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"Why do they need to make stages as hard as today?"

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FRANK SCHLECK

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TREK - SEGAFREDO

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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03.09.2015 @ 00:45 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

‘Why do they need to make stages as hard as today?’ Those were the first words uttered by Trek Factory Racing’s director Dirk Demol upon completion of Wednesday’s stage 11.

 

The shortest but unquestionably hardest stage in this year’s Vuelta a España was stage 11.  Scheduled one day after the rest day and with an unbelievable six mountain climbs jammed into its stunted 138 kilometers it wreaked havoc in the overall classification. 

 

What it lacked in overall distance it made up for vertically with more than 5,000 meters of steep climbing, making this arguably one of the toughest stages in the history of the Spanish Grand Tour.

 

“Luckily it stayed dry, or there could have been a lot of damage,” Demol continued. “We all made it in safely and really that was our goal for today so that we can ride again tomorrow. The stage was that hard that there was nothing for us to do but to get to the finish in the time limit."

 

With virtually no flat meters and the first climb beginning a mere three kilometers after the start flag waved, the peloton began one of the toughest stages ever contested in any Grand Tour: four category one rated climbs, one category two and one above category awaited the riders.

 

It was a stage that could only be raced by the mightiest climbers, or those on an exceptional day, and for the rest it was an epic ‘death march’.  Survival was the word of the day for most and making the time cut was a serious endeavor for many.

 

It was so difficult that by the top of the fourth climb with still 40 kilometers to race only 18 riders remained in the peloton, and only seven riders were left from the original 19-rider breakaway.

 

Trek Factory Racing had ambitions to be in that breakaway, and Riccardo Zoidl joined a few early attacks, eager to be in the key move.  But what you want is not always what you get: it’s never easy to find the right mix that goes up the road, and even harder when the race start is immediately uphill.

 

It was a full-on fight to make the escape group, requiring a lot of early energy in a stage where energy was precious.

 

“I told the boys that if they have the legs to go with the break,” added Demol. “They had the freedom to go. But really it was so difficult of a stage that it was just about the GC riders. Fränk [Schleck] was close to being with the main favorites group, he missed just a little to be there. But when you are not riding for the GC, then there is not much reason to fight anymore.”

 

Fränk Schleck was the first of the team across the finish, arriving in 22nd place (+6’40”).  Slowly the rest of the pinstriped team made their way up the final climb and all arrived within the time limit to survive the brutal stage; an accomplishment in itself.

 

“Boy [van Poppel] crashed in the last stage and he has a large hematoma on his right leg. It’s difficult for him to walk, and he was the first rider dropped today,” continued Demol. “Thankfully, he found his tempo again and was able to come back to the peloton. I can say that I am happy that we all made it in.”

 

By the bottom of the 10-kilometer finishing climb, the race was down to five leaders, and two minutes behind a small elite group with the GC contenders.

 

Straightaway the first attacks weeded out the weary, of which there were many.

 

From the breakaway group Mikel Landa (Astana) dropped all and rode away to the stage win, while the GC favorites bunch quickly fashioned to its three strongest, and soon to it’s strongest, as Astana made it a 1-2 finish: Fabio Aru crossed the line 1 minute and 22 seconds behind his teammate and laid claim to the red jersey as the new race leader.

 

With the ridiculously hard queen stage out of the way, Trek Factory Racing looks next to stage 12 where it may have a chance to play in a probable sprint finish – depending, of course, on how Danny van Poppel recovers from the six brutal mountain climbs of stage 11.

 

But whatever may come, at least the team can factor in the race activities again.

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