Rafał Majka kept Steven Kruijswijk at bay as he stormed to the stage 15 victory at the 2021 Vuelta a España, taming the mountainous route as he took his first win since stage 14 of the 2017 Spanish Grand Tour.
No matter how hard he tried, Kruijswijk couldn't put a dent into Majka's lead over the final 50km, persevering until the end despite knowing second place was likely all he could muster for his efforts.
DSM's Chris Hamilton hung on from the breakaway to take third, before Adam Yates jumped ahead of the peloton to snatch 15 seconds on the rest.
There was little action amongst the GC contenders again today, and Odd Christian Eiking goes into the second rest day still in the red jersey.
How it happened
Yesterday’s stage winner Romain Bardet and a pair of two-time stage winners this race, DSM team-mate Michael Storer and Magnus Cort, were off the front early, the pace high and the trio unable to get a gap, as more riders shot off the front to try and get in the day’s break.
Movistar had missed the move and Sepp Kuss had managed to sneak in, meaning the Spanish team were forced to keep the pace high.
Soon, a group of 10 were clear, including Cort, Magnus Cort and Mauri Vansevenant, as Kuss found himself in a second group that was soon caught, Burgos and Caja Rural still chasing after they’d missed out on the break.
After chasing for 10km, assisted by UAE Team Emirates, the gap came down to under 10 seconds but soon went back out to half a minute, the break refusing to give up, eventually leaving only Sivakov and Cort clear as the bunch briefly split.
Onto the first big climb of the day, the 15.1km-long Alto de la Centenera, and the leaders had been caught, a few teams trying to fling their own men up the gradient, as Rafał Majka and Maxim Van Gils attacked together, soon chased by Fabio Aru.
A second group soon formed, containing Steven Kruijswijk, Carlos Verona and Gianluca Brambilla. Soon the Majka group had more than a minute on the bunch, while the poursuivants were almost exactly in between the two.
Wout Poels tried to join in the moves, followed by Storer, as others latched on and the race was still yet to settle as they approached the 100km to go mark.
Majka and Aru soon had more than a two-minute advantage onto the next climb, Storer and Brambilla picking up the chase behind, Poels soon joining them.
With 90km to go, Aru was struggling to hold Majka’s wheel, as behind the chase group lost its impetous and its numbers swelled, before four more riders - Kruijswijk, Bouchard, Verona and Arensman - took it up once more.
Aru was finally caught with 60km remaining, Majka two minutes ahead of them now, and onto the 18.1km-long Puerto de Mijares, the chase group disintegrated once more, Kruijswijk going clear.
The Dutchman quickly started to eat into Majka’s time before the Pole stabilised, 1-40 with 50km to the line, which he held up the climb, digging in as he rode on in the hope of a stage victory.
Remnants of the breakaway started to be swept up by the peloton, Intermarché still doing a sterling job for the red jersey of Odd Christian Eiking.
25km to go and the gap between Majka and Kruijswijk remained, the UAE Team Emirates rider managing his effort superbly, a ride of class and experience.
Majka was soon onto the final climb, a third category effort before a short descent down to the finish, maintaining his gap to cross the line and take a first victory in four years.
Behind, Adam Yates had a little hit out to gap the rest of the peloton, finishing fourth and taking back 15 seconds before the second rest day, with only one week left to race.
Vuelta a España 2021, stage 15: Navalmoral de la Mata to El Barraco (197.5km)
1. Rafał Majka (Pol) UAE Team Emirates, in 4-51-36
2. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-27
3. Chris Hamilton (Aus) DSM, at 2-19
4. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2-42
5. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 2-57
6. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Intermarché - Wanty - Gobert Matériaux
7. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma
9. David de la Cruz (Esp) UAE Team Emirates
10. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, all at same time
General classification after stage 15
1. Odd Christian Eiking (Nor) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, in 59-57-50
2. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 54s
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-36
4. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 2-11
5. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar, at 3-04
6. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain Victorious, at 3-25
7. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-21
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadies, at 4-34
9. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at 4-59
10. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 5-31
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