The Tour Take | Vuelta a Espana Stage 17
1st – Michael Woods (Team EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale)
2nd – Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing Team)
3rd – David De La Cruz (Team Sky)
Red - Simon Yates (Mitchelton- SCOTT)
Green - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Polka Dot - Thomas De Gendt (Lotto - Soudal)
1st - Simon Yates (Mitchelton - SCOTT)
2nd - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar Team) @ 0:25
3rd - Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) @ 1:22
4th - Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) @ 1:36
5th - Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto- Jumbo) @ 1:48
6th - Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) @ 2:11
7th - Ion Izagirre (Bahrain - Merida) @ 4:09
8th - Rigoberto Uran (Team EF Education First - Drapac p/b Cannondale) @ 4:36
9th - Thibaut Pinot (Groupama - FDJ) @ 5:31
10th - Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale @ 6:05
Six climbs litter La Vuelta’s Stage 17 route, held in the Basque Country. From Getxo to Balcon de Bizkaia, four of those climbs came in a final 50km that was up and down the whole way home
The Key Point
The final climb, the Alto del Balcon de Bizkaia (Monte Oiz), is 7km long at around 9%, while the last 4km average around 11%. With around 2km to go, the gradient’s as high as 24%, before a slight flat section, and finishing kick again in double figure gradients.
A break of 26 formed, with Nibali, Clarke, De Gendt, Mollema, Woods, Zakarin, Herrada, Majka, Teuns, Postlberger, De La Cruz, Hindley and several others.
They found a maximum lead of around 9:00, as Thomas De Gendt spent the day chasing KOM Points and moving into the KOM Jersey. Back in the pack, and MItchelton-SCOTT were left to chase the break alone, until Euskadi-Murias came to the the front to push the pace (yeah, I know).
The action kicked off in the front on the second last climb, the Alto de Gontizegaraine, which took the riders to the foot of the final climb. Simon Clarke was active, pushing the pace for Michael Woods, and Vincenzo NIbali tried to go long. They started the final climb all together though as nobody could break the group.
Behind in the peloton, Astana had taken over the pacemaking, again making Superman Lopez’s intentions clear. By the bottom of the final 7km ascent, the gap was only 4:00, with the stage win in the balance.
By the 4km point when the Balcon de Bizkaia got tough, the front group was thinned down to around 10. Astana had thinned out the main group too, with only the top 8 on GC plus two helpers remaining.
Dylan Teuns and Michael Woods were the first to attack, but after a regouping, it was David De La Cruz who looked strongest. When he went, only Woods could follow, but Majka and Teuns bridged back to him on the flat section with a kilometre to go.
In the GC group, Adam Yates and Jack Haig were huge; initially they pulled back a Valverde attack, before dropping Nairo Quintana
Back at the front and it was the Michael Woods who was strongest; though his intiially attack couldn’t distance Teuns, a second crack did it, and on the 18% finishing slope in thick mist, he crossed the line first.
The votes of Miguel Angel Lopez couldn’t crack the other favourites; Mas, Yates and Valverde came into the final few hundred metres on their own as the Colombian was just lagging behind.
Valverde, ever the opportunist, took a few seconds over Yates too, just closing the margin on GC.
3 - Michael Woods. Two cracks at Grand Tours haven’t gone to plan for the Canadian this year, but he’s ridden valiantly and a stage win is a good reward.
2 – Alejandro Valverde. The Green Bullet closes the gap to Yates ever so slightly and takes sole leadership at Team Movistar.
1 – Thomas De Gendt. The breakaway king moved into the Polka Dots today, after slowly accumulating points. Seems fair that we make up for the negative point he found himself with earlier in the race.
Leaders: S Yates (10), Valverde (9), Dennis, King (5), Herrada, Mate, Kwiatkowski, Woods, Viviani (4), Bouhanni, Clarke, De Marchi, Gallopin, Geniez, Mollema, Pinot (3) Quintana, Sagan (3) Kruijswijk (2) De Plus, Mollard, Postlberger, Rodriguez, Rhestrepo, Campenaerts, Cortina, Lopez, Majka, Porte, Rolland, Van Baarle (1),
The Movers and Shakers
Valverde is moving and shaking his was all the way to race favourite right now. Sure, Yates has 25 seconds over him, but that’s nothing when you look at what’s ahead (take a look at Stage 19’s profile), and Valverde’s experience counts for a lot here. Granted, the next few days don’t suit him as much when the gradients keep to the low end of the teens, but he’s looking so strong right now.
A few guys faltered though; Steven Kruiswijk lost time after a strong TT yesterday, while Nairo Quintana’s performance confirmed the rumblings that maybe he wasn’t at 100%. Lopez tried everything today, attacking consistently and being aggressive with his team, but he just didn’t have the legs.
The Next Stage
A rare day with no categorised climbs, as the race’s GC action takes a quick break. From Ejea de los Caballeros to Lleida, Stage 18 should be a sprint. Expect the 196 kilometres to be taken at a fairly gradual pace as the GC men recover before a tough two final mountain days.
In the sprint, they’ll take a roundabout with 2km to go, before a right and left hander in the following kilometre. The final kilometre is all straight, making for a fast finish.
Anyone brave enough to bet against Elia Viviani? Having taken two wins here already, he’ll be looking to make it four, with wins on Thursday and Saturday. His Quick-Step Floors Team are still looking strong, while Michael Morkov has easily been the best lead-out man here.
See you back at the social club,