On a day that went against expectations as the anticipated breakaway victory failed to materialise, Daniel Navarro produced an equally unexpected result, attacking on a steep rise 2km from the finish and holding off the pack of GC favourites to deliver Cofidis their first grand tour stage win since the 2011 Vuelta.
The best-laid plans
This was one of those days when things didn’t go according to plan, as a result of which the GC contenders had to be more attentive and work harder at the finish than they would have hoped for.
On paper, this stage had ‘breakaway’ written all over it: a day with three moderately challenging climbs ahead of summit finishes on each of the next three days. And it started promisingly enough, with a feisty 11-strong group camping out ahead of the peloton. This was no no-name group either, including notably strong riders such as Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural) and former under-23 world champion Alexey Lutsenko (Astana).
This suited the GC teams perfectly. But first Orica-GreenEDGE and then FDJ rode determinedly on the front of the peloton to destroy their chances of staying away, with Lutsenko the last man to be caught with a little over 7km remaining. Presumably Orica-GreenEDGE were looking to the stage’s sting in the tail – an unclassified 750-metre ramp with a maximum of 14% – to launch one of their own men, probably Adam Yates, And FDJ were banking on Nacer Bouhanni being strong enough to mix it with the punchy climbers, or at least close the gap to Giant-Shimano’s John Degenkolb in the points competition.
Whatever their intentions, we’ll never know if either team’s plan would have worked as Tinkoff-Saxo moved to the front after the catch to set a fierce enough tempo to dissuade attacks from Yates or any of Alberto Contador‘s red jersey rivals with designs on taking back a few seconds. But the fact that Bouhanni finished fifth (reducing his deficit to Degenkolb by 12 points) suggests that victory might not have been beyond his grasp had the pace on the climb been slightly less aggressive. At the very least, it raises hopes of a first French victory in the World Championships road race since Laurent Brochard in 1997.
Navarro times his move perfectly
The final climb started with 2.5km remaining and Navarro’s attack came after Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) had kicked off the day’s serious action. Nearly 4½ minutes down on GC, he posed a small enough threat for the main players to cut him some slack.
He was helped by the fact the chase was disrupted by speculative attacks by Garmin-Sharp’s Dan Martin (twice), Chris Froome (Sky) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), but it required no small amount of determination and nerve to hold off the fast-closing Kelderman and Daniel Moreno (Katusha), with his countryman winning the sprint to complete a Spanish one-two. Alejandro Valverde led home a 16-man group containing most of the other top GC riders five seconds behind Navarro. Of the top ten, only Lampre’s Winner Anacona lost time – and even then only 15 seconds.
With three big summit finishes to come on Saturday, Sunday and Monday, what did today tell us about how the race will pan out?
Actually, very little. There’s a world of difference between a short, sharp 750-metre drag and the never-ending grind of concluding ascents that measure 8.3km, 12.2km and 16.5km in length and will ruthlessly expose any flaws in the main contenders.
There are question marks over all the main men. Contador has surprised everyone – possibly including himself – with his strength on his return from his Tour de France crash, but the next three days will provide a searching examination of just how well that leg has healed. Similarly, fourth-placed Froome‘s form has looked a little short as he too battles back from his Tour injuries – he could go either way. Valverde (second) faded badly in the Tour’s final week, and while third-placed Rigoberto Uran (OPQS) is fresher, having taken over two months off racing after the Giro, does he have the attacking qualities necessary to take control of the race?
Perhaps the biggest enigma is Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who has quietly and unspectacularly ridden himself into fifth, just 1:35 down. So often the bridesmaid at grand tours, his form this year has not been what it was in recent seasons, he was anonymous at the Tour and long, grinding climbs have never been his favourite.
In short, the only thing we do know at the moment is that we don’t really know what’s going to happen. And while many have already handed this race to Contador, that’s vastly premature in my view. We’ll know much more about how the GC will shake out over each of the next three days, but this Vuelta remains deliciously difficult to predict.
VeloVoices rider of the day
An easy one today: Daniel Navarro. He read the race situation perfectly, and a rider who is both experienced and strong enough to finish ninth at the 2013 Tour was able to finish the job.
Cofidis regularly pitch up as wild-cards at both the Tour and Vuelta and ride around without anyone even noticing they’re there, so a first grand tour stage win since Rein Taaramae on stage 14 of the 2011 Vuelta – three years and two days ago – will be a welcome fillip for a team which simply does not have the resources to compete with the WorldTour squads.
Stage 13 result
1. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) 4:21:04
2. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +0:02
3. Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) same time
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:05
5. Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) s/t
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 48:59:23
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:20
3. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +1:08
4. Chris Froome (Sky) +1:20
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:35
6. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) +1:52
7. Fabio Aru (Astana) +2:13
8. Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) +2:37
9. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +2:55
10. Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) +3:51
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Movistar.