Vuelta stage 17: Mollema and Roche do the splits

Stage 17: Calahorra to Burgos, 189km

This stage was as close as this Vuelta gets to a routine sprint stage, but first crosswinds and then a final kilometre attack caused splits which shuffled the GC and produced a surprise stage winner in Bauke Mollema as the sprinters were left grasping at thin air once again.

Vuelta 2013 Stage 17 profile

A familiar face formed half of the day’s two-man break as Francisco Aramendia (Caja Rural) notched his fourth escape of this Vuelta, joined by Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol). The pair pulled out a maximum of eight minutes but were reeled in by the peloton with 21km to go.

By then the first significant split had occurred. A narrow bridge at 30km strung the peloton out and, aided by crosswinds blowing across the exposed plains, Saxo-Tinkoff accelerated at the front and – as they did on stage 13 at the Tour de France – split the bunch into echelons. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale), the rider immediately ahead of Saxo leader Nicolas Roche in the GC, was caught on the wrong side of the split, as was Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). The pair would never recover, losing 1:30.

The largely flat run-in was interrupted by a short uncategorised hill at about 10km. This saw the GC teams in full lead-out mode to secure positions near the front. Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) attacked on the climb, establishing a small lead over the chasing pack. He was briefly joined by Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), a stage winner in Burgos in 2006, but they were swallowed up as the teams massed for the anticipated bunch gallop.

However, under the flamme rouge the pace faltered as everyone looked to everyone else to lead and Bauke Mollema (Belkin) took full advantage. The Dutchman jumped clear with 750 metres remaining. By the time the sprinters took flight after him it was too late. Sky’s Edvald Boasson Hagen edged out Lampre’s Maximiliano Richeze for the consolation prize of second. The 30-year-old Italian has now registered four podiums but no wins.

Roche relieved Pozzovivo of fifth overall, but there were no other changes in the top ten or the other classifications. Next stop: the Asturian mountains and the trio of summit finishes which will determine the final winners and losers of this Vuelta.

VeloVoices rider of the day

It’s quite an achievement to complete all three grand tours – Giro, Tour, Vuelta – in one season, but Adam Hansen stands four days away from doing this for the second consecutive year. Indeed, should he cross the finish line in Madrid on Sunday it will be his seventh straight grand tour finish, dating back to the 2011 Vuelta.

Normally a rider who works in the service of others, it’s rare for him to get an opportunity to get into a break. He won at the Giro with a long solo attack on a typical hard man’s stage in poor weather. Sadly he couldn’t add to his tally today, but it’s worth celebrating the fact that he’s still here at all – it takes a rare combination of fortitude and fortune to finish seven grand tours in a row. It came as no surprise to see him on the attack today and continuing to fight the good fight.

Hansen finished this year’s Giro in 72nd place. He finished the Tour in 72nd. He currently sits 64th on GC. Sort it out, Adam.

Analysis & opinion

In today’s Talking Tactics, I noted that we would see underperforming riders and teams looking to break their Vuelta ducks in this final week, and in both Hansen (one of only four Lotto riders remaining) and stage winner Mollema we saw exactly that. Expect more of the same in the mountains over the next three days.

I also commented on the likelihood of Nicolas Roche continuing to ride aggressively, although I was expecting him to animate tomorrow rather than today’s stage. However, as they were at the Tour, Saxo-Tinkoff had clearly studied the road book carefully and were well prepared to launch an attack that pushed their man into the top five. A great team effort and a job well done.

Given their lack of success so far, it was frankly astonishing that the sprint teams allowed Mollema to get away so easily – it certainly wouldn’t have happened if Cavendish, Greipel and Kittel were here. Although he is no sprinter, Mollema has been a regular fixture near the front of the bunch on these flatter stages, always looking for the kind of opportunity that opened up for him today. He read the situation perfectly. Under the flamme rouge, the slackening of the pace was visible as lead-out men deliberately eased offto let others through and the usual pace-line dissolved as riders started to bunch up. All the Dutchman needed was a moment’s hesitation. That’s exactly what he got, and easy as it is to point the finger at the sprinters’ teams it was still a thoroughly deserved victory.

Tomorrow, of course, the real fun and games begin …

Stage 17 result

1. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) 4:44:28

2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) same time

3. Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Lampre-Merida) s/t

4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp) s/t

5. Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard) s/t

General classification

1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 68:50:29

2. Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard) +0:28

3. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:14

4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:29

5. Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) +3:43

6. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) +5:09

7. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +6:08

8. Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) +6:17

9. Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) +7:33

10. Tanel Kangert (Astana) +10:52

Points classification: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

Mountains classification: Nicolas Edet (Cofidis).

Combination classification: Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).

Team classification: Euskaltel-Euskadi.

Link: Official website

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