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While Plaza completed a fantastic solo ride of more than 100km to take the win, Aru managed to drop Dumoulin on the penultimate climb in stage 20 of the Vuelta a Espana; the Italian took the overall lead while the Dutchman dropped to 6th

Photo: Sirotti

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12.09.2015 @ 18:34 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) completed one of the most impressive solo rides in recent grand tour history when he took a hugely impressive stage win in the big mountain stage on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana. However, the big winner was Fabio Aru (Astana) who managed to drop Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) on the penultimate climb and virtually win the Vuelta while the Dutchman cracked completely and dropped to sixth in the overall standings.

 

One year ago Lampre-Merida announced that they had signed Ruben Plaza as a key domestique for Rui Costa in the mountains. The Spaniard rode anonymously for most of the year but when his captain crashed out of the Tour de France, he suddenly became a leader in his own right.

 

Since then, the Spaniard has been unstoppable. He took an impressive stage win in the Tour de France and this made him confident that he would be able to repeat that performance in the Vuelta a Espana where he already won a stage 10 years ago.

 

The Spaniard has suffered a bit in the first part of the race and with just one mountain stage left, he had a single opportunity when he started today’s penultimate stage. In a determined mood right from the start, he delivered one of the most impressive solo rides recently as he rode alone for more than 100km to take what is definitely the most beautiful win of his career.

 

While Plaza fought hard to keep the chasers from an early break behind, the battle for the overall win was decided in a thrilling drama. With a great offensive by his team, Fabio Aru managed to turn the race around on the penultimate climb and even though he was unable to follow Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the finale, he managed to distance Tom Dumoulin significantly and so virtually secure his first grand tour victory.

 

The action started on the penultimate climb where a very strong Plaza had already been riding alone for a long time after escaping from a 10-rider lead group that also included Eduard Vorganov (Katusha), Moreno Moser (Cannondale), Yukiya Arashrio (Europcar), Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural), Jaco Venter (MTN-Qhubeka), Daniel Navarro (Cofidis), Larry Warbasse (IAM), and Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal). Behind, a regrouping had taken place as a big 28-rider group with Kevin Reza (FDJ), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Giovanni Visconti, Francisco Ventoso (Movistar), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Luis León Sánchez (Astana), José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), Carlos Verona (Etixx-Quick Step), Amael Moinard (BMC), Nicolas Roche (Team Sky), Jelle Vanendert and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal), Alex Cano (Team Colombia) and Romain Sicard (Europcar).had caught the 9 chasers and it was a big 37-rider groip that started the ascent with a deficit of 1.50. The peloton was more than 12 minutes behind and out of the battle for the stage win.

 

Reza had attacked out of that group while Ventoso was doing a lot of work for his Movistar teammates before Howes took over. Nonetheless, the gap had gone out to 3 minutes when the attacking started 54km from the finish.

 

Bennett made the first move and was followed by Dombrowski and Elissonde. They passed Reza before Elissonde cracked but a strong Visconti managed to bring a big group back. Bennett tried again but he had no luck and Elissonde’s next move was also unsuccessful.

 

Visconti finally managed to get clear while Henao forced a split, bringing Amador, De Marchi, Goncalves, Elissonde and Roche along. From that group De Marchi joined Visconti and the teo Italian slowly started to approach Plaza. At the top, they were just 1.30 behind the Spaniard.

 

Further back the drama started right from the lower slopes when Dario Cataldo (Astana) made the peloton split to pieces. When he swung off the group had been whittled significantly down and now it was Mikel Landa making a big differende.

 

The Basque hit the front and only Aru, Majka and Quintana could match his speed. Dumoulin was with Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Esteban Chaves and Mikel Nieve further back and he managed to slowly reel the quartet in.

 

Valverde was unable to keep up with Landa’s fast pace but Dumuoulin was still looking comfortable until Aru made his big attack. Only Quintana and Majka could match him and Dumoulin didn’t get any help from Chaves, Rodriguez, Nieve and Landa.

 

With less than 1km to the top, the gap was 20 seconds and now Landa jumped across to the Aru group. Chaves and Rodriguez also managed to do so before they got to the summit while Dumoulin found himself with Nieve 20 seconds behind.

 

Dumoulin did his best on the descent to limit his losses and he got to within 15 seconds. Meanwhile, Plaza won the intermediate sprint while De Marchi and Visconti followed 1.20 later after having been joined by Goncalves and Montaguti.

 

Dumoulin never made the junction before they hit the flat roads and that turned out to be decisive. Zeits, Sanchez and Vorganov had waited for the Aru group and Zeits and Vorganov immediately went full gas. Hence, the gap started to grow and even though he got some help from Nieve, he was losing ground quickly.

 

An impressive Plaza extended his advantage to  1.30 as he started to climb while Howes was caught by Dumoulin and Nieve and did a lot of work to help the Dutchman. However, he was now 1.20 behind and the gap was still growing.

 

Vorganov was the first to swing off and when the road got steeper, Landa took over. Meanwhile, Nieve and Dumoulin were trading pulls until the Basque attacked the race leader, bridging to Roche who was waiting for him.

 

Further up the road, Plaza was now 1.50 ahead and this prompted Goncalves to attack. Montaguti was dropped while Visconti and De Marchi managed to make it back. The latter countered and Goncalves briefly lost contact but the trio came back together. The action had brought the gap down to 1.20 with 22km to go.

 

Landa, Aru, Rodriguez, Majka, Quintana and Chaves had picked up Losada and Hansen but the latter was quickly ropped. Moments later, Quintana launched a strong attack and he got an immediate gap before Majka bridged across. The Colombian twice tried to drop the Pole but was unable to do so while Landa continued to set the pace in the main group.

 

Plaza crested the summit as the lone leader while Goncalves and De Marchi were next after having dropped Visconti who was caught by Henao at the top. Meanwhile, Dumoulin had been caught by a big group that included the likes of Valverde, Moreno, Pozzovivo, Meintjes, Schleck, Brambilla and Jeandesboz but he didn’t get much help.

 

Majka and Quintana reached the summit with a delay of 4.25 and now had McCarthy and Amador wait for them. They had put 33 seconds into the Aru group in which Losada, Rodriguez, Aru, Landa and Sanchez were now all working hard to limit their losses. Nonetheless, the Majka/Quintana group which picked up a lot of early attackers constantly increased the advantage and it was 43 seconds with 8km to go.

 

Goncalves and De Marchi were not getting any closer to Plaza who had plenty of time to celebrate his win before Goncalves won the sprint for second. Early attackers occupied most of the top 10 before the Quintana and Majka group reached the finish 2.40 later, with Moser winning the sprint for 10th.

 

The descent had been an exciting battle between the chase groups and at one point Majka and Quintana had a minute on Rodriguez and Aru. Amador, Majka, Quintana and McCarthy did a lot of work as did Aru, Sanchez, Losada and Rodriguez. However, the Spaniard managed to keep second place with a 12-second margin over Majka after Chaves had accelerated on the uphill finishing straight to lead the group home. Brambilla sprinted to lead the Dumoulin group home, with the Dutchman dropping to 6th, 3.46 behind Aru who now leads the race with a 1.17 advantage over Rodriguez.

 

He just needs to get safely through tomorrow’s largely ceremonial stage to Madrid. It is completely flay and ends with 10 laps of the well-known finishing circuit where the sprinters are expected to battle it out for the final time.

 

A big mountain stage

After yesterday’s tough stage, it was time for the decisive battle in stage 20 which brought the riders over 175.8km from San Lorenzo de el Escorial to Cercedilla. After 20 slightly uphill kilometres, the riders hit the first of four category 1 climbs. The first two came in quick succession and then there was a short flat section before the riders got to the final two ascents. The latter summited 17.8km from the finish and from there it was mainly downhill until the riders hit the 1km uphill finishing straight.

 

It was a sunny day in Spain when the riders gathered for the start. All the riders who finished yesterday’s stage were present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.

 

11 riders get clear

Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) attacked as soon as the flag was dropped but already after 5km the right group has formed when Plaza, Hansen, Arashiro, Warbasse, McCarthy, Venter, Navarro, Vorganov, Goncalves, Olivier Le Gac (FDJ) and Miguel Rubiano (Colombia) got clear. However, the attacking soon started again and while Giant-Alpecin tried to calm things down, riders constantly jumped from the peloton.

 

Rubiano and Le Gac were dropped from the front group after 12km of racing at a point when the front group was 20 seconds ahead. Moser managed to join the group. Behind, it was a big 28-rider chase group with

Kevin Reza (FDJ), Andrey Amador (Movistar), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek), Carlos Quintero (Colombia), Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin), Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Andrey Zeits (Astana), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Luis León Sánchez (Astana), José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Nelson Oliveira (Lampre-Merida), Alberto Losada (Katusha), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alessandro de Marchi (BMC), Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida), David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), Alex Howes (Cannondale-Garmin), Carlos Verona (Etixx-Quick Step), Amael Moinard (BMC), Nicolas Roche (Team Sky), Jelle Vanendert and Jasper De Buyst (Lotto-Soudal), Alex Cano (Team Colombia) and Romain Sicard (Europcar) that had formed. It constantly split up before they finally started to cooperate.

 

 

The peloton slows down

The peloton finally calmed down and the gap started to grow quickly. As they went up the climb, they were already 2.30 behind the leaders while the chasers were at 50 seconds.

 

Dumoulin stopped for natural break before his team started to ride tempo on the front with Koen De Kort. However, they were still losing ground quickly and the gap was 4.45 with 150m to go.

 

Ventoso joins the chasers

An impressive Francisco Ventoso (Movistar) managed to bridge the gap to the chasers who were constantly around 40 seconds behind the front group which was not waiting. Plaza tried to win the KOM sprint but Goncalves accelerated hard and led the Spaniard, Warbasse, Navarro and Moser over the top. At this point the chasers were at 45 seconds while the peloton was at 7.45.

 

Johannes Fröhlinger and Tom Stamsnijder took over the pace-setting in the peloton which kept the gaps stable as they went down the descent. In the chase group it was Gougeard doing most of the work and he swung off as soon as they it the second climb 1 minute behind the leaders.

 

Plaza takes off

Stamsnijder and Fröhlinger got some assistance from teammates Thierry Hupond and Zico Wayetens bu they rode slowly up the climb. Hence, the gap had gone out to 9 minutes with 118km to go.

 

With 115km to go, Plaza decided to take off as he sensed that the chasers were getting back. He immediately got a big gap and when the junction was made between his two chase groups, he was already 1.10 ahead. At this point, the peloton was 9.30.

 

Arroyo goes down

Arroyo was a threat to Meintjes in the GC and so MTN-Qhubeka started to work with Jay Thomson. Meanwhile, Plaza crested the summit of the climb with and advantage of 2.30 over the chasers.

 

Arroyo crashed on the descent but managed to rejoin the chase group which split up. McCarthy, Venter, Navarro, Rojas, Verona, Sanchez, Visconti, Amador, Ventoso, Quintero Henao and Goncalves escaped on the descent but the group came back together as they hit flat roads where lots of attacks were launched.

 

MTN-Qhubeka take control

Plaza had lost a bit of ground and was now just 1.10 ahead while the peloton was more than 12 minutes behind. Johann van Zyl also started to work for MTN-Qhubeka and later Songezo Jim also came to the fore.

 

Movistar decided to restore order in the chase group by putting Ventoso on the front. He kept the gap stable at around 1.20 for a while but then started to lose ground. Zubeldia tried a brief attack on a descent but was unable to get clear.

 

MTN-Qhubeka took complete control with Thomson, Jim and van Zyl but they were unable to do more than keep the gap at around 12.30. Moments later, Plaza hit the penultimate climb where the real action started.

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