Alberto Contador took a giant step towards winning this year’s Vuelta by taking today’s queen stage. The Spaniard dropped Chris Froome in the final kilometre of the summit finish at La Farrapona to record his first grand tour victory in over two years and extend his lead atop the general classification in the process.
A discordant escape
The day’s early escape was a massive one, and it held a gap of over four minutes as the riders started the penultimate climb of the day at the Puerto de San Lorenzo. However, despite several solid climbers, including Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Peter Kennaugh (Sky) having made the selection, the breakaway wasn’t particularly organised and the gap gradually began to fall. Sky ominously began to mass at the front of the peloton: Chris Froome clearly felt good.
We were getting set for a slightly boring lull in the action as the breakaway was steadily getting pulled back, before a couple of the day’s escapees offered some comic relief. A war of words between Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff-Saxo) turned into one of fists, with the riders feebly attempting to knock seven bells out of each other for over a minute. Fortunately, they barely came away with one between them.
It was all much to the bemusement of their breakaway companion Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural), who responded with a disapproving head shake.
However, it provided Brambilla with just the adrenaline he needed to go on the attack, and soon only three of the original escapees were left out front: Brambilla, his teammate Wout Poels and De Marchi. But with a few kilometres of the final climb remaining, there were only two. Brambilla was informed his fisticuffs had earned him a disqualification, leaving him almost in tears as he rode on in vain. If it made him any better, Rovny was ejected too.
FDJ sprinter Nacer Bouhanni particularly enjoyed watching the footage once he was back on the team bus, but offered a helpful age rating for the responsible parent:
The favourites make their moves
The fight would’ve been rather less funny for the two leaders, who suddenly lost a chunk of climbing firepower from their group. Sure enough, their gap came down quickly, and once the favourites made their moves on the final climb, Poels and De Marchi were quickly swept up.
It was no surprise that Froome was the first leader to show his hand, with Sky having worked hard to set him up throughout the day. His attack came with 4km to go and only race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) could follow him. Froome continued to push on towards the finish, though he could never shed his bouncy companion, who was being given a free ride to the finish – and towards overall victory in Santiago de Compostela.
Contador rubbed salt into the wound with a fantastic attack with a kilometre to go, and took his first grand tour stage win since stage 17 of the 2012 Vuelta. He gained 15 seconds on Froome, 55 on Alejandro Valverde, and 59 on Joaquim Rodriguez. It’s hard to see anyone else winning this race now.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Stage winner Alberto Contador is the only man deserving of today’s rider of the day prize after an outstanding victory. Chris Froome rode out of his skin, though there’s simply no one in the Vuelta as strong as El Pistolero. It’s been a few years since we’ve seen him in such form at a grand tour, dancing up climbs and attacking with blistering acceleration. It’s a joy to see it return.
Stage 16 result
1. Alberto Contador (Garmin-Sharp) 4:53:35
2. Chris Froome (Sky) +0:15
3. Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) +0:50
4. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:55
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:59
1. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) 62:25:00
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:36
3. Chris Froome (Sky) +1:39
4. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +2:29
5. Fabio Aru (Astana) +3:38
6. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) +6:17
7. Robert Gesink (Belkin) +6:43
8. Samuel Sanchez (BMC) +6:55
9. Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) +8:37
10. Damiano Caruso +9:12
Points leader: John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano).
King of the Mountains leader: Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural).
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Team classification: Katusha.