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Having joined a 28-rider breakaway, Frank gauged his effort on the steep Alto Mas de la Costa perfectly to win stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana; Contador, Froome, Quintana and Chaves finished together and so Quintana retained the lead

Photo: Unipublic / Graham Watson














07.09.2016 @ 18:24 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Mathias Frank continued the memorable grand tour season for IAM by taking the fourth stage win for the Swiss team on the tough stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana. Having made it into a 28-rider breakaway, he attacked before the brutally steep Alto Mas de la Costa and then held off the late comebacks from Leopold König (Sky) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) to take the first grand tour stage win of his career. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Chris Froome (Sky), Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) finished together and so Quintana retained the lead.


During the first years in the pro peloton, the IAM team had a hard time getting stage wins in the grand tours. The team had lots of success, most notably with Mathias Frank, but they always came up short in the three-week races.


The lack of results on the big scenes partly let to the demise of the squad as they are set to disappear at the end of the year. However, ever since the announcement was made, the team has been absolutely flying.


It all started when Roger Kluge picked up a surprise win at the Giro d’Italia and a few months later Jarlinson Pantano took their first stage win at the Tour de France. Two weeks ago they completed the treble when Jonas Van Genechten emerged as the strongest in a tough uphill sprint on stage 7 of the Vuelta a Espana.


However, the team had no intention to rest on their laurels and have vowed to fight on until the very end. During the Spanish race, they have been a constant aggressor and today they got the just reward when Frank won the stage that finished on the brutally steep Alto Mas de la Costa which has been described as the steepest 4km ever tackled by the Vuelta.


Due to several health issues, Frank has had a disappointing year and was forced to abandon the Tour where he was aiming for another top 10. He had hoped to get back in track by claiming a stage win in the Vuelta and he has constantly tried in the breakaway. Until today, he had always come up short but on stage 17 things came together as he emerged as the strongest from a 28-rider group that escaped after hectic start.


While Frank soloed to the win, the GC battle was on but it ended as status quo between the four best riders. Esteban Chaves, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador all tried to attack and briefly had Chris Froome in difficult. However, the Brit gauged his effort perfectly to make it back with less than 100m to go, and the four riders finished together.


After the fast start, Imanol Erviti and José Herrada (Movistar), Michael Gogl (Tinkoff), Michal Golas and Leopold König (Sky), Silvan Dillier (BMC), Maxime Bpuet (Etixx-QuickStep), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Robert Gesink and Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Simon Gerrans and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Bike Exchange), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Segafredo), Axel Domont (Ag2r La Mondiale), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Soudal), Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Marcel Wyss, Mathias Frank and Clement Chevrier (IAM Cycling), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Christoph Pfingsten and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18), Pello Bilbao and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) had built an advantage of almost 8 minutes before BMC took control to protect their lead in the teams classification, with Jempy Drucker and Darwin Atapuma riding on the front. They had shaved the gap down to around 6 minutes with 30km to go.


Here the fight for the stage win started when Bouet launched a first attack. Roson, Tankink and Chevrier followed but as Tankink just protected Gesink, the quartet was brought back.


Cataldo was the next to try and this time Bouet and Frank followed. Bouet exploded but Cataldo and Frank got a solid advantage. Gesink tried to shut it down immediately but as he failed, Tankink went to work for his teammate.


With 25km to go, the two leaders had an advantage of 15 seconds and it had gone out to more than 30 seconds just 5km later. In the peloton, Atapuma and Drucker were controlling things and as the gap was now again six minutes, it was clear that they were not in contention for the stage win.


Golas, Tankink and Erviti sacrificed themselves for their teammates but the chasers were still 30 seconds behind with 15km to go. When Frank led Cataldo across the line in the intermediate sprint with 9km to go, Golas led the chasers 30 seconds later.


Atapuma emptied himself in the peloton and had reduced the gap to 5.35 when the fight for position started and Orica-BikeExchange took control with Sam Bewley and Jens Keukeleire who led their teammates Damien Howson, Jack Haig, Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates. Howson then took over as they entered Llucena.


Golas did a marvelous job to single-handedly keep the gap at 20 seconds until they hit the climb while the peloton led by Damien Howson arrived five minutes later. Gesink went straight to work, keeping the gap at 25 seconds before Sbaragli launched a surprise attack. However, he didn’t get far as Bilbao easily reeled him in and then the Basque went on the attack himself.


The peloton battled hard for position and it was Jose Joaquin Rojas and Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) who led the peloton onto the climb. The hard fight had taken its toll as only 40 riders were left.


With 2.5km to go, Frank attacked in an easier section and Cataldo chose not to respond, riding at his own pace. However, it was not enough to keep up with the Swiss who quickly got an advantage of 10 seconds. Further back, Bilbao was brought back and it was Herrada who set the pace in the chase group.


Gesink finally decided to make his move and as he increased his pace, only Dillier, Bilbao, Herrada and König could follow. He soon dropped his companions and then sped towards Cataldo who was starting to fade.


König rejoined Gesink, with Herrada, Bilbao and Domont following close behind before they caught Cataldo just before the flamme rouge. Herrada also made the junction but they were still 15 seconds behind Frank.


With 1km to go, Gesink went all in in a final attempt to close the gap but there was nothing to be done. The strong Swiss had enough left in the tank to hold the Dutchman off and had plenty of time to celebrate his win. Gesink was passed by König who took second, with Bilbao and Cataldo compleing the top 5.


In the peloton, Ruben Fernandez took over the pace-setting for Movistar on the lower slopes and quickly whittled the group down to around 15 riders. He didn’t respond when Ben Hermans (BMC) attacked and not when Matvey Mamykin (Katusha) bridged the gap to the Belgian.


Hermans and Mamykin increased their advantage while David De La Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) became the first top 10 rider to get dropped from the peloton. Fernandez led the chase until Davide Formolo (Cannondale) moved to the front to increase the speed but it was Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) who started the GC battle. The Spaniard launched a strong attack and quickly sprinted past Hermans and Mamykin.


Chaves went all in as he tried to close the gap to Contador and with Quintana on his wheel, he made the junction. Choosing not to go into the red zone, Froome went into time trial mode and slowly approached from behind. Quintana moved to the front to try to distance him and accelerated just as the junction was about to be made. However, the Brit made it back just before the flamme rouge.


Chaves tried to attack and again Froome lost a few metres. Contador also briefly lost some ground but the Tinkoff leader made it back and then launched his own attack. While he sprinted to the line with Quintana on Chaves on his wheel, Froome launched his own sprint, making the junction just before the line and crossing the line just behind Contador and ahead of Quintana and Chaves, with the quartet finishing in the same time. Scarponi was the next rider to arrive, followed by Hermans, Talansky and Mamykin while Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and De La Cruz were the notable losers in the GC battle, with the pair both slipping one spot in the overall standings.


Quintana retained his overall lead and so he is still 3.37 ahead of Froome. He hopes for an easier day tomorrow on stage 18 which could be an opportunity for the sprinters. There’s a tough category 2 climb after 70km from there it is mainly a downhill run to a flat finish at the coast.


A brutal climb

After a well-deserved rest day, it was back into the mountains for one of the hardest stages of the race. The 177.5km between Castellon and the Alto Mas de la Costa had a tough start as there was a category 2 climb right from the beginning. The riders then headed along lumpy roads to a pair of climbs in the middle section. Finally, they followed flat roads to the bottom of the final climb which averaged a massive 12-5% over 3.8km for what was described as the steepest 4km in the Vuelta history.


Jos Van Emden (LottoNL-Jumbo) was the only rider to stay in the hotel as the other 163 riders gathered on a brutally hot day in Spain. A crash in the neutral zone postponed the start slightly but once the flag was dropped, the pace was fast. The start was brtual and it took a long time before anyone could get clear. Tiago Machado (Katusha) laid the foundations for the first small 7-rider breakbut they were caught after just four kilometers.


Fraile wins the KOM sprint

After 10km of racing, Axel Domont (Ag2r), Omar Fraile, Jaco Venter (Dimension Data) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) escaped, and it was obviously dangerous for Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) took off in pursuit together with Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick Step). However, they were all brought back at the bottom of the first increase.


Matvey Mamykin (Katusha) attacked four kilometers from the top and was joined by Yuri Trofimov (Tinkoff), David Lopez (Sky) and Gianluca Brambilla (Team Quick Step). However, they were caught after 18 km, and thus Fraile could beat Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Trofimov in the KOM sprint.


A big group gets clear

Trofimov and Brambilla tried to attack on the descent, but after 34km of racing, it was all back together. 17 riders then got clear and the group grew to a 26-rider move before they were brought back at the 38km mark. Instead, it was a group of 27 riders that got the first major gap of 24 seconds after 43km of fast racing. The peloton finally slowed down and so the gap to Imanol Erviti and José Herrada (Movistar), Michael Gogl (Tinkoff), Michal Golas and Leopold König (Sky), Silvan Dillier (BMC), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Robert Gesink and Bram Tankink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Simon Gerrans and Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-Bike Exchange), Mathieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Segafredo), Axel Domont (Ag2r La Mondiale), Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Soudal), Kristian Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Marcel Wyss, Mathias Frank and Clement Chevrier (IAM Cycling), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida), Stéphane Rossetto (Cofidis), Christoph Pfingsten and Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon 18), Pello Bilbao and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) went out to 3.50 just 19km later. At this time, Maxime Bouet (Etixx-Quick Step) and Jose Mendes (Bora-Arhon 18) were chasing 42 seconds behind the leader. At the same time, Tejay van Garderen (BMC) left the race.


Impressively, Bouet dropped Mendes and then made the junction as the front group hit the penultimate climb with an advantage of 4.30. In the peloton, Rory Sutherland and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) led the group to the top and they had no intention of bringing the break back. Hence, the gap was 5.30 when Sbaragli beat Pfingsten and Erviti in the KOM sprint.


BMC hit the front

Sutherland and Rojas allowed the gap to go out to 6.30 as they entered the final 75km and the gap had gone out to 7.45 when they slowly went up the second climb. Surprisingly, BMC launched an offensive when Jempy Drucker took off and he was quickly joined by teammate Ben Hermans. However, the plan was different as the pair soon waited for the peloton and instead Drucker started to ride on the front to defend the lead in the teams competition.


Drucker’s hard work paid off and after Sbaragli had beaten Pfingsten and Ladagnous in the KOM sprint, the peloton reached the top 6.30 later.  The gap came down to 5.45 but then the front group responded and so the situation stabilized.


The gap slowly went out to 6.10 before Darwin Atapuma came to the fore to take a massive turn for BMC, cutting the gap to 5.40 with 30km to go. Here Bouet launched the first attack to start the fight for the stage win which was ultimately taken by Frank.



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