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A few hours after Froome’s win in Andalusia, Porte emerged as the strongest in the Volta ao Algarve queen stage, beating Kwiatkowski and Izagirre on the Alto do Malhao; Thomas defended his lead

Photo: Sirotti












21.02.2015 @ 18:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Richie Porte made it a memorable Saturday for Sky when he took an impressive victory on the queen stage of the Volta ao Algarve. Despite riding in support of his teammate Geraint Thomas, he managed to distance everybody on the Alto do Malhao to win the stage ahead of Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-QuickStep) and Ion Izagirre (Movistar) while his teammate Geraint Thomas was fourth and defended his overall lead.


Three years ago Richie Porte got his career at Team Sky off to a memorable start when he crushed the opposition in the queen stage of the Volta ao Algarve, riding away from all his rivals on the steep Alto do Malhao. He went on to win the race overall, taking his first big stage race win in Portugal.


This year the Australian is back and had hoped to take a second win in the race. After a poor time trial yesterday, however, he had dropped out of contention and so went into the Malhao stage as a key domestique for overall leader Geraint Thomas.


Porte was forced to take on the support duties in the hilly finale as a very strong Etixx-QuickStep team were intent on using their strength in numbers to put Sky under pressure. The Belgians kept attacking and GC contenders Zdenek Stybar and Tony Martin both tried to escape.


This forced Porte into chasing mode as he was suddenly the only Sky rider left at Thomas’ side and he had to bring back a late dangerous move from Stybar who attacked on the penultimate climb with 9km to go. However, a 30-rider group was back together when they hit the final 2.8km climb to the finish.


Porte set a brutal pace on the front and as he passed the flamme rouge, only 9 riders were left in the front group. Sensing that Thomas’ overall lead was safe, he was allowed to go for the stage win and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. He managed to distance all his rivals and held off Michal Kwiatkowski and Ion Izagirre to take his second win on the famous climb.


Thomas may have been unable to keep up with his teammate but he did enough to defend his overall lead. He now just needs to get safely through tomorrow’s final stage to win the race overall and as a hilly start is followed by a flat second half, the sprinters are expected to battle it out on the last day of the race.


The queen stage

After yesterday’s time trial, it was time for the traditional queen stage of the Volta ao Algarve and it brought the riders over a massive 218.3km from Tavira to the well-known mountaintop finish on the Alto do Malhao. The first half was flat before the riders hit the hilly terrain in the finale. After 176.6km, they would go up the 2.8km climb to the finish for the first time before tackling a 42.7km finishing circuit that included another small climb and the final ascent whose 9% average gradient was expected to do some damage.


The riders took the start in reasonable weather conditions with an 18-degree temperature but Ruben Zepuntke (Cannondale-Garmin) and Arkaitz Duran (Efapel) were unable to continue in the race. As it is often the case for hilly stages, the pace was fast right from the gun and after 5km of racing, no one had managed to escape.


A strong break

At the 7km mark, Davide Malacarne (Astana), Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal), Adriano Malori (Movistar), Maurits Lammertink (Roompot), Kamil Gradek (ActiveJet), Filipe Cardoso (Efapel) and Benat Txoperena (Murias Taldea) managed to get clear and as the peloton slowed down, they quickly got a big advantage. After 13km of racing, they were already 3.12 ahead. However, Sky were in no mood to let them get too much of an advantage and at the 26.5km mark, they had brought it down to 2.20.


Gradek beat Cardoso and Txoperena in the first intermediate sprint and the escapees covered 42km in the first hour. Meanwhile, Sky kept the gap pretty stable but suddenly the British team slowed down and allowed the gap to grow.


Sky up the pace

At the 78km mark, it had reached five minutes and when Txoperena beat Lammertink and Gallopin in the second intermediate sprint, it was even 5.10. Now Sky decided that they had enough of an advantage and they kept it stable between 5.00 and 5.30 as they headed up the first climbs of the day.


At the 147km mark, the gap was still 5.23 but now it was time for the peloton to up the pace. When they started to climb the Malhao for the first time, it was down to 4.10 and it was Malacarne who led Malori, Lammertink, Gallopin and Txoperena over the top.


Martin attacks

Etixx-QuickStep decided to play their first card when Tony Martin launched a big attack but he was quickly brought back. Meanwhile, Cardoso and Gradek had been distanced from the break and the latter was trailing by 48 seconds.


Valerio Agnoli (Astana) was the next rider to try an attack but he was quickly brought back as Etixx-QuickStep were now applying the pressure, with Zdenek Stybar oing a huge amount of work.


Martin tries again

With 25km to go, the Belgian team played their next card when Martin and Michal Golas attacked. They were joined by Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Jesus Herrada (Movistar) and they got a 7-second advantage over the peloton which was now just 31 seconds behind the leaders.


The chasers were quickly caught and at the 193km mark, the early break was also back in the fold. The peloton was now down to just 30 riders.


Stybar makes his move

Etixx-QuickStep now sent Stybar on the attack and he managed to crest the summit of the penultimate climb with a small advantage. However, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas were next across the line for Sky and they managed to bring the Czech back.


Stybar tried again and reached the final 5km with an advantage of 5 seconds but as they hit the final climb, he was caught. As soon as they started to climb, Porte hit the front for Sky and as they passed the flamme rouge, he had whittled it down to just 9 riders. However, the Australian proved to be the strongest and he ended up taking the win.



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