A great Grand Tour for Orica-BikeExchange
Jens Keukeleire handed Orica-BikeExchange its second stage victory in the 2016 Vuelta a España, sprinting to victory in the reduced bunch sprint at the end of stage 12 on Thursday in Bilbao. It is his first Grand Tour stage win. The victory comes on the back of Simon Yates’s first Grand Tour win on stage six, plus the current position of Esteban Chaves and Yates in fourth and seventh overall.
The hilly day had whittled down the bunch, as the pace of the racing was kept high. After several escape groups had been reeled in, Yates put himself at the front of the peloton to police the moves in the final few kilometres. As the bunch came back together, Yates looked backwards to see Keukeleire positioning himself perfectly for the bunch gallop, which he won by a clear margin.
It’s notable that all three Orica riders making waves at the race are well under 30-years-old: Keukeleire is 27, Chaves 26 and Yates 24. The team’s investment in the future is already paying off.
Team Sky riders go for the escape
It’s not often that you see a Team Sky rider in a Grand Tour escape when the British WorldTour team has overall aspirations, but that happened on stage 12 when both Peter Kennaugh and David Lopez worked themselves into the day’s second break. On a day that wasn’t billed as one for the GC riders, Sky’s workers could have slightly more of a free hand as Chris Froome stayed safe in the bunch.
The two riders were part of a seven-man move after around 50km of the race and the ascent of Puerto de las Alisas, with Kennaugh putting in sizeable turns at the front to ensure it stayed away from the peloton on a fast-paced day. Kennaugh started the day in 15th place overall and 6-32 behind race leader Quintana – a situation that may have caused alarm bells to ring with Sky’s rivals.
Astana and Movistar evidently didn’t like the look of the escape and put in a concerted chase to put the pressure on. It worked: the escapees never really extended their lead over the peloton by much more than two minutes, and were caught just inside the final 20km. However, Movistar will have collectively expended a lot of energy to chase down the break, which plays into Sky’s hands in the long-term.
Contador has a dig
Although the day featured four classified climbs, the final section was all flat – on paper, it wasn’t a day for the GC men to bother with, particularly with bigger climbs looming at the weekend.
That, however, did not stop Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) having a bit of a dig at his rivals on the final climb of the day. Contador bobbed up to the front of the contenders group, forcing race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Sky) to chase after him.
Momentarily, it caused a split in the peloton before the action eased up and it all came back together. Still nursing some injuries and sitting in fifth place overall at 3-08, Contador is evidently testing his legs and perhaps also showing his rivals that he has the capacity to spring a surprise move.
Contador is definitely not out of the race yet, and his attack on stage 12 could be a small sign of things to come.
Messy stage shows there’s no relaxing
Often in the mid-part of a Grand Tour, general classification hopefuls and their teams are content to let escape groups take the glory as they take a break from rivalries on ‘flatter’ stages.
Stage 12 of the Vuelta could, perhaps uncharitably, be called a bit of a mess. Various riders and escape groups attempted to free themselves from the clutches of the peloton after the start in Los Corrales de Buelna. After 50km an escape group comprising Darwin Atapuma (BMC), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep), David Lopez (Sky), Peter Kennaugh (Sky), Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) and Romain Hardy (Cofidis) did manage to go.
But with Kennaugh and Atapuma high on the GC, they too weren’t allowed much leeway and were caught with 20km to go. There was also some minor scuffling between the upper order of the general classification on the final climb (see above).
Into the finish town of Bilbao there were further attacks, including Dries Devenyns (IAM) opening up a 20-plus-second gap, only to get caught in the final few kilometres. Only around 45 of the 171 riders finished in the front group.
Throughout the stage, the high speed and hot temperatures would have had a fatiguing effect on everyone. With another hilly stage on Friday – the longest of the race at 213.4km – there are going to be some very tired riders by the weekend.
No luck for Atapuma
Former race leader Darwin Atapuma (BMC) started the day in 17th place overall and evidently fancied his chances in the escape group. There was the possibility of gaining some time and moving back up the general classification – the Colombian placed ninth overall at the Giro d’Italia in May, so he’s already proven his credentials.
However, an almost inexplicable crash while he was riding at the front of the break saw his front wheel slide out and dump Atapuma on the deck. After dusting himself down and waiting for a bike change, his chance of catching the break was gone and he’ll have to look for more opportunities later in the race.