What started as a gentle roll-out for the riders turned into a nightmare in the last few kilometres. One of those wall-like climbs that we’re so familiar with at the Vuelta slowed the race to walking pace, and brought about what Eurosport’s Carlton Kirby described as a “slow-motion boxing match under water” – an odd but apt description. Ryder Hesjedal responded to recent bad luck and crazy talk by winning a stage that even the motorbikes were struggling to finish, snatching the win from a brave Oliver Zaugg, while the GC contenders duked it out further down the slopes.
I’d be lying if I said that this was a balls-to-the-wall extravaganza. If anything it was more cruise along for five hours, arrive at the wall and crack. Indeed, the most exciting thing to happen in the first 190km was the abandonment of Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. The day produced a sizeable break containing riders from pretty much every team, and with no genuine reason to chase them down, they stayed away to the finale.
With 2.5km to go, the race finally got serious. The final climb bit in and in a heartbeat four riders fell off the back of the break, leaving seven survivors to contest the win. What lay ahead of them was a tendon-splitting wall, dusted with gravel and flanked with fans, all of which limited the opportunity for any explosive attacks. It was Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff-Saxo) who finally managed to get a gap and, looking as comfortable as anybody can on a 19% incline, seemed to be progressing inexorably towards a great victory. But it wasn’t to be, and Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal recovered sufficiently on the ‘easy’ 8.5% run in to the line to catch the Swiss rider and take the win by a couple of seconds.
The GC battle hots up
Behind the break, there was almost as much excitement in the bunch as first Chris Froome (Sky) and then Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were shelled by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Fabio Aru (Astana) and race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Froome appeared to struggle with the increasing incline and Contador put in one of his familiar bursts, trying to put a few more seconds into his GC rivals. Although Valverde tried to shut him down, he wasn’t able to follow and was quickly passed by Rodriguez and Aru.
This was clearly a tough climb to read, and where Froome appeared to be dead and buried, he put in a measured effort that brought him back and even gave him the upper hand in the final stretch. In the end the margins were minimal, with only a few seconds changing hands between the main protagonists. What did come out of this late torture was Garmin’s Dan Martin jumping into the GC top ten, and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) falling out of the top three after losing just under a minute.
If this is an indication of form ahead of a couple of very tough stages, I’m expecting a strong-looking Rodriguez to make a decent challenge for the top three, while others all look capable of having a bad day. Contador meanwhile, looks to have the legs to hang on to the lead, even if his legs can’t quite sustain the kind of attacking flair that we’ve been spoiled with in the past.
VeloVoices rider of the day
As tough as it is not to give the nod to Oliver Zaugg, who seemed to have won the stage only to be bumped into second place in the closing metres, I feel compelled to give the plaudits to Ryder Hesjedal. After enough conspiracy theories to make Fox Mulder tell you to get a grip, it was pleasing to see Ryder take the win today. He seemed intent on victory, and he gave every last drop of energy to achieve it, to the extent that he nearly fell off his bike trying to celebrate on the line.
Stage 14 result
1. Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) 5:18:10
2. Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff-Saxo) +0:10
3. Imanol Erviti (Movistar) +0:30
4. Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) +0:39
5. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) +0:42
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 54:20:16
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:42
3. Chris Froome (Sky) +1:13
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:29
5. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) +2:07
6. Fabio Aru (Astana) +2:15
7. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) +3:26
8. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +4:14
9. Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) +4:36
10. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +4:37
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Movistar.