Sergey Lagutin has won stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana. The Katusha rider attacked late in the final kilometre to beat Axel Domont and Perrig Quemeneur. It was a day of change in the GC as Nairo Quintana took over the red leader’s jersey.
Stage 8, the first of the mountain stages in the 2016 Vuelta a Espana. 181.5km between Villalpando and La Camperona. Valle de Sabero. The stage was 181.5km in length and featured just the one climb. The ascent of Alto de La Camperona was a category 1 climb that took the field to the finish line. It was a brute of a climb that hit a maximum of 25% with regular spells at 20% on the way. Darwin Atapuma of BMC Racing would have an interesting day defending his overall lead.
Day for the breakaway
10km into the stage and a group of eleven riders had established themselves at the front of the race. The break consisted of Zico Waeytens of GIANT-Alpecin, Axel Domont of AG2R La Mondiale, Pieter Serry of Etixx-Quick Step, Katusha’s Jhonatan Restrepo and Sergey Lagutin, Perrig Quemeneur of Direct Energie, Gatis Smukulis of Astana, Mattia Cattaneo of Lampre-Merida, Jacques Janse van Rensburg of Dimension Data, Scott Thwaites of Bora-Argon18 and Loïc Chetout of Cofidis, Solutions Credits.
It would be interesting to see how the breakaway would work today, and how much the peloton would keep them on a leash. There were absolutely no obstacles whatsoever on the course until the final climb with just over 8km to go; and bit by bit the answer became apparent that the peloton were very unfazed about the composition of the break. Steadily the break stretched out their lead to more than 10 minutes over the peloton; led by BMC Racing who had their riders assembled en masse at the front of the race.
With 33km remaining the pack were still 10.24mins behind the breakaway, and with a lot of work to do if the gap was to be closed; however the peloton had no major urgency to gather the breakaway in too early, with Axel Domont best placed overall and still of no threat to Atapuma’s lead. The Frenchman was 57th overall 23.28mins behind Atapuma at the start of the day, with van Rensburg the next highest placed at 68th, 29.22mins down. It was, therefore, a clever move by BMC Racing, allowing the break a decent advantage but a break that had no threats in it; meaning they could chase reasonably casually towards the climb and not burn too many matches in doing so.
Waeytens opens the attacks
All the action in the race was still 17km away, as the race passed through 25km to go and the break still had 10.12mins in hand. BMC Racing were still on the front of the peloton, with Movistar poised on their train. Team Sky were right behind them in turn, and had Tinkoff and Astana marking them together with Etixx-Quick Step. Also there or thereabouts was Orica-BikeExchange, and their man Esteban Chaves would very much be one to watch.
With less than 22km to go the gap went under 10mins and the chase just picked up slightly. The break were working well together, patiently making the most of their still substantial advantage. No one had attacked out of the break, and one got the sense that none of them would until the climb of Alto de La Camperona really began to bite. With 15km left to race the break still had upwards of 9mins in hand, with their 9.22mins advantage looking very comfortable for now. 10km from the finish the gap was still a healthy 9.11mins, and it was at this point that the first attack went clear with Zico Waeytens making the move. It was a move that went completely unchallenged but only time would tell how wise that move was with the steepness of the climb to be factored in.
The GIANT-Alpecin rider quickly opened up a lead and collected the intermediate sprint maximum points and hit the lower slopes of the climb alone. Behind Waeytens, Gatis Smukulis and Jhonatan Restrepo attacked the break and bridged across to the GIANT-Alpecin rider. No sooner had the catch been made than Restrepo continued on alone, with the pace in the peloton behind them now on the rise.
Bennett moves into position for the climb
BMC Racing, who had led the pack throughout the stage so far, now had company to challenge them for the best position at the head of the peloton. Tinkoff and Etixx-Quick Step were among the principle challengers. Lampre-Merida were also very present up front along with Cannondale-Drapac.
Meanwhile, up ahead Restrepo was clear, with Smukulis and Waeytens in limbo between him and the rest of the break. Restrepo’s advantage over the peloton was a handy 8 minutes with 5km remaining, 5km back down the road Etixx-Quick Step led the peloton under the 10km to go banner and closer to the foot of the climb. Restrepo’s lead was still a very healthy 7.44mins at the 4km to go mark, as Jacques Janse van Rensburg gathered up Smukulis and Waeytens and continued to lead the pack.
The head of the peloton now were a massive collaboration of teams, with LottoNL-Jumbo now right on the front of the race. George Bennett was their protected rider now, with the absence of Steven Kruijswijk. The Kiwi was very well placed up close to the front of the race, and would look for a good result today as Team Sky began to make their move. Bennett and co probably wouldn’t be challenging for the stage though, as Restrepo went through 3km to go with almost 7.30mins still in hand.
Team Sky now took over a bit more earnestly, with George Bennett still perfectly positioned, but Cannondale-Drapac and Orica-BikeExchange were next to chance their arms at the front. The lead though was still with Restrepo who was hurting as he took on the steep slopes of the climb. He was being pursued by Direct Energie’s Perrig Quemeneur, but with 2km left the catch hadn’t been made.
Movistar now took over on the front of the peloton with 7.13mins the deficit to the shrinking peloton. Alberto Contador, Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and all were still very present; as was Esteban Chaves. But who would launch the first attack from there?
Lagutin times move to perfection
1.6km from the finish Restrepo was still in front but the remnants of the chasing group were closing in on him. Behind them Jose Joaquin Rojas led the peloton to the brief interlude before the steepest elements of the climb really began. Up ahead Restrepo was caught and now it was a battle between half a dozen or so.
At the head of the race Axel Domont, Pieter Serry and Serguy Lagutin now took over at the front, while behind them George Bennett was in a very strong position just off the front of the peloton. The peloton were being absolutely decimated over the climb and it was clear that much was going to change in the GC standings; with Atapuma also suffering.
Under the 1km to go banner it was still three leaders battling their way up the road with Quemeneur joining them. The Direct Energie rider took his opportunity to attack but he was closely marked as the metres ticked slowly away. Cattaneo and Serry were just behind them but it looked like they were just too far back with 300m to go. But Cattaneo wasn’t done yet and with 200m to go he’d dropped Serry and headed off in pursuit of the front just as Lagutin launched an attack of his own. It was a powerful move and one that proved to be the winning won as he distanced Domont and Quemeneur who completed the top three.
GC battle heats up as Quintana grabs red
Now attention turned to the slopes below and a battle that was emerging between Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and a bandaged Alberto Contador. Froome was looking very strong and he quickly dropped Contador, but Nairo Quintana then just as quickly dropped Froome as they headed under 1km to go. Froome kept the Colombian in his sights as much as possible, but the Colombian was on a flyer.
Quintana continued to push, knowing that the red jersey could potentially be his at the end of the day. Meanwhile Alberto Contador had been caught by Sergio Pardilla of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, Simon Yates of Orica-BikeExchange and teammate Esteban Chaves. Together they looked like they were closing in on Froome, but Quintana was now 18 seconds ahead of Froome with just under 200m to go. If that gap remained it would give Quintana the red leader’s jersey at the end of the day. He crossed the line and then the clock started.
Amazingly Alberto Contador found the strength to catch and pass Chris Froome in the final metres to finish 26 seconds behind Quintana, with Froome another 9 seconds back. George Bennett finished very strongly well ahead of the red jersey of Darwin Atapuma, with the New Zealander 26th ahead of Sammy Sanchez and Louis Meintjes.
The general classification did indeed have a shake up with Nairo Quintana in the lead, 19 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde and 27 seconds ahead of Chris Froome. Esteban Chaves was fourth at 57 seconds ahead of Leopold Konig and Alberto Contador.