Rivals helped Rodriguez; How much has Dumoulin got in the tank?; Quintana's recovery; and more analysis from stage 15 of the 2015 Vuelta a España. Photos by Graham Watson
Everyone played into Rodriguez’s hands
With no attacks forthcoming on the lower slopes of the final climb, Joaquim Rodriguez was able to hold back and wait until the final, very steep kilometre to make his move.
Throughout his career ‘Purito’ has excelled at these kind of short, explosive efforts, and by not attacking earlier on, his rivals played into his hands. He played his hand to perfection and rode everyone off his wheel in the final kilometre to win the stage.
The Spaniard now lies just one second behind Fabio Aru on GC, and has a very genuine chance of finally landing his first ever grand tour – if he can avoid disaster in the upcoming individual time-trial, that is.
Is Dumoulin running out of reserves?
Yesterday he lost 19 seconds to Aru, and today he lost a further 36 seconds – is Dumoulin losing too much ground?
He again timed his effort brilliantly, limiting his losses and staying in overall contention despite spending most of the climb at the back of the peloton and being dropped early on.
But the balance is beginning to swing out of his favour, with him now 1-25 down on GC and with a yet more difficult stage awaiting tomorrow. Usually he would expect to gain perhaps two minutes or so over his rivals in the time-trial – but will the effort expelled in these summit finishes also take a toll on his time trialling?
Has Quintana really fully recovered?
Movistar rode as if setting up Nairo Quintana for a big attack, spending most of the day riding at the front of the peloton and setting a pace that gave the break no chance of survival.
But when that attack came with 10km, it was not nearly explosive as expected, and was promptly reeled in by Astana. Then when everything kicked off in the final kilometre, he did not ride from everyone like yesterday, and came in at the same time as Aru.
Evidently something is still not quite right with Quintana. Whether he’s still suffering the after-effects of the illness suffered this week, or fatigue from riding the Tour, it looks now as though he has too much ground to make up to win the overall.
Watch: Vuelta a Espana essential guide
Has Majka been overlooked as a GC threat?
Despite having stayed within contact with the main GC riders on virtually every stage, Rafal Majka has gone under the radar throughout this Vuelta.
But he was very visible today, out-climbing the likes of Nairo Quintana and Fabio Aru in the vicious final kilometres to finish second on the stage. Consequently he moves from fifth to third overall at just 1-24 down from Aru, and looks a good shout for a podium finish.
Or could he aim yet higher? Much has been made of the threat of Dumoulin’s time-trial, but Majka’s track record in the discipline is better than most of the other riders vying for GC, and it is not beyond him to gain a minute and a half on both Aru and Rodriguez.
Zubeldia breaks the habit of a lifetime
Anyone who has followed Haimar Zubeldia’s career these past 16 years will have been shocked to see the usually ultra-defensive 38-year old out on the attack.
His habit of making the top ten in grand tour GCs (something he’s done seven times) despite never being seen on television cameras has become something of a running joke among commenters, so we were taken aback to see him not only get into the break, but also lead the race on the final climb.
Unfortunately, he was caught with a couple of kilometres to go, but here’s hoping he’s developed a taste for attacking, and we’ll see him back off the front again soon.