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Part of a 10-rider breakaway, Schleck dropped Torres after an exciting battle on the final climb to win stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana; Rodriguez took the lead with a  1-second advantage over Aru while Dumoulin defended himself well

Photo: Sirotti








07.09.2015 @ 19:09 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Frank Schleck (Trek) confirmed that he is still an excellent climber by taking the first victory since his doping suspension on stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana. Having joined a big 10-rider breakaway, he dropped Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) after an exciting duel on the very steep final climb while the GC favourites battled for time further down the road. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) gained two seconds on Fabio Aru (Astana) to take the overall lead with a 1-second advantage while Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) defended himself extremely well to stay just 1.51 behind the Spaniard in the overall standings.


In 2006, Frank Schleck proved his huge potential when he won the big stage to Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France after having been part of a successful breakaway. He added another stage in 2009 after a big battle between the favourites but otherwise he has been unable to build on his grand tour tally.


After he returned from doping suspension, he has failed to return to his former level and he is no longer a contender for the wins in the grand tours. However, that has given him room to return to his past by riding aggressively in the mountains and that’s what he did in today’s brutal mountain stage of the Vuelta a Espana.


The efforts paid off as Schleck came out on top after an exciting duel with Rodolfo Torres on the extremely steep climb of Ermita de Alba. In 2006, it was Damiano Cunego who was unable to follow him on the final ascent and this time it was the Colombian who had to surrender when Schleck went full gas.


At the bottom of the final 6.8km climb, Schleck and Torres had already emerged as the strongest from a 10-rider break that at one point had an advantage of 22 minutes over the peloton. As they hit the ascent, they were still 10.55 ahead and it was clear that they were going to decide the stage.


The pair worked really well together as they both seemed to be afraid of the steep gradients until Schleck made a first acceleration. The Colombian refused to give an inch though and instead he moved to front to put his companion under pressure.


Schleck looked like he was suffering but apparently he was bluffing as he moved straight to the front when Torres sat down. However, the pair stayed together and then started to trade pulls again.


Schleck still had something left in the tank and he made another dig with 3km to go. However, he was unable to shake the Colombian who stayed glued to his wheel.


However, when Schleck tried again, he immediately managed to make a big difference as Torres cracked completely. As he rode away from his companion, it was clear that there was no coming back and from there it was a time trial all the way to the finish where he had put 1.10 into Torres. Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin) rode strongly in the break to finish the stage in third.


Further back, the battle for the overall win was on after hard pace by Astana had whittled the main group down to just Mikel Nieve, Domenico Pozzovivo, Diego Rosa, Mikel Landa, Fabio Aru, Gianluca Brambilla, Bart De Clercq, Maxime Monfort, Giovanni Visconti, Nairo Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Louis Meintjes, Esteban Chaves, Andre Cardoso, Fabrice Jeandesboz, Tom Dumoulin, Daniel Moreno, Joaquim Rodriguez, Rafal Majka and Pawel Poljanski. The latter hit the front as soon as they hit the ascent and he immediately sent Visconti and Monfort out the back door.


Aru dropped a few positions back in the group while his teammate Rosa started to trade pulss with Poljanski. Meanwhile, Dumoulin moved to the second position in the group to clearly signal to his rivals that he was still riding strongly after Poljanski had swung off.


Brambilla was the next rider to get dropped as Landa took over from Rosa. Surprisingly, Aru was now at the back of the group as Cardoso and Valverde were the next to get distanced.


Landa’s hard pace put Dumoulin into difficult as he slowly dropped to the rear end of the group. Meanwhile, Nieve briefly hit the front before Landa again took over, sending Pozzovivo out the back door.


Moreno was the next rider to get dropped while Dumoulin twice had to leave a small gap that he managed to close when he hit flatter sections on the course. Landa, Nieve, Majka, Rodriguez, Quintana, Meintjes, Aru and Dumoulin were lined out in that order as they passed the flamme rouge.


Aru now moved to the front end of the group while Dumoulin finally had to surrender. Moments later, Rodriguez made his expected attack and he got an advantage while Majka and Quintana took off I pursuit.


Landa, Aru, Nieve and Meintjes made it back and the race leader immediately went to the front. No one was able to keep up with him and he started to get closer to Rodriguez. However, he wouldn’t make it and crossed the line 2 seconds behind his Spanish rival while Majka, Quintana, Nieve, Landa and Meintjes were next. Impressively, Dumoulin only lost 27 seconds to Rodriguez.


The close battle between Aru and Rodriguez means that the Spaniard takes the lead with a one-second advantage over the Italian. He will get a chance to recover during tomorrow’s rest day before he faces the next big challenge: the completely flat 38km time trial in Burgos.


A tough mountain stage

After two tough mountain stages, it was time for an even harder stage. Stage 16 brought the riders over 185km from Luarca to a summit finish on the HC climb of Ermita de Alba. Right from the start, the riders went up a category 3 climb and then they faced another two category 2 and a single category 3 climb before they got to the tough finale with a category 2 climb preceding the brutally steep Alto de la Cobertoria, a difficult descent and the final climb 6.8km climb that averaged  11.1% over 6.8km and included sections of 22%.


It was a great day for a bike race when the riders gathered for the start. The 167 riders who finished yesterday’s stage were all present as they rolled out for their neutral ride.


Five riders get clear

Many had expected a big fight from the start but surprisingly, five riders were allowed to escape right from the gun. Omar Fraile (Caja Rural), Frank Schleck (Trek), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) and Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) already had an advantage of a minute after just a few kilometres of racing.


When the gap had reached more than 3 minutes, Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin) took off in pursuit. He was joined by Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida), George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Larry Warbasse (IAM) but the Ethiopian was quickly dropped. Instead, Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) joined them but they still had a 1.30 gap to close as they headed up the first climb. Grmay was at 2 minutes and the peloton already at 5.09.


A 10-rider break forms

The four riders made it across before Fraile led Rolland and Torres over the top of the climb. At one point, Grmay had been just 15 seconds behind but at the top he had lost 35 seconds. The peloton was at 7.07.


Grmay made use of the descent to join the leaders and make it a 10-rider front group while the peloton was content with the situation. At the end of the first hour, they were more than 10 minutes behind.


A 22-minute gap

As the riders were five kilometres from the top of the second climb, they already had an advantage of 13.40 and it was 16.40 when Fraile led Rolland and Verona over the top. No one was chasing yet so the gap was a massive 20.50 at the end of the second hour.


At the bottom of the third climb, the gap had gone out to 22 minutes and this was the signal for Katusha to kick into action. That had an effect as the gap was down to 20.30 one kilometre from the top of the third climb where Fraile led Rolland and Verona over the top.


Katusha take control

Katusha slowly brought the gap down but it was still 18.50 as they approached the fourth climb with 75km to go. Gatis Smukulis was riding on the front but they were definitely not chasing and the gap was 19.05 when Fraile led Rolland and Verona over the top of the climb.


The gap stayed relatively stable at around 19 minutes while the peloton and the break both rode extremely slowly. However, things started to get a bit more intense when they approached the Alto del Cordal as the fight for position slightly started, with more teams lining up next to the Katusha riders.


Tinkoff-Saxo hit the front

Dario Cataldo took a brief turn for Astana but it was Tinkoff-Saxo who did the damage when they hit the climb. Maciej Bodnar, Daniele Bennati and Jay McCarthy did some huge damage as they made the group explode. Bodnar quickly ended his work and later Bennati also stopped but it was McCarthy who continued to ride strongly on the front all the way to the top where Fraile had led Rolland and Verona over the top.


Warbasse and Torres were both dropped on the descent but the latter managed to get back before they hit the penultimate climb. Here the American also made it back as Schleck started to ride hard on the front after Verona had led Moser over the line in the intermediate sprint.


The front group splits up

In the peloton, Luis Leon Sacnhez took over the pace-setting as they hit the descent and only around 60 riders were left at this point. Unfortunately, both Leonardo Duque and Sylvain Chavanel went down in a tricky turn near the top.


The front group split up due to Schleck’s frantic pace. Grmay was the first to get dropped and moments later Lemoine also had to surrender. Fraile was next and when Rolland and Moser were distanced, only five riders were left. Warbasse gave up moments later while the quartet stayed together for a long time.


Astana do some damage

In the peloton, Astana hit the front with Andrey Zeits and he did some extreme damage. When he swung off, only Nieve, Pozzovivo, Landa, Aru, Rosa,  Brambilla, De Clercq, Monfort, Quintana, Valverde, Visconti, Meintjes, Chaves, Dombrowski, Cardoso, Jeandesboz, Dumoulin, Rodriguez, Moreno, Majka, Hansen and Poljanski were left and as Rosa hit the front, Domrbowski, Hansen, Brambilla and Monfort were all distanced.


Nieve tried to attack but was slowly brought back by Rosa who continued to ride strongly on the front. Meanwhile, Torres made an acceleration in the front group that sent both Verona and Bennett out the back door.


Rosa led the front group over the top 10.30 behind the front duo which was working well together as they went down the descent. Brambilla and Monfort managed to rejoin the group on the descent before it all came to an exciting conclusion on the final climb.



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