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After a great duel, Froome beat Quintana in a sprint at the top of the Peña Cabarga climb where he took his first grand tour stage win in 2011; Valverde sprinted to third 6 seconds later and Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Unipublic / Graham Watson

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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CHRIS FROOME

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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31.08.2016 @ 18:15 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Chris Froome (Sky) showed that he is still very much in contention for the Vuelta a Espana victory when he took another victory on the Peña Cabarga climb where he won his first grand tour stage three years ago. After a huge battle with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), he beat the Colombian in a two-rider sprint before Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sprinted to third from a small group six seconds later. Quintana retained his lead but Froome moved into second, 54 seconds behind the Colombian.

 

In 2011, Chris Froome suddenly emerged as a grand tour contender a marvelous ride at the Vuelta a Espana. Having gone into the race as a domestique for Bradley Wiggins, he suddenly found himself in overall contention and took over the leadership in the final week as he turned out to be stronger than his captain.

 

The place that really marked Froome out as one to watch was the short, steep climb of Peña Cabarga where he beat later overall winner Juan Jose Cobo in a close sprint after a memorable battle. His many attacks had failed but in the two-rider sprint he turned out to be the fastest.

 

Fast forward five years and Froome found himself in an almost identical position. At this year’s Vuelta, the Brit again found himself with time to make up, this time on Nairo Quintana, and again the short, steep ramp in Cantabria offered him a chance.

 

In a rare case of complete déjà vu, Froome and Quintana were involved in a huge battle on the climb and unlike two days ago on Lagos De Covadonga, Froome didn’t ride at his own pace. Instead, he responded to Quintana’s many attacks and even had a go himself. In the end it all came down to a two-rider sprint and just like it happened three years ago, the Brit was faster than the race leader. As it was the case back then, it was not enough to take the lead but it saw him shave four seconds off his deficit by virtue of bonus seconds.

 

The drama played out on the short 5.8km climb after the Tinkoff team had been riding on the front all day to keep a big 23-rider group under control and so Ben Hermans (BMC), Martijn Keizer (Lotto NL Jumbo), Davide Malacarne (Astana), Koen De Kort and Johannes Frölingher (Giant - Alpecin), Kiel Reijnen (Trek - Segafredo), Jan Bakelants and Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondiale), Tiago Machado and Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha), Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal), Pieter Serry and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx - Quick Step), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac), Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Larry Warbasse(IAM Cycling), Kristijan Durasek and Iliya Koshevoy (Lampre - Merida), Cesare Benedetti and Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon18), Daviad Arroyo and Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) only had an advantage of 20 seconds as they hit the ascent. Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange) led the bunch onto the climb after a huge fight for position and then Movistar took over with Jose Joaquin Rojas.

 

While the Spanish champion rode on the front, Madrazo surged clear in a solo move but he was quickly caught by Hermans, Warbasse, Bakelants, Kudus, Malacarne and Serry. The BMC rider went straight to the front and only Bakelants could keep up with him.

 

Rojas gradually picked up a lot of escapees and sent riders out the back door. He didn’t respond when Matvey Mamkykin (Katusha) made an attack and he didn’t need to as the Russian was soon brought back.

 

With 4km to go, Hermans and Bakelants led the peloton by 20 seconds as Jonathan Castovijeo took over for Movistar. Here the BMC rider dropped his companion and then pressed on alone, keeping the gap stable at 15-20 seconds.

 

Ruben Fernandez was the next rider in the Movistar train and that made a big difference. Hermans started to lose ground rapidly and Bakelants was brought back.

 

Hermans did his best to stay clear but just after the passage of the 3km to go banner, the Belgian was reeled in. Fernandez kept riding on the front until they hit the second steep part of the climb.

 

As soon as the road got steeper, Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) made a big attack and he soon got an advantage of almost 20 seconds. Fernandez kept riding on the front until Sky launched an attack with Leopold König but Valverde shut it down immediately.

 

Valverde worked hard for Quintana, keeping the gap stable at 15 seconds as they went under the flamme rouge. König took over in an attempt to set Froome up for victory and then Valverde accelerated.

 

Only Froome, Quintana, Contador and König could hang onto the Spaniard and this set Quintana up for his attack. Only Froome could follow and he still hung on when the Colombian tried again.

 

Quintana and Froome quickly caught Chaves who was dropped when the race leader made his third attack. Froome then tried to counter but he couldn’t get rid of his companion.

 

Froome and Quintana had a big gap but as they slowed down completely, König and a group with Chaves, Valverde, Contador, Yates and Scarponi approached from behind. Just as the Czech was about to make the junction, Froome launched his sprint and Quintana could do nothing else than hanging onto his wheel. The Brit crossed the line as the clear winner of the stage for the second time in his career. Valverde made a great sprint further back to just come around König six seconds later, with Contador hanging onto the pair for fifth place.

 

With the bonus seconds, Froome moves into second and reduced his deficit by four seconds. He now sits 54 seconds behind Quintana who retained the red jersey, with Valverde now in third 1.05 behind his teammate. The Colombian faces another tough stage tomorrow when the peloton will head to the Basque Country. There is an early category 1 climb and then a category 3 climb to tackle in the first half before the peloton gets to the finish for the first time. Here they will do two laps of a difficult circuit that includes the short, steep Alto El Vivero, which should make it a great stage for a breakaway.

 

A brutal wall

After a well-deserved rest day, the riders were back in the saddle on stage 11 which offered the fourth consecutive summit finish. The 168.6km between Colunga and the climb of Peña Cabarga consisted of a long, lumpy run along the Cantabrian coast but it all came to an abrupt end in the finale. Here the riders faced the final ascent which averaged 9.8% over 5.6km and had double-digit gradients for almost its entire length.

 

Simon Clarke (Cannondale), who crashed badly on Monday and Silvio Herklotz (Bora-Argon 18) who had fallen ill were both at the hotel when the peloton gathered on a beautiful, sunny day in northern Spain, and thus there were 177 riders in the field when they rolled through the neutral zone. As expected it was a crazy start with lots of attacks and no one could get clear in the first 8km. The hard pace was too much for the injured Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) who had to leave the race.

 

23 rides get clear

Lotto Soudal, Astana, BMC and Trek were all very active, but we had to get to the 20km mark before 14 riders got a real gap. Just three kilometers later things were back together. The next 12km didn’t make a difference either and after 35km of racing it was still an intact field. In fact, it took one hour before 23 riders escaped at a time when the field had completed no less than 49.6 km.

 

The field took a breather, and therefore had Ben Hermans (BMC), Martijn Keizer (Lotto NL Jumbo), Davide Malacarne (Astana), Koen De Kort and John Fröhlinger (Giant - Alpecin), Kiel Reijnen (Trek - Segafredo), Jan Bakelants and Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondiale), Tiago Machado and Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha), Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal), Pieter Serry and Zdenek Stybar (Etixx - Quick Step), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale - Drapac), Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data), Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Kristijan Durasek and Iliya Koshevoy (Lampre - Merida), Cesare Benedetti and Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon18), David Arroyo and Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural - Seguros RGA) had a gap of 2.36 after 64km. Movistar took control in the peloton with Imanol Erviti and Rory Sutherland, but they didn’t chase. Thus the advantage had grown to 3.52 at the 73km mark and as they hit the final 90km, it was 5 minutes.

 

Tinkoff start to chase

The gap went out to 5.15 before Alberto Contador decided to go for the stage win. The Spaniard asked Sergio Paulinho to up the pace and in just 10km, the Portuguese took back a minute. Ivan Rovny came to the fore to lend him a hand but the escapees were quick to respond, neutralizing the gap.

 

The escapees quickly responded to the increased pace but as soon as the gap stabilized, Tinkoff just added more firepower to the chase. Paulinho, Rovny, Michael Gogl and Manuele Boaro traded pulls on the front and had already reduced the gap to 3.15 when they entered the final 70km.

 

Stybar wins the sprint

The gap came down to 2.15 before the escapees managed to stabilize the situation. For a long time, it was a huge battle between the two groups as the gap was totally unchanged for several kilometres.

 

With a little less than 50km to go, Stybar protected Gianni Meersman’s green jersey when he beat Bakelants and Pfingsten in the intermediate sprint. At this point, Rovny, Boaro, Gogl and Paulinho upped the pace and so the gap was only 1.30 with 40km to go.

 

The attacking starts

With gap melting away, the attacking started in the front group and it was Machado who launched the first move. He failed to get clear and instead it was van Rensburg who surged clear. The South African stayed clear for a few kilometres but he was soon back in the fold.

 

The attacks ended the cooperation in the break and as Tinkoff also put Yury Trofimov on the front, the gap came down even faster. With 30km to go, it was only a single minute.

 

A fight for position

Stybar was very active in the break and his huge turns contributed to keeping the gap stable at a minute. However, the attacking started again with 20km to go where van Rensburg and Pfingsten gave it an unsuccessful shot.

 

The group cooperated for a few kilometres before Madrazo attacked with 12km to go but the group was back together as they hit the final 10km with an advantage of 50 seconds. At this point, the fight for position started in the peloton and as the gap came down to 20 seconds, Pfingsten and Madrazo tried to attack.

 

While the pair was joined by Armee and Fröhlinger and tried to build an advantage, Orica-BikeExchange hit the front with Magnus Cort. Moments later, the quartet was brought back and the group was back together as they hit the climb where the action unfolded.

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