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Part of a 5-rider group that was allowed to decide the win, De Marchi attacked with 1.5km to go and passed a fading Puccio to win stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana; Aru lost ground to Quintana and Rodriguez but defended the lead

Photo: Sirotti

ALESSANDRO DE MARCHI

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ASTANA - PREMIER TECH

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JOSE JOAQUIN ROJAS GIL

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SALVATORE PUCCIO

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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05.09.2015 @ 18:23 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alessandro De Marchi saved what looked like a bad race for BMC when he used his usual aggressive riding style to win stage 14 of the Vuelta a Espana. Part of a 5-rider breakaway, he accelerated with 1.5km to go and passed the fading Salvatore Puccio (Sky) and Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) to take a solo win. Further back, the GC battle was on and it was a resurgent Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who emerged as the strongest, putting 7 seconds into Fabio Aru (Astana) who defended the overall lead.

 

When they won the largely ceremonial team time trial, it looked like BMC were on track for a great Vuelta a Espana but since the opening day in Marbella, nothing has gone to plan for the American team. First they lost Marcus Burghardt and when Tejay van Garderen crashed out of the race and Samuel Sanchez dropped out of GC contention, it looked like the race would end as a disaster.

 

Things got even worse in today’s stage 14 which was the first of three consecutive mountain stages. Sanchez was forced to abandon the race after a just a few kilometres but luckily they had a very strong Alessandro De Marchi who managed to turn everything around.

 

De Marchi has had a bad season as he has been set back by illness but has gradually found his best condition. He was in the break in yesterday’s stage and today he was in a very determined mood as he attacked relentlessly in the frantic first part of the stage.

 

The efforts paid off as he managed to join the right break alongside Salvatore Puccio, Jose Joaquin Rojas, Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) and Carlos Quintero (Colombia) and as the peloton showed no interest in the stage win, they were allowed to decide the stage. In the finale, the Italian did everything right to come away with the win.

 

At the bottom of the final 18km climb, it was clear that the break would stay away as they still had an advantage of 9.30. In the peloton, no one was taking the initiative and it was just Tinkoff-Saxo, Astana and Movistar lined out on the front to make sure that their leaders were in a good position.

 

The lowers slopes of the climb were very easy and so it ended up as a pretty strange affair. After Andrey Zeits and Alessandro Vanotti had set the pace all day, Astana disappeared and allowed Movistar, Sky, Orica-GreenEDGE, Katusha, Cannondale-Garmin and FDJ to line out their troops on the front while they slowly reduced the gap to the leaders.

 

With 12km to go, the first riders were getting dropped from the peloton which was still 8.30 behind the leaders. Finally, Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural) made some action when he attacked one kilometre further up the road and he managed to put 30 seconds into the peloton which was not riding yet.

 

Half of the peloton sat up to form a gruppetto while Movistar finally took a small bit of initiative by having Andrey Amador and later Francisco Ventoso riding on the front. With 8km to, they had brought the gap down to 8 minutes.

 

That was the signal for Astana to kick into action as Luis Leon Sanchez took over the pace-setting and he immediately put riders into difficulty. With 6km to go, he had brought the gap down to 6.40 and brought Madrazo back.

 

With 5km to go, the gap was 6.10 and the escapees who had been working well together were now getting to a steeper part. Cherel opened the action when he launched an attack and he got an immediate gap. De Marchi hesitated for a moment before he took off in pursuit. Rojas and Quintero joined him and they caught Cherel.

 

The pace went down and so Puccio also rejoined the group with 2km to go. The group came to a standstill until Cherel attacked again. De Marchi slowly reeled him in as they passed the 2km mark with an advantage of 5 minutes.

 

Rojas was the next to try and only Puccio could join him. Again De Marchi hesitated for a moment before he took off and he flew past the fading Rojas who had been dropped by Puccio.

 

Just after the flamme rouge, De Marchi also passed Puccio and from there the outcome was never in doubt. While he rode into foggy conditions, he had plenty of time to celebrate his win before Puccio and Rojas completed the podium.

 

Further back, the aggression had started with 5km to go when Dario Cataldo took over from Sanchez. He made the peloton explode to pieces before Diego Rosa took over. The Italian took a big turn and finally Mikel Landa reduced the group even further before he launched Fabio Aru off in an attack.

 

Jesper Hansen (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana joined the race leader who continued to ride hard while Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) led the chase. Hansen finally realized that Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) was not there and he dropped back to the main group which was down to Majka, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez, Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE), Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r), Mikel Nieve (Sky), Fabrice Jeandesboz (Europcar), Dumoulin and Landa.

 

Hansen started to chase 15 seconds behind Aru and Quintana before Chaves and Nieve took off. They were joined by Pozzovivo and later Rodriguez would also catch them.

 

The quartet made it back to Aru and Quintana just before the Colombian attacked. Rodriguez joined him and finally Aru, Pozzovivo, Chaves and Majka also made the junction. Nieve was chasing a bit further back.

 

Quintana attacked again and this time no one could respond. The Colombian crossed the line in sixth and put six seconds into Rodriguez, with Aru and Chaves following one second further adrift. The Dumoulin group ended up with a time loss of 19 seconds compared to Aru.

 

Hence, Aru defended his leads and still hold a 26-second advantage over Rodriguez as he goes into the next big battle in the mountains. Stage 15 has a flat start and then includes a category 2 climb before the riders get to the bottom of the final 12.7km climb which is much steeper than today’s final ascent.

 

A big summit finish

After two days for sprinters and attackers, it was time for the first of the three crucial mountain stages in the Vuelta a Espana. Stage 14 brought the riders over 215km from Vitoria-Gasteiz to a summit finish on Alto Campoo. After a flat first half, the riders tackled a category 3 climb before they descended to the bottom of the very steep category 1 Puerto del Escudo. It’s summit was located 56.5km from the finish and from there the riders travelled along flat roads to the bottom of the final climb which averaged 5.5% over 18km.

 

It was a partly cloudy and dry day when the riders gathered for the start. One rider was absent as Geoffrey Soupe (Cofidis) who finished last in yesterday’s stage didn’t sign in.

 

Sanchez abandons

Right from the start of the stage, two riders got a small advantage and were joined by a third attacker before they were brought back after 4km of racing. Instead, Tom Van Asbroeck (LottoNL-Jumbo), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), Jerome Cousin (Europcar), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Salvatore Puccio (Sky), Fabio Duarte (Colombia), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin) and Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural) took off and they fought hard for a few kilometres before Katusha neutralized the move.

 

Samuel Sanchez (BMC) was unable to keep up with the fast pace and so he decided to abandon. Meanwhile, the peloton had split in two and it took some time for them to regroup. At this point, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) abandoned the race.

 

The break is formed

De Marchi was extremely aggressive and part of almost all attacks but no one had managed to get clear when they ended the first hour after 46km of fast racing. Six riders briefly got a small advantage but they were back in the fold just 3km later.

 

While Boy  van Poppel (Trek) asked for mechanical service, De Marchi attacked again and was joined by Puccio, Mikael Cherel (Ag2r) and Carlos Quintero (Colombia). Rojas also made the junction and they managed to build an advantage of 1.12.

 

The peloton slows down

Things seemed to calm down when the peloton suddenly split in three parts and Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Jay McCarthy (Tinkoff-Saxo) tried to bridge the gap. They failed in their attempt and finally the group calmed down as the three groups came back together.

 

When Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal) asked for medical assistance, Astana had allowed the gap to go put to 3 minutes and they continued to give the escapees some freedom. At the end of the second hour, the gap had gone out to 6.10.

 

Astana set the pace

Andrey Zeits and Alessandro Vanotti set the pace in the peloton and kept the gap stable at around 6 minutes when they hit the first climb. Cherel led Rojas and Puccio over the top and Astana had taken it easy on the ascent, the gap had gone out to more than seven minutes.

 

The peloton refused to take any risks on the descent and so the gap was 8.50 when they got to the bottom. It has even gone out to 9.55 when they hit the bottom of the Puerto del Escudo.

 

Slow pace by Astana

Lluis Mas (Caja Rural) was the next rider to abandon as the gap went out to 10 minutes for the first time. However, Vanotti and Zeits rode a bit harder on the ascent where a few riders got dropped. When Cherel led Rojas, Puccio, Quintero and De Marchi over the top, the gap was down to 8.30.

 

The riders who had lost contact rejoined the main group as Zeits and Vanotti again allowed the gap to grow. With 35km to go, it had gone out to 9.30 and no one was showing any sign of initiative.

 

Quintero led De Marchi and Puccio across the line in the intermediate sprint where the gap had been reduced to 9.10. However, as no one was chasing yet, the gap was 9.40 with 22km to go. Finally, the riders started to position themselves near the front but there was no big stress as they hit the final climb where the action unfolded.

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