Michael Storer claimed easily the biggest win of his career on stage seven of the Vuelta a España 2021, climbing to an impressive win on the brutal gradients of Balcón de Alicantes.
The Aussie rider formed part of a large 30-rider breakaway that went clear in the opening half of the stage, eventually finding himself in a battle with Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers) and Carlos Verona (Movistar) on the final climb.
Storer (Team DSM) attacked 3km from the finish and battled away to take his third career win and his first Grand Tour stage.
How it happened
Stage seven of the Vuelta a España 2021, the first true climbing day of this year’s race, featured six categorised climbs along the 152km from Gandía to Balcón de Alicante near Spain’s eastern coast.
The stage opened with climbing right from the flag, with the first category Puerto la Llacuna (9.4km, 6.2 per cent average gradient).
Into the middle section the peloton faced two climb in quick succession, the Puerto de Benilloba at the 60km mark and then the Puerto de Tudons, which topped out 20km later.
Then the final third of the stage featured the challenging Puerto El Collao (9.4km at 4.7 per cent), the Puerto de Tibi (5.3km at 5.3 per cent gradient), and finally the last ascent to the line - the first category, Balcón de Alicante, which stretched to 8.4km in length and averaged 6.4 per cent in gradient.
Early in the stage an initial breakaway of seven riders went clear on the first climb, including regular escapee Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH).
Back in the bunch, Hugh Carthy from EF Education-Nippo was the first of the day’s GC casualties, as he was dropped on the first ascent and would eventually abandon the race later in the stage.
After around 40km of racing, a second group broke free of the peloton on the approach to the second climb with some elite talents trying to break across to the original break, including former leader Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), Pavel Sivakov (Ineos Grenadiers), Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) and Matteo Trentin (UAE Team Emirates).
That chasing group eventually bridged across with around 100km to race, making it 30 riders from 17 different teams out front, as the gap back to the bunch settled at around three minutes.
Into the final 40km and we saw some action from the GC contenders, as Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) attacked and Primož Roglič followed along with Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).
Alejandro Valverde then hit disaster as he crashed on a fast downhill right-hand turn, losing grip on his bars as his hand slipped off, and sliding into a barrier at the side of the road.
The Movistar rider did get back on the bike, but eventually abandoned the race as the injuries from the crash took their toll.
It wasn’t long before the trio of GC attackers were swept up by the rest of the bunch again, as the pace in the main group slowed into the final 30km.
At the front of the race, Pavel Sivakov attacked on the Puerto de Tibi with around 26km to the line, but he then dropped a chain, which hampered his hopes of riding away to the line.
But Sivakov was able to get back on the gas and he formed part of a leading three-rider attack with Michael Storer (Team DSM) and Lawson Craddock (EF Education-Nippo).
Craddock was eventually dropped and inside the final 10km Carlos Verona bridged across to the Sivakov group, staying with them before he launched his own attack 6km from the line.
With 3km left to ride on the final climb it was Sivakov, Verona and Storer at the front as they continually attacked each other.
Storer’s decisive attack came 3km from the line as he was able to distance Sivakov and Verona heading towards the brutal gradients near the top of the final climb.
The Australian almost came to a halt on a number of the switchbacks and looked to have completely cracked inside the final kilometre, but he was just about able to hold on as the road flattened out, with Verona chasing hard behind.
Onto the short downhill run to the line and Storer realised he had done enough to cross the line and take the win.
Back in the bunch the GC contenders sprung into action on that final climb, with Adam Yates setting a strong pace and pulling a small group clear with a kilometre to ride.
But Primož Roglič and the remaining Movistar leaders Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López were comfortably able to stick with Yates and Egan Bernal from Ineos, with Roglič maintaining his race lead for another day.
Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe) has jumped into second place overall after his day in the breakaway, now sitting just eight seconds behind Roglič, with Mas now in third at 25 seconds.
The race continues on Saturday with stage eight from Santa Pola to La Manga del Mar Menor, which looks like a potential sprint opportunity after 173km of racing.
Vuelta a España 2021, stage seven: Gandía to Balcón de Alicante (152km)
1. Michael Storer (Aus) DSM, in 4-10-13
2. Carlos Verona (Esp) Movistar, at 21 seconds
3. Pavel Sivakov (Rus) Ineos Grenadiers, at 59s
4. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-16
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-24
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) DSM, at 1-32
7. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
8. Andreas Kron (Den) Lotto-Soudal, at 1-37
9. Steff Cras (Bel) Lotto-Soudal, at 2-17
10. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 2-29
General classification after stage seven
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 25-18-35
2. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at eight seconds
3. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 25s
4. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, at 36s
5. Jan Polanc (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 38s
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
7. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 57s
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at 59s
9. Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech, at 1-06
10. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-22
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