It was a tough stage in the Vuelta 2017, not least because the riders spent most of it in a cold, windy downpour. While Romain Bardet, who had been allowed to go in the day’s break, tried valiantly to stay away (with Darwin Atapuma for company), Bahrain-Merida had another plans for their man, Vincenzo Nibali. But with GC riders all over the mountain, it was Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez who took advantage of a weak moment on the final climb and rode to a fabulous stage win. Chris Froome gained buckets of time on his rivals and the GC was well and truly shaken.
Rider of the Race
My rider of the race is an unsung hero whose work at the front of the GC group pulverised the competition and put his man in the cat-bird seat. That unsung hero is Bahrain-Merida’s Franco Pellizotti. Setting a fearsome pace on the final climb in the hopes of setting up Vincenzo Nibali, Pellizotti put everyone in trouble – including Chris Froome, who sat at the back of the tiny group on the steep sections, showing some rare weakness. By the time Pellizotti peeled off the front with just over 2km to the summit, there was only Lopez, Froome and Nibali left. With a couple judicious kicks, the Astana rider left the other two in his wake and took a fine victory on a miserable day.
Third week lucky for His Nibs?
With his sterling work today, Pellizotti might just have set up Nibali for an audacious second half of the Vuelta. On the climb, Froome looked uncomfortable – well, more so than usual – and considering that the Sky riders have had to be on the front riding a hard tempo almost the entire Vuelta so far, one wonders if the third week is going to be a wild, unpredictable ride if fatigue derails the Skyriders. Nibali always tends to peak in the third week of a grand tour, which common sense would tell us should be the time Froome starts to lose some form after a full-on Tour de France.
Say what you want about His Nibs, but he races to win and his leap into second place, with third-placed Esteban Chaves a hefty minute-plus off of him, means that Nibali can spend his time concentrating on beating Froome, not warding off youngsters nipping at his podium place. Fingers crossed for an astonishing third week.
Oh Esteban …
Get out the fluffy towels and heat lamp – regardless of his smile, the baby kangaroo had a mare of a day, cracking on the final climb and losing buckets of time to Froome (and a pail full to Nibs). Chaves is 2.33 off Froome and 1.14 off Nibali and sitting third overall. But it isn’t the guys in front he needs to be careful of, it’s the guys right behind him. And I mean right behind him. Quick-Stepper Davide de la Cruz, Sunwebber Wilco Kelderman (who finished the stage with Froome and Nibali) and even Ilnur Zakarin (who, let’s face it, we wrote off stages ago) are three, four and five seconds away from the third step respectively. Unfortunately, it looks like he’s going to have his hands full keeping his third place…
While Alberto Contador moved up into the top 10 and is now sitting at number 9 (3.55 off Froome), any last glimmer of him making the podium in his last ever pro race is pretty much just a tiny ember. Personally, I’m hoping he continues to animate the race (his move with Nibali about 10km from the finish helped drop Chaves, van Garderen, Roche …) and comes away with a spectacular stage win.
Top 5 stage
1 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) 5:05:09
2 Chris Froome (Sky) +0:14
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) same time
4 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) same time
5 Romain Bardet (Ag2r) +0:31
Top 5 GC
1 Chris Froome (Sky) 45:18:01
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +1:19
3 Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) +2.33
4 Davide de la Cruz (Quick-Step) +2.36
5 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +2.37
All the jerseys
Leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Points: Matteo Trentin
KOM: Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac)
Combined: Chris Froome (Sky)
Team Classification: Movistar
Most Aggressive Rider: Romain Bardet (Ag2r)
Header image: Matteo Trentin ©GETTY/AFP/Jose Jordan