though you can’t say this is already won, as many difficult days are still ahead, we’re many steps closer to our goal.
“It was a split created by both Alberto and us, a joint strategy which both teams took advantage from to create some gaps. Behind, and especially into the final ascent, I was always keeping Froome’s wheel, trying to make him nervous. And, as soon as he stopped taking turns, I jumped so he never recovered. What do I want to do now? Winning the red jersey with Nairo. Fighting for stages might be impossible for me, as you never want to cooperate with someone who is faster at a sprint, and at this point of the race, what really motivates me is staying close to Nairo.”