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"He has been twice out this season with injuries and I hope that he will still improve as the race goes on. He has a lot of reserves, and he has the experience and there is still a long way to go."

Photo: Sirotti






29.08.2015 @ 00:07 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Stage seven at the Vuelta a España presented the riders with the first big mountaintop finish and first major battle between the general classification favorites.


Fränk Schleck found himself in the company of a few other GC favorites, including Tour de France victor Chris Froome (Sky), as he crossed the line in 20th place, one minute and three seconds behind stage winner Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), who won from the day’s successful breakaway.


“Our main message today was to take care of Fränk and that he stays up there,” explained director Dirk Demol. “He finished around the main favorites, so it was all good today. Our hope is for him to make a good GC and we just need to work on it day by day.


“We knew it was a possibility that the break could make it, but it’s so hot here, all week already, and the whole peloton is suffering from the heat.



"It was only five riders, as a big break was not allowed to go, so for me it was a 1 in 10 chance they would make it, and they did.


“But we can’t spend too much energy in the first week with a really, really hard second and third week. We lost Fabian [Cancellara] early and I want to keep the guys here now and keep them strong as there are lots of opportunities later to get in breakaways.”


It was another sweltering day for the 191-kilometer race, and the heat combined with the long 20-kilometer finish climb made for a punishing ending to an already tough up and down parcours.  While the breakaway, down to its three strongest men, entertained on the slopes out front, the peloton clipped along at a blistering speed behind. 


When the attacks finally came from the peloton with around 1.5-kilometers to go it was clear the remnants of the breakaway would fight out the stage win, while behind the brutal pace under sizzling temperature quickly took its victims. Everything exploded under the first surges.


Seeing immediate cracks form amongst the GC favorites, Fabio Aru (Astana) galloped away; by the finish he had gained a few seconds and a whole bunch of morale on some of his rivals, while Schleck crossed just over 30 seconds later with a small group that contained a few others: the first taste of the Vuelta’s mountains was flavorful for some and a bitter pill to swallow for others, but with plenty of mountains still to climb it is far too early to peg down the clear favorites. 


For Schleck, who has been feeling stronger each day, it was an early test but not one to weigh on heavily. He accumulated an early deficit in the leaderboard on stage two with an ill-timed mechanical, but since has steadily moved forward, showing progression each day.


“It was very, very fast,” said Schleck of the final climb. “It’s partly because they are all fresh, but you can definitely see, besides the breakaway, the 16 guys who finished in front of me are all big names. It looks like the Vuelta is a really high level this year.


“We knew that Movistar was going to try and split things on the downhill before the final climb, and that’s what they did. The boys put me in a good position and I came to the end of the climb with the first group when there was one more split. I lost like 25 seconds, which is okay, and I am looking forward to the next weeks and hopefully there I can improve a little bit and be up there.”


“Fränk said he missed just a little bit at the end to be with the Valverde group,” continued Demol. “But if you miss just 25 seconds after a climb of 19kms, that’s not too much. He has been twice out this season with injuries and I hope that he will still improve as the race goes on. He has a lot of reserves, and he has the experience and there is still a long way to go. If every day he can move up a few places then we will see at the end where he is.”


Riccardo Zoidl was the second of the team across the line, not far off the leaders.  He has been a workhorse in the first week and still found extra reserves Friday for the last climb, coming over the finish just behind Schleck in 26th place (+1’21”).


“Riccardo is doing really well. Every day he is coming back several times to the car to pick up bottles; also today before the last climb he was bringing bottles to Haimar [Zubeldia] and Fränk. He is doing an awesome job and is in very good shape Although he is not going for the GC, he is not far off, and if a group of 15-20 riders goes away we will try and have him there," Demol said.


“It was good," agreed Zoidl. "I am getting day-by-day better, and I stayed with Fränk until 1.5 kilometers to go. I think I am confident and I am looking forward to the next stages when I can join a break. I have really good feelings, I am tired but not totally empty, and I think this will be a good Vuelta for me.”



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