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With a great uphill sprint, Gesink beat Elissonde and Silin to win the Vuelta a Espana queen stage from a breakaway; Yates made a big attack to move into fourth overall while Quintana was unable to drop Froome

Photo: Unipublic / Graham Watson

KENNY ELISSONDE

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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ROBERT GESINK

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TEAM JUMBO-VISMA

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03.09.2016 @ 18:55 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) continued his fantastic comeback from a bad crash at the Tour de Suisse by taking one of the biggest wins of his career at the Vuelta a Espana queen stage on the top of Col d’Aubisque. Having joined a big breakaway in the early part of the big stage in the Alps, the Dutchman finally beat Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and Egor Silin (Katusha) in an uphill sprint. Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) made a bold long-distance attack that saw him move into fourth overall while Nairo Quintana’s (Movistar) many attacks were unrewarded as the race leader was unable to distance Chris Froome (Sky) who remains 54 seconds behind in the overall standings.

 

After several disappointing season, Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) looked like he was back on track when he finished sixth in last year’s Tour de France. The scene was set for another great performance in France this summer and he had prepared specifically to do even better than last year.

 

However, there seems to be no end to his incredible run of bad luck as he crashed hard in the Tour de Suisse and was left with a severe concussion. It cost him the chance to line up in France and he even had to shelve all GC plans for the Vuelta a Espana too as he could only make a belated return to racing at the Tour de l’Ain.

 

However, Gesink still headed to Spain, hoping to play a key role for Steven Krijswijk in the final week, but when the leader crashed out he had to change his plans. That may now have been a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to take the biggest win of his career in today’s queen stage on the Col d’Aubisque.

 

Gesink was attentive in the hectic early phase and made it into a 41-rider breakaway that animated the stage. On the final climb, he turned out to be the strongest and finally beat Kenny Elissonde and Egor Silin with a tough uphill sprint on the legendary mountain to make up for his near-miss on Lagos De Covadonga in stage 10.

 

Behind Gesink, a very chaotic GC game played out. Simon Yates attacked already on the penultimate climb and was justly rewarded for his efforts by moving into fourth overall after a great plan from Orica-BikeExchange played out to perfection.

 

While Yates pressed on, the battle for the overall victory was on further down the mountain. Nairo Quintana attacked Chris Froome repeatedly but never managed to get rid of the Brit. Hence, the pair reached the finish together and it remained status quo between the two strongest riders in the race. The big loser was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who cracked after a long season and lost more than 10 minutes.

 

After a hectic stage, the final part of the drama played out on the final 16km climb. At this point, Elissonde, Silin, George Bennett, Julien Bernard and Bart De Clercq had an advantage of 20 seconds over Daniel Moreno, David Lopez, Tejay van Garderen, Robert Gesink, Dario Cataldo, Haimar Zubeldia, Pierre Rolland, Davide Villella, Mathias Frank, Larry Warbasse, Romain Hardy, Rudy Molard, Pello Bilbao, Sergio Pardilla and Romain Sicard after Villella had done a lot of work to bring the gap down. Yates who had picked up teammates Keukeleire, Gerrans and Cort arrived 3.45 later while the peloton hit the ascent with a deficit of 5.15. At this point, BMC, Movistar and Tinkoff  were leading the chase with Silvan Dillier, Jonathan Castroviejo and Ivan Rovny.

 

Yates left his teammates behind as soon as they started to climb while Sky took over in the peloton with Ian Boswell. He took one big turn and then Movistar were back on the front with Catroviejo and Herrada. At the same time, Silin and Bakelants attacked from the front group and immediately got a gap Elissonde slowly got back up to speed and the group was back together with 13km to go.

 

Despite Movistar’s hard work, Yates kept his advantage of 1.30 as they hit the final 10km. In the peloton, it was still Castroviejo setting the pace, 3.30 behind the leaders, but he was clearly running out of power.

 

Elissonde and Bakelants attacked and were joined by Bennett and Silin to form a quartet. Further back, Gesink made his mov from the chase group and Pardilla, Lopez and Moreno failed in their attempt to join him. The Dutchman soon sprinted past Bernard and De Clercq and then joined the leaders.

 

Surprisingly, Valverde started to suffer and he was already far back when Castroviejo swung off. There was no one present to take over the pace-setting and so it became a chaos of attacks. Ben Hermans, Andrey Zeits and Pierre Latour all gave it a go but only the Frenchman could stay ahead.

 

That was the time for Quintana to make his first attack but after a bit of hesitation, Froome reeled him in, having passed Latour in the process As they slowed down, the door was open for counterattacks and Andrew Talansky and Leopold König took the opportunity to take off. A regrouping took place and the main group now consisted of Quintana Formolo, Contador, Froome, Latour, Peraud, Scarponi, Sanchez, Kennaugh, Zoidl and De La Cruz.

 

The group again came to a standstill and this allowed Sanchez to attack, quickly bridging the gap to teammate van Garderen. It took some time for the peloton to get going again but when Zeits had made it back, Astana took control.

 

Gesink didn’t need much time to recover and made a big attack that seemed to be decisive. However, Bakelants made it back and while Silin, Bennett and Elissonde chased, they increased their advantage.

 

Sanchez and van Garderen soon got an advantage of 45 seconds while Talansky and König were even further ahead. At the same time, Yates still rode strongly and continued to pass riders from the break.

 

Quintana made his next move and this time Froome didn’t respond. He got an advantage of 10 seconds before Lopez who had dropped back from the break, increased the speed. Only Froome, Contador and Chaves could follow and when the Brit dopped the hammer, he made it back to Quintana with Contador glued to his wheel.

 

Quintana, Froome and Contador caught Moreno and Sanchez but as they slowed down Chaves made it back and with a solid counterattack, he got an immediate advantage. In the confusion, Sanchez and Moreno also attacked while the three grand tour stars watched each other closely. That allowed Formolo to rejoin from behind.

 

Further up the road, Elissonde had caught the two leaders and he launched a strong attack that only Gesink could follow. Bakelants cracked and quickly lost a lot of ground.

 

Contador made his only attack with 2km to go but Quintana sprinted straight past. Froome closed the gap but Contador never made it back again.

 

Quintana and Froome caught Moreno before Quintana tried again, sprinting past Sanchez. Again he failed to distance the Brit and instead he asked Moreno to ride on the front. With 1.5km to go, Quintana tried again but there was no chance to get rid of Froome and instead Moreno again made it back to the two strongest riders.

 

Just before the flamme rouge, Silin caught Gesink and Elissonde and he even went to the front to set the pace. However, it was Gesink who launched a long sprint with less than 300m to go and as he just kept going, he gradually made his two companions crack. Silin was the first to surrender and when Elissonde also gave up, Gesink could sit up to celebrate his win.

 

Bennett made it two LottoNL-Jumbo riders in the top 4 before Yates sprinted to the line for fifth place. The other GC winners were Talansky, Chaves and König who gained around 30 seconds on the Quintana and Froome. The Colombian made one final attempt by launching a strong sprint but the pair crossed the line together to take 12th and 13th on the stage. Contador lost 20 seconds while Valverde dropped out of the top 10 with a loss of almost 10 minutes.

 

Quintana retained his 54-second advantage over Froome. He faces another very hard stage tomorrow on what will be a short and intense day in the Alps. After a flat start, the riders will tackle a category 3 and a category 2 climb before the stage ends at the top of the relatively gentle Formigal climb which averages 4.6% over 14.5km.

 

The queen stage

After yesterday’s relatively calm stage, things were exploded to explode in the queen stage which brought the riders over 196km from Urdax-Dantxarinea to the top of the Col d’Aubisque. After 50 flat kilometres, the riders hit the category 1 Col Inharpu and then the category 1 climbs of Col du Soude and Col du Marie-Blanque awaited before they got to the bottom of the final legendary mountain. It averaged 7.1% over 16.5km and was set to be the scene of a big GC battle.

 

 

All 170 riders who reached the finish yesterday were present when the peloton left Spain under a sunny and hot sky, and there were plenty of nervous faces as they rolled through the neutral zone and entered France. As soon as the flag was dropped, Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) attacked and after he briefly got a away alone, he was joined by a small group with the likes of Sergio Paulinho, Silvan Dillier, Tsgabu Grmay, Manuele Boaro, Riccardo Zoidl, Pavel Kochetkov, Luis Angel Mate, Luis Leon Sanchez, Pierre Rolland, Jose Joaquin Rojas and Damien Howson. Fraile and Sanchez surged clear but after four kilometres, it was all back together.

 

An aggressive start

Odd Christian Eiking (FDJ) was the next to try and after he was brought back, he latched onto the wheel of Magnus Cort (Orica-BikeExchange) when the Dane attacked. Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) tried to join the pair but he never made the junction.

 

Eiking and Cort dug deep to create a solid advantage before Jens Keukeleire (Orica-BikeExchange) and Davide Villella (Cannondale) gave chase.  Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data) joined the pair and then the trio caught the leaders, making it a front quintet. Further back, a chase group with Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Romain Hardy (Cofidis), Larry Warbasse, Simon Plleaud (IAM), Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) and Quentin Juaregui (Ag2r) was formed.

 

41 riders get clear

After 15km of aggression, the two front groups merged but at the same time, a very big group latched onto the back and suddenly more than 20 riders had gathered in front. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) was keen on keeping the group going and suddenly they had an advantage of more than 20 seconds. This forced Sky on the defensive and they tried to shut the move down with Christian Knees, Salvatore Puccio and Michal Golas.  It was a dangerous group that included riders like Robert Gesink, Pierre Rolland, George Bennett, Jan Bakelants, Daniel Moreno, Mathias Frank, Ruben Fernandez, Moreno Moser and Kenny Elissonde and with Moreno being the best placed in GC, Movistar were in ideal situation, forcing the British team to work.

 

Despite the hard work from the Sky trio, they were losing the battle and so the gap continued to increase. After 25km of fast racing, the 41-rider group with Ruben Fernandez, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Daniel Moreno (Movistar), Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff), David Lopez (Sky), Ben Hermans, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), George Bennett, Victor Campenaerts, Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Magnus Cort, Jens Keukeleire, Simon Gerrans (Orica-BikeExchange), Dario Cataldo (Astana), Kenny Elissonde, Odd Christian Eiking, Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Haimar Zubeldia, Julien Bernard (Trek), Jan Bakelants, Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r), Alberto Losada, Egor Silin (Katusha), Sander Armee, Bart De Clercq (Lotto Soudal), Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep), Davide Villella, Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Omar Fraile, Jacques van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Mathias Frank, Larry Warbasse (IAM), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Romain Hardy, Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Christoph Pfingsten (Bora-Argon 18), Pello Bilbao, Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural), Romain Sicard and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) had built an advantage of 2.45.

 

Fraile wins the KOM sprint

Sky eased off a bit and so the gap had gone out to 4.10 as they hit the first climb. Here Campenaerts did a fantastic job for his captains Gesink and Bennett and slowly increased the gap. At the same time, riders were getting dropped from the peloton due to Sky’s hard pace.

 

Calmejane was the first rider to get dropped from the break and Jauregui was also suffering a lot while Campenaerts pushed the gap out to 4.45. As they reached the top, Fraile, Geniez and Elissonde sprinted for the KOM points and crossed the line in that order, with Rojas and Fernandez picking up the final points.

 

Sky in control

Geniez, Fraile and Elissonde continued their attack on the descent and as he took a lot of risks, Geniez nearly went down. Unfortunately, van Rensburg and Rojas were unable to stay upright in the same turn and the South African hurt himself badly as he hit the ground.

 

The front trio decided to wait for their chasers and so the front group was back together as they headed down the dangerous descent. Rolland and Bennett led them through the many tricky turns and as Sky had to be cautious, the front group hd pushed the gap out to 5 minutes as they hit the flat valley roads.

 

Sky up the pace

Knees, Puccio and Boswell made use of the flat valley roads to increase their speed and slowly started to reduce the gap. Meanwhile, they brought van Rensburg and Calmejane back while Rojas managed to rejoin the leaders. Kenneth Vanbilsen (Cofidis) who had been ill, was forced to abandon.

 

Sky managed to bring the gap down to a minute before they hit the Col du Soudet 4 minutes behind the leaders and as they slowly made their way up the climb, it remained stable. It was still Campenaerts doing most of the work but also Orica-BikeExchange were keen on keeping the break going.

 

The front group splits up

The tough climb was taking its toll and lots of riders were getting dropped from both the peloton and the breakaway. Sky rode hard on the ascent but they still lost ground. At the same time, the mass exodus continued as Philippe Gilbert, Johan Le Bon, Angel Madrazo and Davide Malacarne all abandoned.

 

Geniez, Moser and Bennati were among the riders to get dropped from the peloton and with Geniez out of the battle, no one wanted tested Fraile in the KOM sprint. The Basque was first across the line, followed by Elissonde. The peloton reached the top 6.07 later but the Sky team was still intact, with Knees, Golas and Puccio still riding on the front.

 

Orica-BikeExhange increase the speed

Molard, Fraile, Bernard and Silin got a small advantage on the descent and the former two quickly dropped the latter two. Fraile decided to sit up and so Molard finished the descent as the lone leader. However, he soon decided to sit up and so the front group was back together with 70km to go.

 

Orica-BikeExchange went full gas in the breakaway where Gerrans, Cort and Keukeleire all took massive turns. At the same time, Knees, Golas and Puccio tried to make maximum use of the flat roads and so it became a huge battle between the two groups. However, the balance was in favour of the peloton which reduced the gap to 5.25 with 55km to go.

 

The front group splinters

Orica-BikeExchange rode so fast that the front group almost split on the flat roads and Eiking was unable to keep up. Geniez also decided to sit up.

 

Orica-BikeExchange won the battle and when Cort led the front group onto the climb, the gap had gone out to 6.25 minutes. Gerrans emptied himself and then sat up while Cort continued to power along. The Dane set the pace during the first kilometre before he ended his job. Gesink then took over and sent Campenaerts, Quemeneur, Meersman and Bilbao out the back door.

 

Haug takes off

As soon as the peloton hit the climb, Golas and Puccio sat up and then Knees took one final big turn before Ian Boswell took over and he didn’t react when Orica-BikeExchange played their next card. The Australian team sent Jack Haig on the offensive and he quickly got an advantage.

 

Bernard launched the first attack from the front group but he failed to get clear and instead Gesink made the group explode. Losada, Cattaneo, Keukeleire, Rojas, Fernandez and Armee all fell back. However, they were losing grund and only had an advantage of 5.15 with 40km to go.

 

Yates makes his move

Orica-BikeExchange played their big card when Simon Yates took off and he quickly bridged the gap to teammate Haig. The pair opened an advantage of 30 seconds while Boswell led the chase.

 

As they approached the top, Elissonde attacked for the KOM points and while he opened an advantage, Villella and Hardy were dropped. He led Silin across the line before Bernard joined the pair to form a trio that tried to stay clear on the descent. Meanwhile, Hardy, Villella and Hardy rejoined the leaders.

 

Movistar come to the fore

Yates managed to open a 50-second advantage before he dropped Haig and this was too dangerous for Movistar. The Spanish team started to chase with Jonathan Castroviejo.

 

Yates timed things to perfection as he caught Gerrans and Cort just as he crested the summit 4.30 behind the leaders. The peloton followed one minute later, led by Castroviejo.

 

Yates increases the advantage

Castroviejo kept the Yates trio at 1.20 as they went down the descent before Tinkoff came to the fore with Ivan Rovny to protect Contador’s GC position. Meanwhile, De Clercq, Bennett and Bakelants joined the front trio and they had built an advantage of 40 seconds when they hit the flat roads.

 

While Jose Herrada, Castroviejo and Rovny worked hard in the peloton to keep the Brit at 1.30, Yates and his teammates also picked up Keukeleire, meaning that he had three riders to help him. At the same time, the front sextet pushed their advantage over the chasers out to almost a minute.

 

Bakelants led Silin and Bernard across the line in the intermediate sprint before they hit the final climb where everything exploded.

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