Gianluca Brambilla could not have predicted how today would have panned out. He started a fire in the race today as he launched the attack that radically shaped the general classification. Brambilla finished ahead of Nairo Quintana and Fabio Felline on a day to remember in the fight for the red jersey. Now the question can be asked, has Quintana won the Vuelta?
It was meant to be straightforward . . .
Today was supposed to be a slightly easier day in the saddle for the general classification riders. The stage was just 118.5km in length and featured three climbs. One climb was the category three Alto de Petralba, the next a category two Alto de Cotefablo and the third a category one climb up to the finish line at Sallent de Gállego. Aramón Formigal. The obstacles were relatively straightforward, a comfortable-ish day in the saddle with maybe a chance for some fireworks at the end more than likely.
The action got underway courtesy of an attack by Gianluca Brambilla of Etixx-Quick Step, but what followed was absolutely and completely unexpected. Chris Froome and Team Sky are usually masters of being in the right place at the right time, but the inexplicable and unpredictable was about to happen. As Brambilla attacked so too did a number of others including Alberto Contador of Tinkoff and the red jersey of Nairo Quintana. Chris Froome, however, was not in the move.
Froome and Team Sky miss out big time
For the first time in a long time Froome and Team Sky found themselves on the wrong end of a split and forced to chase. Amazingly after attack after attack had come from Orica-BikeExchange yesterday, today Movistar were throwing punch after punch and Team Sky were not able to go with them. Not only Team Sky but Orica-BikeExchange were also caught napping along with Astana, and a couple of Cannondale-Drapac riders.
The leading group was comprised of Movistar’s Quintana, Jonathan Castroviejo and Ruben Fernandez, Cannondale-Drapac had Davide Formolo and Moreno Moser there, while Etixx-Quick Step had David de la Cruz and Gianluca Brambilla there. Tinkoff had Contador, Ivan Rovny and Yuri Trofimov, while there were also FDJ’s Kenny Elissonde, Katusha’s Matvey Mamykin, Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline and Dimension Data’s Omar Fraile.
Bring the leaders back or limit losses?
90km from the finish line the group containing Chris Froome, Esteban Chaves, Simon Yates, Michele Scarponi and LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett, fourth in stage 14 yesterday, were 1.19mins in arrears to the breakaway; and what a breakaway! Equally problematic now for Chris Froome was that he was also isolated; with his teammates all behind him barring David Lopez who would drop soon enough. It was beginning to prove a bit of an expensive day for Froome, with the gap to Quintana and co growing to 2.37mins over the first climb of the day.
On the second climb of the day the gap grew to 2.45mins and it was beginning to appear like more and more of a nightmare day for both Team Sky and Orica-BikeExchange. Today it was a matter of allegiances. In the leading group there was a lot of work between Tinkoff and Movistar, while in the chase group Astana were lending a hand to try and bring some time back. But was it too little, too late?
Quintana hits the front
Heading towards the final climb the gap was coming down to 2 minutes, but that would be about the limit of their chase efforts as Nairo Quintana hit the front of the leading group. After looking behind him to see if any riders would help take up the pace setting Quintana got stuck into matters, while behind him it was a case of daring the rest to hang on.
After setting a strong tempo all the way up the climb the group around Quintana began to fragment until there were only Quintana, Contador and Brambilla at the front of the race. They, Contador and Brambilla, worked hard to keep up with the Colombia, but the little Colombian powerhouse was a man on a mission; and eventually that mission would have its next casualty. Alberto Contador had been having a great day out after a difficult Vuelta; but now he too had to succumb to the pace set by Quintana.
Froome suffers as Bennett hangs on
With just two leaders up the road in Brambilla and Quintana things were unravelling for Chris Froome down the road too. Alejandro Valverde was seemingly content to just drag his heels in the Froome group, as well he should; but now he sensed that Froome was finally struggling and that there was an opportunity to capitalise. He began to stretch matters to see who could respond, and Froome could not. Neither could Simon Yates or George Bennett, but Esteban Chaves could; and while the battle raged up the road and behind him, the ‘smiling assassin’ quietly attacked and began to gain a little time over Chris Froome too.
Up ahead it would be a two-up sprint for the win with Brambilla impressively managing to hold on to Quintana’s wheel. More impressive maybe was that the Italian still had a sprint kick that went unchallenged by Quintana. Brambilla raced away to the win with Quintana second and 3 seconds, with Fabio Felline leading home Kenny Elissonde after the two of them and David de la Cruz all caught and passed Alberto Contador.
Has Quintana won the Vuelta?
The clock was still ticking though on the field and it was Esteban Chaves who’d proven to have done the best job of limiting his losses. He arrived home 1.53mins back just ahead of Michele Scarponi of Astana but the clock continued to roll. Alejandro Valverde’s attacking riding in the final stage had shaken off Chris Froome but not by much, as Valverde crossed the line 2.31mins back with Chris Froome at 2.40mins, George Bennett crossed the line 25 seconds later.
Overall the standings might not have changed substantially, but the time gaps most certainly had. Quintana cemented his lead overall with a healthy 3.37min buffer to Chris Froome, with Esteban Chaves now knocking on the door of second place and just 20 seconds behind Froome. Contador could not be ruled out of a podium position at 4.02mins either, with Simon Yates now fifth at 5.07mins.