Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step) won stage 15 of the 2016 Vuelta a España after launching the day’s first attack after just three kilometres. However, it was the second placed finisher who gained the most of the day.
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The stage looks set to prove decisive for the overall general classification, and it is now a huge ask for Froome to overhaul Quintana.
At just 120km and with a summit finish, this stage looked set to invite attacks from the drop of the flag, and so it proved.
It wasn’t the usual ragtag bunch looking for a stage win, however, as the lead group contained the red jersey of Quintana and podium hopeful Alberto Contador (Tinkoff).
Dropped early and forced to chase as part of group two on the road were Froome and Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange).
Quintana, Jonathan Castroviejo and Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), Contador, Ivan Rovny and Yuri Trofimov (Tinkoff), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo), Matvey Mamykin (Katusha), Brambilla and David de la Cruz (Etixx-Quick Step), Davide Formolo and Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Drapac) and Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) were all present at the head of the race.
Contador launched an attack after just 6km and Quintana was alive to the danger. Froome was forced to chase due to a lack of teammates but could not get back on terms. Contador went again around 2.2km later and the lead group rapidly opened up over a minute on Froome over a short distance.
Worse still for Froome, most of his teammates were further down the road and were unable to catch and assist their team leader. Once their deficit was five minutes to the front and three to Froome, they abandoned their chase.
After the frantic start to the stage, things calmed down and the gap between Quintana and Froome stabilised around 2-45, and fluctuated no more than about 10 seconds either way.
Elissonde, wearing the polka dots of the lead climber had a minor battle with Fraile for points on the day’s categorised climbs, with the latter taking early honours.
Astana worked hard on the front of the Froome group, but despite getting the gap down below two minutes it went out again to 2-18, where it stuck for a number of kilometres.
No-one wanted to ride with Quintana on the final climb so the race leader took it on himself, setting a blistering pace. It didn’t take long for the group to be whittled down to just the red jersey, Contador and Brambilla.
Contador went backwards and it was left up to the other two to battle for stage honours.
Froome’s next opportunity to gain time back on Quintana will be stage 17’s summit finish, with Monday’s stage likely to finish in a bunch sprint, with a well earned rest day following on Tuesday.
Vuelta a España 2016 stage 15, Sabiñanigo – Formigal, 120km
1. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Etixx-Quick Step, 2-54-30
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3s
3. Fabio Felline (Ita) Trek-Segafredo at 25s
4. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ at 28s
5. David de la Cruz (Esp) Etixx-Quick Step at 31s
6. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff at 34s
7. Davide Formolo (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac at 53s
8. Matvey Mamykin (Rus) Katusha at 1-16
9. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-BikeExchange at 1-53
10. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana at 1-59
18. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 2-40
21. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 2-47
Overall classification after stage 15
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, 61-36-07
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 3-37
3. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-BikeExchange at 3-57
4. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff at 4-02
5. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 5-07
6. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) BMC Racing at 6-12
7. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Drapac at 6-43
8. Davide Formolo (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac at 7-17
9. David de la Cruz (Esp) Etixx-Quick Step at 7-23
10. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana at 7-39