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!
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.
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.]
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 Twitter, reviews in the evening and in-depth analysis after selected stages.