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With an excellent comeback in the final km, Latour beat Atapuma in the sprint to win stage 20 of the Vuelta a Espana; Quintana responded to Froome’s attacks and virtually secured the Vuelta win

Photo: ASO/B.Bade

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DARWIN ATAPUMA

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FABIO FELLINE

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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PIERRE LATOUR

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10.09.2016 @ 18:37 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Pierre Latour (Ag2r) confirmed that he is the next big French climber when he claimed his first grand tour stage win in his debut three-week race on the famous Alto de Aitana on the penultimate of the Vuelta a Espana. Having joined the early break, he made a fantastic comeback in the final kilometre and then beat Darwin Atapuma (BMC) in the two-rider sprint. Chris Froome (Sky) attacked Nairo Quintana (Movistar) repeatedly but failed to get rid of the Colombian who now just needs to finish safely to win the race. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) made a long-distance attack that saw him move onto the overall podium as Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) slips to fourth.

 

Thibaut Pinot, Romain Bardet, Pierre Rolland, Warren Barguil… In the last few years, the number of exciting French climbing talents has been outstanding. For years, however, it has been evident that a new rider was about to emerge and challenge his older compatriots and today he finally showed his talents on the biggest scene.

 

Already three years ago, Pierre Latour impressed the cycling world when he climbed with the best at Giro dell’Emilia while riding as an Ag2r stagiaire. In 2015 he turned professional and with top 5 results in mountainous races like Tour de l’Ain, Route du Sud and Vuelta a Burgos, he immediately proved that he is destined for a great future. This year he confirmed his class when he grabbed the yellow jersey at the Tour de Suisse and finished second behind Pinot in the Criterium International.

 

Latour’s big goal has always been the Vuelta a Espana where he has been making his grand tour debut and he seemed to be in a good position to go for GC after two weeks of the race. However, he lost it all on the roads to Formigal and then set his sights on stage wins.

 

With just two days to go, it looked like the race would end in disappointment for the French talent but with a marvelous ride, he turned things around at the very last moment. Showing an excellent fighting spirit, he won the big mountain stage to Alto de Aitana on the penultimate stage.

 

Latour was part of a big break that escaped after a furious start to the stage and found himself up against Darwin Atapuma in the final kilometre. Despite numerous attacks, he failed to drop the Colombian and it looked like it was all over when the BMC rider countered and dropped him with 500m to go.

 

However, Latour refused to give up and slowly made it back to Atapuma. He went straight to the front and then launched his sprint. Atapuma did his best to hang on but finally sat up, allowing the Frenchman to win the stage.

 

However, the biggest winner was Nairo Quintana. The expected showdown unfolded on the climb where Chris Froome attacked repeatedly. The Colombian was always in control though and when Froome sat down after his final attack with 300m to go, he came around to cross the line a few seconds ahead of the Brit who rolled to the finish visibly applauding the performance of the Vuelta winner.

 

The big loser was Alberto Contador who found himself isolated when Esteban Chaves made a brave attack already on the penultimate climb. With no teammates to assist in the chase, the Spaniard lost 1.24 and so slipped to fourth in the overall standings.

 

The big battle unfolded on the final 21km climb of Alto de Aitana. At the bottom, Luis Leon Sanchez and Rudy Molard led Clement Chevrier and Pavel Kochetkov by 1.45 while a big chase group with Latour, Atapuma, David Lopez, Robrt Gesink, Kenny Elissonde, Fabio Felline, Bart De Clercq, Ben King, Mathias Frank, Valerio Conti and Romain Sicard followed a little further back. Chaves and teammate Damien Howson who had been in the break, had an advantage of 2.15 over the peloton which was led by Yury Trofimov. After the hard start, only Quintana, Valverde, Castroviejo, Moreno, Fernandez, Froome, König, Contador, Bennett, Yates, Scarponi, Silin, De La Cruz, Brambilla, Talansky, Moser, Villella, Formolo and Mate were left.

 

Trofimov managed to reduce the gap to 1.40 before Howson swung off and left it to Chaves to push on alone. When he had increased the gap to 1.55, his teammate Yates did a smart move to eliminate Trofimov by launching an attack together with Talansky. Contador shut it down and then Castroviejo went to work while Scarponi was dropped.

 

Conti attacked out of the chase group and sprinted past Chevrier and Kochetkov, reducing the gap to just 15 seconds with 12km to go. Here Sanchez launched an attack and managed to get rid of Molard.

 

Trofimov managed to rejoined the peloton and went straight to work, keeping the gap to Chaves at around 1.50. Yates tried to attack twice but after Trofimov had closed the first move down, Moser brought him back after the second attempt. Fernandez then took over for Movistar.

 

Conti passed Molard with 9km to go but was losing ground to Sanchez who now had an advantage of 30 seconds. Further back, a small group with Gesink, De Clercq, Latour, Frank and Atapuma had gathered.

 

With 9km to go, Mate attacked but he didn’t get much of an advantage before Contador made his first move. The Tinkoff leader closed the gap to the Cofidis rider but then stopped his effort. Valverde hit the front and kept the gap at around 2 minutes.

 

Frank, Atapuma, Gesink, Latour, Felline, De Clercq and Molard caught Conti with 6km to go and Atapuma countered an attack from Frank. However, the Swiss quickly made it back to the Colombian and moments later Latour also made the junction. The trio caught Sacnhez with 4km to go and after a few metres, the Spaniard exploded completely.

 

While Gesink was chasing desperately, the trio stayed together until Atapuma made his first move with 3km to go. However, the two chasers slowly made it back and then Latour countered immediately. Aapuma followed and then made another attack but the pair stayed together.

 

From there Latour kept riding on the front, constantly making small accelerations to try to distance Atapuma. However, the Colombian stayed glued to his wheel and instead it looked like Felline could get back into contention. As they passed the flamme rouge, the Italian was just a few metres behind.

 

Just as Felline was about to make the junction, Latour made a big attack that finally ended all hopes for the Italian. Atapuma countered immediately and when he dropped his companion, it looked like it would be a first grand tour stage win for the Colombian.

 

Impressively, Latour gritted his teeth and made it back with 300m to go. He went straight to the front and then launched his sprint. Atapuma tried to follow but finally had to sit up, crossing the line 2 seconds behind Latour. Felline took third, followed by Frank and Gesink.

 

The battle for the GC started as the peloton hit the steep section with 6km to go. Here König increased the pace significantly and only Froome, Quintana, Contador and Brambilla could follow. Quintana even briefly moved to the front himself but then Froome made his move. Quintana quickly jumped onto his wheel and the pair caught Lopez who went straight to work for his leader while Contador, Brambilla and König joined forces further back.

 

Froome made another attempt but as he failed, Lopez rejoined the pair and then used his final bit of energy to set Froome up for his biggest attack. Quintana didn’t give him an inch though and seemed to be totally in control.

 

From there, it was stop-and-go all the way to the finish, with Froome constantly trying to get rid of Quintana. He continued all the way to the line, making his final move with 300m to go. However, Quintana was never in trouble and when the Brit sat down, the race leader sprinted ahead to finish the stage in 10th place.

 

Further up the road, Chaves had dug deep to reach the finish with an advantage of 46 seconds over Quintana. Contador did his best to limit his losses but was even passed by Talansky in the finale. Ultimately he lost too much time and slipped to fourth in the GC, 13 seconds behind Chaves.

 

With the result, Quintana now just has to survive the final stage before he can celebrate his Vuelta win. He goes into the short Madrid stage with an advantage of 1.23 over Froome. The final stage is completely flat and ends with 8 laps of the well-known 5.8km circuit in the Spanish capital

 

A big mountain stage

After yesterday’s time trial, there was still one big GC battle left on the penultimate day where the riders covered 193.2km between Benidorm and the famous climb of the Alto de Aitana. After 18km, they hit the first category 2 climb and then there were another three category 2 climbs to tackle before they got to the final mountain. It averaged 5.9% over 21km and had its steepest part in the end.

 

It was another hot and sunny day when the riders gathered for the start and there were some nervous and determined faces as they rolled through the neutral zone. Only Samuel Sanchez (BMC) who crashed hard yesterday, stayed at the hotel.

 

Lots of attacks

As soon as the flag was dropped, Lauret Didier (Trek) and Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff) attacked and surprisingly no one attacked. The pair had a big gap when the attacking finally started again. Pavel Kochetkov (Katusha), Magnus Cort (Orica-BikeExchange), Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale) and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon 18) were all active but no one could get cler.

 

Finally, Cort managed to get a gap and he quickly bridged the gap to the two leaders. Ben King (Cannondale), Tsgabu Gray (Lampre-Merida), Francois Bidard (Ag2r), Danilo Wyss (BMC) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) got a small advantage and made it across to the front trio but as they had the rest of the peloton in tow, it came back together.

 

King gets clear

King made an immediate counterattack and soloed clear from the peloton to build a 10-second advantage. The attacking continued but it took a while before Fabio Felline (Trek) took off in pursuit of the American. He bridged the gap together with Ian Boswell (Sky) and Axel Domont (Ag2r) but Movistar shut it down with Jose Herrada.

 

Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) was the next to get clear and after a while, Andrey Zeits (Astana) and Peter Kennaugh (Sky) joined him. However, Movistar shut down all the moves that involved Sky riders and so things were back together after 15km of racing.

 

A big group is formed

Jelle Wallays (Lotto Soudal) and Silvan Dillier (BMC) got a small advantage and while they rode away, Dimension Data took control with Jaco Venter to make sure that Omar Fraile could go for KOM points. The pair hit the first climb with an advantage of 10 seconds where the attacking started for real. David Lopez (Sky), Fraile and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) were the first to move and soon a small group with the likes of Gesink, Meintjes, Bilbao, Matvey Mamykin, Bram Tankink, Didier, Danilo Wyss, Mathias Frank, Romain Sicard, Larry Warbasse, Pierre Latour, Darwin Atapuma, Rudy Molard, Yury Trofimov, Kristijan Durasek, Jan Bakelants, Moser Moser, Louis Meintjes, Kochetkov, Ruben Fernandez, Gianluca Brambilla.and Zeits.

 

Tankink and Gesink did a lot of work to keep the break going before Mamykin bridged the gap to Dillier after Wallays had been dropped. Didier also joined the move and when Dillier was left behind, only two riders were left in front.

 

Elissonde in the lead

The pair was brought back by the chasers just as Elissonde made his big push for KOM points. The Frenchman immediately got a big advantage of 20 seconds. Fraile did his best to lead the chase in the big chase group but he didn’t get much support.

 

Fraile and Durasek made a failed attempt to attack and instead Fraile worked hard in the chase group to keep the move going. In the peloton, Movistar chased hard with Jose Herrada but they were unable to prevent Luis Leon Sanchez and later Imanol Erviti, Felline and Luis Angel Mate from bridging to the chasers. They constantly had to react to attack from the Sky and Tinkoff domestiques.

 

Fraile wins the KOM sprint

Bilbao, Fraile, Didier and Warbasse caught Elissonde who exploded completely. That allowed Fraile to win the KOM sprint ahead of Bilbao and Didier and so move into the virtual lead in the mountains competition. Elissonde came to a standstill and was caught by the peloton which crested the summit 40 seconds behind the leaders led by Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar).

 

Didier, Fraile, Warbasse and Bilbao continued their attack on the descent where Brambilla joined them. Gesink also made the junction to make it a front sextet.

 

Froome attacks on the descent

In the peloton, Michal Golas (Sky) went full gas on the descent and surprisingly, a group with the Pole, Froome, Quintana, Valverde and Rojas had suddenly formed. A small group with the likes of Esteban Chaves, Andrew Talansky, Zdenek Stybar, Jonathan Castroviejo joined them and this forced Tinkoff to chase hard in the peloton as Alberto Contador had missed the move. They managed to shut it down after 42km of fast racing.

 

Quentin Jauregui (Ag2r) used a small lull in the peloton to bridge the gap to the leaders before they hit the final 150km with a small 15-second gap. Rojas and Rory Sutherland led the chase. They managed to bring it all back together after almost 50km of furious racing.

 

Another big group is formed

Frank, Sanchez, Didier, Gesink, Kochetkov, Molard and Bakelants attacked again and reopened an advantage before Knees made a failed attempt to bridge the gap. Movistar then took control with Rory Sutherland but when the gap had gone out to 25 seconds, the attacking started again.

 

Louis Meintjes, Warbasse, Bidard, Rolland, Michael Gogl, Atapuma and Merhawi Kudus took off in pursuit of the seven leaders and were quickly joined by Latour, Eduard Prades, Sicard, Romain Hardy, Kennaugh, Cort and Erviti. As they hit the second climb, Latour, Kennaugh and Hardy went clear in an attempt to close a 35-second gap to the leaders, with Atapuma, Cort, Meintjes and Sicard forming a third group on the road. Bart De Clercq joined the quartet and then made it back to the Kennaugh trio.

 

Molard takes off

The attacking in the peloton started again when Leopold König, Ivan Rovny, Elissonde, Fraile and Davide Villella took off. A mechanical took Fraile out of contention and while Villella fell off, the trio pressed on. However, Elissonde was soon dropped too and the move ultimately failed.

 

The 8 chasers caught the leaders with 132km and this prompted Molard to make an immediate attack to crest the summit as the lone leader. Rojas led the peloton to the top just 15 seconds later after having made the peloton explode.

 

Sanchez joins Molard

The chasers were brought back on the upper slopes of the descent before Sanchez went again, bridging the gap to Molard. The pair had a 20-second advantage when Latour, Atapuma, King, Sicard, Rovny, Frank, De Clercq, Conti, Gesink and Didier attacked to formed a chase group. Howson, Kochetkov, Calmejane, Puccio, Trofimov, and Valverde bridged the gap and they soon got an advantage go 15 seconds.

 

Lopez, Rojas and Moreno bridged the gap to the chasers as did Hermans, Keukeleire, Felline, Brambilla and Chevrier. However, Movistar were unwilling to let such a big group and Sutherland brought most of it back.

 

A big chase group

Frank, Lopez, Felline, Howson, Atapuma, Chevrier, King, Conti, Kochetkov, Trofimov, De Clercq, Gesink, Latour, Rojas and Calmejane attacked again and finally Movistar slowed down. With 115km to go, the front duo were 1.00 ahead of the chasers and 1.45 ahead of the peloton.

 

While Sutherland set the pace, a regrouping took place after the fast start but Elissonde refused to give up. The Frenchman attacked, trying to bridge a gap of more than 3 minutes to the front.

 

Elissonde makes the junction

Molard led Sanchez over the top of the third climb with advantages of 1.45 and 3.45 respectively. Gesink was first from the chase group, with Elissonde in no man’s land ahead of the peloton which was led by Erviti and Sutherland.

 

Impressively, Elissonde made use of the lack of cooperation in the chase group to bridge the gap and he went straight past. However, he soon dropped back to the group.

 

Bad crash for Rojas

With 100km to go, the gaps were 2.30 and 7.00 respectively and the peloton was not riding at all, with Erviti and Sutherland setting a slow pace. However, disaster struck for the Spanish team when Rojas crashed out of the chase group. The Spaniard was lying on the ground for a long time and was forced to abandon.

 

The gap to the chase group stayed at 3.00 while the peloton was almost 10 minutes back when they hit the final 85km. Here Chaves showed that he wanted to win the stage as Orica-BikeExchange hit the front with their entire team, with Svein Tuft, Jack Haig and Sam Bewley setting the pace. However, it was a short-lived effort of 10km after having reduced the gap to 8.30, they stopped again.

 

The peloton slows down

Erviti and Sutherland again hit the front and while many riders took a natural break, the gap went out to 10 minutes by the time Sanchez led Molard over the line in the intermediate sprint with 70km to go. Felline was attentive to cross the line in third.

 

The race settled into a slow rhythm as the chasers kept the gap at 2.10 and the front group continued to lose time. With 55km to go, the gap was almost 15 minutes.

 

Orica-BikeExchange come to the fore

This was the sign for Orica-BikeExhcange to try again. The Australian team hit the front with Tuft, Bewley, Cort and Haig and when they hit the penultimate climb, they had reduced the gap to 13.50.

 

As they went up the climb, Elissonde did all the work in the chase group, trying to catch the leaders before the top, while Orica maintained the pressure with Haig, Keuekeleire, Gerrans and Cort. Lots of riders were getting dropped already on the lower slopes.

 

Chaves makes his move

Gerrans and Cort swung off but Haig and Keukeleire continued to ride hard and had whittled the group down to 25 riders when the gap dropped to less than 10 minutes. When Keukeleire swung off, only Quintana, Valverde, Moreno, Fernandez, Castoviejo, Froome, Kennaugh, König, Contador, Bennett, Chaves, Yates, Scarponi, Silin, De La Cruz, Brambilla, Talansky, Moser, Villella, Formolo and Mate were left.

 

As soon has Keukeleire had ended his work, Chaves attacked and while Castoviejo hit the front, he managed to build an advantage of 20 seconds. As he continued to increase the gap, Contador was forced to react and ride hard to close the gap.

 

Chaves increases the gap

Molard led Sanchez over the top before Elissonde crossed the line in third 1.30 later. Disaster struck for Chevrier who was taken out by a small child that wanted to wave to the camera.

 

Chaves reached the top 8 minutes behind the leaders and with a 16-second advantage over the peloton. König accelerated over the top with Froome on his wheel but soon Fernandez was back on the front for Movistar.

 

Howson waits for Chaves

Howson waited for Chaves and the pair joined forces on the descent to increase the gap to 1.15. This forced Contador to react and the Spaniard took over the pace-setting on the descent. Scarponi had been dropped on the ascent but made it back on the descent.

 

Movistar again went to work with Fernandez as the terrain flatted out but he could not prevent the gap from going out to two minutes. Hence, Trofimov dropped back from the chase group to help Contador in the chase.

 

Chevrier rejoined the chase group and managed to build a small advantage as they approached the final climb. They hit the climb with a small advantage over their chasers and then the race exploded into an exciting battle.

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