I don’t think many people expected the breakaway to take the glory today but Stefan Denifl didn’t get that memo. The Austrian rode away from his companions on the insanely steep and rutted road to the summit of Los Machucos, holding off a sparkling, dancing Alberto Contador by 28secs to deliver Aqua Blue their first Grand Tour victory on their debut. Behind them the race exploded in the shrouding mist with a suffering Chris Froome ceding time to most of his rivals but retaining the leader’s jersey.
Rider of the Race
It has to come down to a hard choice between Stefan Denifl or Alberto Contador. Usually when faced with such dilemmas I close my eyes and let my heart choose. For once this will not help, for how to choose between two performances that evoked such an outpouring of joy and emotion? I wanted them both to win, for different reasons – but that could not be.
On the one hand we have a rider delivering a dream for himself and his team.
It’s a real Cinderella happy-ending story. Especially when you consider Stefan was an IAM cat and had to work hard for a contract at the end of last year, let alone all the trials and tribulations Aqua Blue have been through at this race.
They have never stopped trying and have taken the fans with them on this journey. Who couldn’t be happy for them?
On the other we have a rider who has nothing left to prove. Yet burns with the desire to enjoy his last race, to fight with everything he has to deliver for his team and delight his fans. For joy, for passion, for pride.
His blistering attack today was vintage Baby Blackbird, joining with and then riding away from Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez, soaring through cheering fans as wound his way up the cloud-shrouded ascent. Eurosport’s Juan Antonio Flecha opined that riders needed to be seated to gain the traction required to tame the 30% ramps of the last climb. That’s another memo that seems to have gone missing as Alberto danced his way up in his usual style interspersed with outbursts of sheer grinta.
Kaitlin hits the nail on the head…
You see? It’s impossible to choose! I’m not even going to try and am instead invoking the especiale VeloVoices group hug for both of them.
I don’t know if either rider has names for their legs in the manner of Ag2r-La-Mondiale’s Pierre Latour (that particular story is here). But on a day when the legs definitely did the talking both riders were profuse in their praises post race.
You always have to believe to win, and when I felt my legs I was like, ‘Oh my God. These legs are super good.’ And I just kept on pushing. The climb was perfect for me with some flats parts in between for recovery. Now I won a stage in the Vuelta. It’s the best day in my cycling life. Stefan Denifl
It’s truly a pity that I couldn’t win the stage. It was a good stage, but even more so because my legs responded when I attacked. When I got out of the saddle, the bike took off…. Tomorrow, I will encounter one of the climbs that have marked my history as a rider [Fuente De – Ed]. It’s always special to be there. I’ll ride with my head, my heart, and my legs. Alberto Contador
Unexpected day of action
If I’m truthful I did not expect the action we saw today.
I expected a stalemate as the GC group ground their way up the last climb, particularly with a TT in their legs and the Angliru to come. The victory from the break, the attack from Contador, the willingness and ability of the GC group to attack when they sensed weakness in the race leader. It was a difficult day for Chris Froome despite finishing 14th and losing 42secs to Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) and Katusha-Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin, he remained buoyant about his prospects and should serve Mikel Nieve an extra slice of cake tonight for work he put in to limit the damage….
It’s never nice to lose time, but I still feel good, and three more days, I’m confident we can get the job done.
The top five positions remain unchanged but nevertheless the race has been opened up and we can look forward to a resumption of attackiness in the remaining stages. There is still time to deliver on dreams!!
It’s not often I agree with Michael Rasmussen, but I’m giving him the last word tonight.
Bring on the spice La Vuelta!
Top 5 stage
1 Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue) 4:48:52
2 Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +0:28
3 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +1:04
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) same time
5 Ilnur Zakari (Katusha-Apecin) s/t
Top 5 GC
1 Chris Froome (Sky) 67:44:03
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) +1:16
3 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +2:13
4 Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) +2:25
5 Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) +3:34
All the jerseys
Leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Points: Chris Froome (Sky)
KOM: Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac)
Combined: Chris Froome (Sky)
Team Classification: Astana
Most Aggressive Rider: Dani Moreno (Movistar)
Header image: Stefan Denifl © JOSE JORDAN/AFP/Getty Images