Vuelta a España: Stage 15 review

Stage 15: La Robla to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.5km

Antonio Piedra recorded the third and biggest win of his career – and a major victory for the wild-card Caja Rural team – when he proved to be the strongest of the ten-man breakaway which had been allowed to build an unassailable lead. Piedra slipped off with 10km remaining once the break started attacking one another on the final climb of the day – the legendary 13.5km  hors catégorie Lagos de Covadonga.

Piedra quickly built a healthy advantage while his breakaway companions were too fatigued to give chase. He pedalled fluently to the summit where he had time to savour his victory and enjoy being the focus of attention before Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) crossed the line more than two minutes later just ahead of Lloyd Mondory (AG2R La Mondiale).

Further down the road, the eagerly anticipated main attraction was about to start. Initial salvos had been fired by Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who had sent supporting men up the road. With Chris Froome (Sky) visibly tiring, Valverde attacked with 5km remaining. Contador immediately latched onto his wheel, followed by race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). The trio bridged up to Valverde’s teammate Nairo Quintano, who lent him a helping hand for much of the remainder of the stage.

The last few kilometres were peppered with attacks from Contador which were closed down every time by Valverde and Rodriguez. It didn’t matter what he threw at them, nothing stuck. But it was great to see him try, even if it ultimately proved fruitless. Interviewed after the stage, Contador confirmed he hadn’t been feeling at the top of his game today but vowed he’d fight for victory until the very last metre of the race. We’ll hold him to that.

The duel continues tomorrow  – the final piece of the triptych – Cuitu Negru.

VeloVoices rider of the day

We love it when a break succeeds even if it suits the overall contenders. Today one rider, whom no one on Twitter picked for the victory, rode off into the distance to glory: the biggest win of his career. Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) has always ridden for Pro-Continental teams and today was his opportunity to shine on a bigger stage. He who dares wins – chapeau Antonio!

Antonio Piedra (image courtesy of RDW)

Interviwed after the stage, an elated Piedra said:

I could never have imagined winning a stage like today. I had good sensations and I got into a good group. Everyone was working together to get to the final climb. My legs felt good and I decided to go early to see who would come with me. I was surprised when no one followed. From there, I just kept a cool head and paced myself.

To win is a huge elation. We are a small team and to win one of the biggest stages in the Vuelta proves we deserve to be in the race. I hope there is a big party tonight.

Interview link


I’m loving the dynamics between Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez and would love to be a fly on the wall to their brief exchanges each time one bridges up to the other. Don’t you just wonder what they’re saying to one another? [I’m amazed they have enough breath left to say anything – Ed.]

Tactical analysis

Day two of the leading contenders playing cat and mouse. Alejandro Valverde has knocked Chris Froome firmly off the podium and it’s looking increasingly like an all-Spanish affair. It doesn’t seem to matter what Contador throws at Rodriguez, he just bats it back and gives more. You sense that it’s Purito’s Grand Tour to lose. He’s been so close so often and doesn’t want to be a bridesmaid again, not after this year’s Giro. It’s finally his time in the spotlight and he’s loving it.

In his pre-race press conference, Alberto said while he was riding to win that he wouldn’t be disappointed to be runner-up. There’s still challenges to come but … The difference between the two may just be down to Dani Moreno, Purito’s wingman, who’s lying fifth overall. Today’s losers were Froome, who drops to fourth, and Nico Roche (AG2R La Mondiale), who drops two places to ninth.

VeloVoices will bring you previews of each day’s stage every morning, live coverage of as many stages as possible on Twitterreviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.

Link: Vuelta a España official website

Friday Feature Extra: 10 things I love about cycling – Jason Snell

In our ‘Celebration of Cycling’ Weekend, here is another list of reasons to love cycling, this time by Jason Snell, a Londoner who loves the joy and pain of cycling and regularly looks into his suitcase of courage during Ironman triathlons.

1: The way the peloton is always changing shape to fit the lay of the land, snaking through some of the most beautiful countryside in a flash of bright colours.

2: Have you noticed how a bike glistens in the sunlight? Bikes may just be bikes to people who don’t love cycling, but to a cyclist they are works of art, all different in shape and colour and purpose, but all beautiful.

3: No ride is ever the same! Mother Nature has a great way of transforming our rides into battles against the elements: throwing in everything from thunderstorms to blizzards to the dreaded headwind putting time on your favourite TT course.

4: The fact that you can go and ride the same routes as your heroes, thinking all big and bad to yourself that you’ll be able to beat their times up some of the famous mountain stages. Then you realise that they really are super-human! You wouldn’t be allowed on the pitch at Wembley … (I’ve tried)

5: The variety of races, from the famous Tour de France to the iconic Paris-Roubaix, that beautiful Hell of the North with its cobbled muddy roads!

6: The pro rider: hard as nails, always wanting to finish what they have started, never wanting to admit defeat, crashing at 40kph and getting back up to race to the end before attending to cuts and grazes. Or just manning up when they need to, ignoring the pain and pushing themselves way past the limit.

7: The glory of a win, no matter how insignificant – even if it’s just a training ride sprint to the coffee shop!

8: The nicest people ride bikes! [I can attest to that – just met Jason the other day and he’s top drawer! -Kitty]

9 Group rides with friends who try and make you suffer or vice-versa.

Just friends kicking back with caffeine after making each other suffer … (image courtesy of Leopard Trek)

10: Because it’s FUN!

Follow Jason on Twitter @JaySnell

Vuelta a España: Stage 15 preview

Stag15: La Robla to Lagos de Covadonga, 186.5km

This is the classic climb of the Lagos de Covadonga on the middle of three tough mountain stages. The race will really come alive in the last 50km, first with the Cat 1 Mirador del Fito (6.8km, 8.3%, with the final 3km over 10%), then onto the Covadonga. The 13.5km climb is eye-wateringly tough, with the last 6km up to La Huesara dubbed ‘The Boneyard’.

Two short downhill sections near the summit provide the perfect springboard for a stinging attack to test weary legs, with each both preceded and followed by double-digit gradients. The latter of these leads into a final ramp of around 500 metres at 10% to the finish line, in what could prove to be the world’s slowest sprint finish.

This could well be the stage that decides the winner – or at the very least eliminates Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde from contention. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, tomorrow’s stage is just as brutal. More on that to follow …

Link: Vuelta a Espana official website