Vuelta a España (st. 17)
Telefónica-backed squad plays its cards perfectly into echelons towards Guadalajara: gains more than 5′ with Nairo Quintana and puts him back in GC contention, 2nd behind Roglic (TJV) and ahead of Alejandro Valverde.
In one of the fastest road stages in La Vuelta‘s recent history, at nearly 51kph average over the long 219km from Aranda de Duero to Guadalajara, the Movistar Team showed again the courage and strategical nose of its best days, putting Nairo Quintana back into GC contention and isolating race leader Primoz Roglic (TJV) to show everyone’s cards into the echelons.
The Blue outfit sent four of its members -Quintana, Imanol Erviti, Nelson Oliveira and José Joaquín Rojas- into a 47-man split with a majority of riders from Deceuninck (seven members), Sunweb (four riders, including Wilco Kelderman, 8th overall) and Mitchelton-Scott. Behind, Jumbo-Visma, Astana -for Miguel Ángel López- and UAE -for Tadej Pogacar- were forced to pursuit and try to contain an increasing gap, which rose towards 5’30” before threatening to go down again with 50km to go, when Soler, Pedrero and Valverde attacked to leave Roglic without any team-mates and make the pursuit harder.
Despite that move initially bringing Quintana’s group closer, just 4’30” ahead, and even though Astana -together with Rafal Majka’s Bora squad- got themselves back together to defend López’s 4th place overall, the Blues’ strategy made Roglic and their rivals suffer and got the gap at the finish back to 5’19”. Nairo is now again 2nd overall -with Valverde, who didn’t have to push but for their move into the climbs, always in 3rd spot– before the penultimate mountain stage of the race, the Guadarrama route over 177km and the Cat-1 climbs of Navacerrada, Cotos and 2x Morcuera.
Nairo Quintana: “We made the right moves, and I hope I can recover from my recent illness because this was a spectacular stage. We made huge gains into a stage where anything could happen. Here we are, back again. I’m steadily improving from my flu, but I have to wait for tomorrow in the mountains to see how I’m really doing. It’s nice to do so well in what you could call an ‘anti-Nairo’ stage, flat and so windy. I always said I’d give my everything until the very end. Our plan was to make the race leader’s team suffer with those attacks, and ahead in my group, gain as much time as possible. We’re back in contention for La Roja; my health didn’t help me much due to the coughing, but we’ll keep on fighting. And if our legs get tired, we’ll pedal with our heart.”
Alejandro Valverde: “We can only be happy about this result. It was a good stage to try and create some echelons, and thanks to them, we’ve got Nairo back into race contention. If will offer us two very good chances to go for the GC. The split got formed almost inadvertently: I couldn’t get in despite being quite near the front at the start because it was built with riders progressing through the left side of the road, in an instant, with no room for reaction. Jumbo later tried to close the gap, yet weren’t able to, and that gave us a bigger and bigger advantage. At one of those climbs near the end we accelerated to leave the teams in pursuit without energy, yet Astana was really strong and kept some numbers at the front. Astana really saved Roglic from losing his red jersey, but it’s how cycling works, everyone rides for their own interests. Many people will be suffering after today’s effort and it could play an impact tomorrow, especially those who pushed all day – which I didn’t do, staying all day on others’ wheels.”
Cover picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport