You’ve got to hand it to Fabio, he doesn’t seem to know the meaning of defence. As was in the Giro d’Italia earlier this year, it’s all or nothing for the Italian.
The Vuelta’s 14th stage finishing climb wasn’t the hardest – alright, it came after 232km of racing – but it was clear from the outset that Astana weren’t sitting on Aru’s lead, having already indicated that they’d be trying to ride surprise contender Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) out of the race on the next three stages before the time trial in Burgos.
And while Aru wasn’t able to put any distance between himself and second placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), in fact he lost a second on the Spaniard, he did manage to gain a further 19 seconds on Dutchman Dumoulin, who seems to present somewhat of a worry for a number of the GC teams ahead of Wednesday’s TT.
So we can certainly expect to see more attacking intent from Astana as we did today, particularly considering Aru’s track record in time trials. But it requires some caution. The Italian made his move in his usual ungraceful style and looked to put some distance into his rivals, but it looked like too much too soon.
In the end, he managed to hang on as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rodriguez went up the road, but he certainly lost something in the tough closing kilometre after he tried to go for it.
With two more summit finishes in the next two days, Aru will need as much as he can get before Wednesday’s individual test, but he needs to make sure he doesn’t let those who already looked out of contention back into the race…
But that’s what Quintana will be hoping for. More measured and controlled than Aru, he calmly just followed the wheels of the attacks before taking advantage of the growing fatigue to make his own move up the road an grab a few seconds.
It was surprising to see, considering the illness the Colombian has had and the form he has been showing, including on Friday’s relatively straight forward stage 13 which saw him dropped by the peloton.
As Alejandro Valverde began to look out of it as well, it was hard to see what Movistar’s plan would be from here. But Quintana has elected to ride throw his troubles and today looked like he could be almost back to his best.
With no Chris Froome or Vincenzo Nibali left in the race, Quintana certainly carries the most pedigree of the current overall contenders, but he’s got a mammoth task in front of him if he’s to overturn a three-minute deficit.
While Aru might be all about the attack, the 2014 Giro d’Italia winner will need to quickly need to hit top form if he’s to take time back on the two remaining summit finishes of this race.
Like Aru and Rodriguez the time trial will be a matter of cutting losses for Quintana, so his moves will have to come on stage 15 and 16 if he’s to make a dent in his deficit.
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Can Dumoulin hold on?
It was a tough day for Dumoulin.
No longer is he the surprise package that goes unmarked by the GC contenders, but the man everyone’s trying to ride out of the race. He looked comfortable for the most part of the climb on Saturday, the steady gradient favouring the powerful, consistent type of rider Dumoulin is.
But the changes in gradient and the constant accelerations looked too much for him on the road to Alto Campoo, but he managed to stick to the second group of contenders which included Valverde and Dani Moreno (Katusha). There’s harder days coming though and right now, it looks as though the dream of an overall win might be too much for the time trial specialist.
He doesn’t have the support the other favourites have for one, his Giant-Alpecin teammates more geared towards setting up sprints for John Degenkolb than anything else. However, young Lawson Craddock churned out an immense performance to support his team leader and finished not far behind in 19th place on the stage.
The plan is quite clearly to get Dumoulin in touching distance to the Burgos time trial. At 38.7km, its long enough to make some significant gains for the man who could be vying for the world time trial title against a line-ip of slight climbers.
It’s going to be a tough two days for Tom though before the first rest day, and by the looks of things, no-one’s going to be holding back.
A long day with an explosive ending
The novelty of this stage was that it was just long. 215km at this point in the race with a summit finish just looked a gruelling prospect.
But much like stage 11 in the Andorra mountains, the promise of excitement and combative riding was pretty much off the cards for the majority of the day. For many it was simply about getting through, while the GC teams were seemingly happy to let a break get away with no overall threats if it meant a more laid-back day.
The excitement really only came at the end of the day with the story of the break and the GC battle behind. Sadly, you couldn’t really see much of it. An unfortunate bout of mist set in just as the riders reached the summit, meaning for the TV viewer there wasn’t really much to get your teeth into. Let’s hope for some clearer finishes ahead.