Quintana sets up win; thrilling stage battle; Chaves does a Contador; and more discussion points from the penultimate stage of the 2016 Vuelta a España
Quintana set to be crowned Vuelta champion
For Chris Froome (Sky) to have a chance of winning the Vuelta a España on the final day in the mountains, and turn the stage into an epic, he needed Nairo Quintana and Movistar to show signs of weakness.
But both the Colombian and his teammates were imperious, and didn’t offer even a hint that they might lose time. Froome attacked repeatedly during the final 5km of the Alto Aitana, but each time Quintana followed, staying so close to his rival so as not to allow even a wheel length to open up between the two.
Prior to that, Alejandro Valverde had set a searing pace on the climb to discourage any attacks, and, when Sky did try something adventurous with a two-pronged attacked from Froome and Michal Golas on a descent over 150m from the finish, Movistar were quick to respond and ensured everything came safely back together.
For all Froome’s superiority in the time trial, Quintana today proved that he remains as fresh as ever in the mountains, and will make for a worthy winner provided nothing dramatic happens tomorrow.
As for Froome, he’ll no doubt be left ruing the 2-43 lost on the chaotic stage fifteen – an amount of time considerably bigger than the 1-23 margin he ultimately lost the Vuelta by.
Pierre Latour wins thrilling battle for stage victory
The GC battle may not have developed into the classic it had the potential for, but the fight for the stage win certainly was thrilling.
First Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) seemed favourite for a while to finally land the win he’s spent three weeks hunting, when he attacked breakaway companion Rudy Molard (Cofidis) on the Alto Aitana.
Despite maintaining a decent lead of thirty seconds, however, he later tired. When he was caught, Darwin Atapuma (BMC) and Pierre Latour (Ag2r) emerged as the two candidates to win the stage.
The pair’s hammer and tongs contest to get to the line first was perhaps the most entertaining part of the day’s racing. They seemed inseparably evenly matched, each constantly attacking the other only to be brought back and counter-attacked every time.
Finally, with mere hundreds of metres to go, it was the 22-year old Latour who finally got a gap, and pulled off the result that reinforces his status as France’s latest young talent.
Chaves out-Contadors Contador
The day’s only change in the top five was underpinned by irony – Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost his place on the podium to Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) through the kind of move the Spaniard has made a career perfecting.
With around 40km still to ride, Chaves went out on the attack, and no-one grabbed onto his wheel. Contador recognised the danger, and set the pace at the front of the peloton himself, but was helpless as the Colombian disappeared up the road.
Just as they did for Simon Yates on stage 14, Orica-BikeExchange had help up the road, this time in the shape of Damien Howsen, who did a brilliant job pacing Chaves on the descent and run-in to the final climb.
But ultimately it was down to the Colombian to finish off the job, and Chaves was able to gain time on Contador on the Alto Aitana to move up to third overall – and, with Contador set to retire at the end of next season, perhaps symbolically mark a changing of the guard at the top of the sport.
Fraile mugs Elissonde of Mountains classification
Away from the GC action, a tight contest for the King of the Mountains classification came to an exciting climax with defending champion Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) taking the jersey from the shoulders of Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) on the very last day of points available.
The Spaniard nipped off the front to claim maximum points on the first category two climb of the day, leaving Elissonde having to chase points.
Crucially, the Frenchman missed getting into the group that got away heading towards the day’s second climb. His chances disappearing, he set off on a brave lone pursuit in the unlikely hope of bridging the gap from the peloton to the leaders before the top of the day’s penultimate climb.
To his credit he did a sterling job and did manage to catch up to them, but could only manage to claim an insufficient sole point on the climb, with the duo of Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) sweeping up the big points.
Is there anything Fabio Felline can’t do?
One of the underrated stars of this year’s Vuelta has been Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo).
Known as the kind of rider who contests sprints on stages too hilly for the purists, he posted some strong results in such stages, with second on stage five behind Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) and third on stage twelve.
But over the past couple of days he has shown what an accomplished all-rounder he is. Having managed an impressive ninth in yesterday’s time-trial, he was out on the attack again today, getting in to the day’s break ultimately finishing third, securing the points classification lead in the process.
In the run-in to the finish it looked as though he was catching up to the leading duo of Pierre Latour (Ag2r) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC), and potentially about to claim a deserved stage win, but ultimately just fell short yet again.
Tomorrow’s pan-flat stage to Madrid may be completely different terrain, but don’t rule him out of finally landing that elusive stage win.