Known for its blue skies, verdant mountains and crystalline lakes, Andorra may seem like an Alpine haven. But it certainly wasn’t so today at the Vuelta a España. For one day only the tiny Alpine country mutated into a temporal hell, with the peloton forced to grind their way up six leg-burning climbs under leaden clouds. It was Astana who emerged from the struggle the strongest, with Mikel Landa winning the stage from his teammate and new overall leader Fabio Aru.
The stage profile – which, as noted by an amusing tweeter, resembled a hat from a Christmas cracker – contained six official climbs, with all but one of them classed as first category or above. Eventually a breakaway managed to distance themselves, and they arrived at the foot of the summit finish with Mikel Landa (Astana) the strongest of them all.
The Spaniard attacked and swiftly quickly dropped his fellow escapees, while further back down the road his teammate Fabio Aru was putting time into Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and the other general classification contenders. The Italian eventually surged past everyone but Landa, completing an Astana one-two and taking the race lead in the process. He looks pretty comfortably the strongest climber in the Vuelta, and it’ll be difficult for anyone to surpass him.
Rider of the day
With both Astana riders having turned in such impressive performances, we’re splitting hairs in deciding the winner of the rider of the day prize. However, we’re settling on Aru, due to the manner in which he powered away from the other big red jersey contenders on the final ascent to the finish. There are many great climbers in this race, but even the likes of Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who have both looked in reasonable form, were powerless to match the Italian. If he does go on to win the Vuelta, it’ll be today we look back upon as the moment he established his absolute superiority.
Three things we noticed
1. A major battle concludes, but the war’s not yet been won. Today’s stage undoubtedly went a long way to deciding the outcome of this Vuelta. Some, like Chris Froome (Sky) and, in all probability, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), are now all but out of the running. But if the Vuelta has taught us one thing through the years, it’s to expect the unexpected. A good day in the mountains and Rodriguez could easily overhaul his 27-second deficit. Even more ominously, if Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) can keep his deficit down (it’s currently only 30 seconds), he could do real damage on the 38km time trial still to come. This race certainly isn’t over.
2. A terrible day for Sky. Dave Brailsford’s men headed into this race with both Chris Froome and Nico Roche looking in pretty good form; they finished today’s stage with their general classification hopes in tatters. Though Roche’s problems started with a crash on stage nine, things went from bad to worse for the Irishman on this brutal stage, and he’s now dropped from fourth to outside of the top 20 overall.
But if you think that was bad, the day was even more miserable for Froome, who was dropped on the Gallina – the first especial category climb of the race – after colliding with a barrier in the opening few kilometres. Whether injured or off-form (or both), Froome suddenly went from challenging to merely surviving, and finished the stage over eight minutes down on Landa. He deserves credit just for finishing, as his GC race has certainly been run.
3. Moto madness. This Vuelta has been marred by a series of incidents involving the motorbikes permitted on route, and today things took an even more serious turn. Having already had star man Peter Sagan wiped out by such a collision, today Tinkoff-Saxo lost a second man in the shape of Sergio Paulinho. These weren’t the only incidents – Darwin Atapuma (BMC) and Froome were both run close. It’s clear that something must be done, and the team’s open letter regarding Sagan’s accident hits the nail on the head.
Team boss Oleg Tinkov has threatened to pull his team from the race and, though it may seem an overreaction on first glance, it’s perfectly reasonable. From sporting, financial and legal perspectives, the moto madness is a disgrace.
Stage 11 result
1. Mikel Landa (Astana) 4:34:54
2. Fabio Aru (Astana) +1:22
3. Ian Boswell (Sky) +1:40
4. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +1:57
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +1:59
1. Fabio Aru (Astana) 43:12:19
2. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +0:27
3. Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) +0:30
4. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) +1:28
5. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) +1:29
6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:52
7. Daniel Moreno (Katusha) +1:54
8. Mikel Nieve (Sky) +1:58
9. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +3:07
10. Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) +4:15
Points leader: Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE)
King of the Mountains leader: Omar Fraile (Caja Rural)
Combined classification leader: Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin)
Team classification leader: Sky.
Link: Official race website