A late storm did nothing to dampen the spirits of Alessandro De Marchi as the Italian for BMC Racing took stage 11 of the Vuelta a Espana.  De Marchi took his fourth grand tour stage win at the end of the race’s queen stage ahead of Jhonatan Restrepo and Franco Pelizotti with George Bennett maintaining his top ten position on GC.

Although not one of the major summit finish challenges of the race, stage 11 to Ribeira Sacra. Luintra took in 207.8km of racing and they were to be some of the toughest of the race.  Four categorised climbs featured en route to the finish but the fact that there would be little in the way of flat roads meant that all riders would end the stage having suffered greatly from first to last.

 

19 riders breakaway after intense start to stage

 

The stage got underway in slightly cooler conditions, but with an electric early pace that saw the field cover the first two hours of racing with an average speed of 48kph.  Eventually a 19-strong group formed at the head of the race with Alessandro De Marchi, Nicolas Roche and Dylan Teuns all featuring for BMC Racing along with Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot, BORA-Hansgrohe’s Rafal Majka, Astana’s Omar Fraile, Mitchelton-Scott’s Jack Haig, Team Sky’s Sergio Henao, Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema and EF Education First-Drapac’s Pierre Rolland.

At their best the break managed to establish a lead of 4.25mins as Movistar set the tempo back in the bunch with Mitchelton-Scott keeping a close eye on things.  With the breakaway group being so large, and some being unwilling to work, Thibaut Pinot took it on himself to attack from a long way out.  Pinot, together with Dylan Teuns, attacked and broke clear with a little under 70km to go.  The gap to the peloton at this point was sitting at just over 3.30mins; but it was interesting to note the reluctance of the break to chase the leaders down.  Pinot and Teuns established a 20 second gap on the rest of the move quickly; stretching out to around 34 seconds before Teuns began to feel the hurt.

Bauke Mollema won the most aggressive rider award after a very attacking performance in the breakaway, photo Sirotti

Attacks fly as Mollema notches KOM points

 

With 60km to go Teuns began to drop back, with the gap to the rest of the break down to 14 seconds.  Pinot seemed keen to keep up the effort, but he waited for the BMC Racing rider.  As he did so Nans Peters of AG2R La Mondiale attacked and bridged across, bringing across a number of the breakaway riders as he did so.  

At the intermediate sprit with 48km to go Bauke Mollema attacked to take the points, but then followed up that sprint attack with a longer effort that saw him distance the rest of the break.  Pinot went in pursuit, knowing that if he could maintain a good gap over Simon Yates and the peloton, he could relaunch himself back into GC contention.  Mollema was clear on the descent though, and with 40km to go his gap was out to 28 seconds over the Movistar-led peloton.

In the break it was beginning to look a bit like BMC Racing might be the big losers of the day if they couldn’t bring at least one of their riders to the front, with three BMC riders in the breakaway.  Eventually a small select group containing Majka, Pinot, Haig, De Marchi, Roche and Henao bridged the gap and with 27km to go the gap to the peloton was down to a still large 3.08mins.

 

Restrepo launches race-defining move

 

At 26km to go Restrepo of Katusha-Alpecin launched an attack and was pursued by Nicolas Roche.  The duo led up the climb and were caught by Alessandro De Marchi as BMC Racing finally looked a little more like being in control of the breakaway.  On the final climb of the day the three led by over half a minute, but with Roche struggling De Marchi opted to put the pressure on Restrepo.  But Restrepo was De Marchi’s equal, cresting the summit of the climb with the Italian and matching him as the downhill towards the lumpy finishing sector kicked in.  

With 18km to go the gap to the rest of the break was at 38 seconds, while the rest of the peloton were 3.11mins back.  That gap grew to close to a minute for De Marchi and Restrepo with 12km remaining.  Behind them Franco Pellizotti and Nans Peters gapped the rest of the breakaway and went in pursuit of the leading duo; but it was looking like a battle between Italy and Colombia for stage honours with 7km to go and 54 seconds to make up.

Thibaut Pinot was on the attack all day long but gained just a small handful of seconds over his GC rivals, photo Sirotti

De Marchi strikes through storm

 

Pellizotti was able to drop Peters, but as a storm came down on De Marchi and Restrepo, the former was able to attack with 4km to go.  Behind the break EF Education-First Drapac suddenly applied the pressure on the rest of the bunch, briefly having just about everyone on the ropes; before Movistar regained a little control over proceedings.  De Marchi up ahead was continuing to press on solo though and it was clear that the Colombian was riding for second place.  With 2km to go he found himself 24 seconds in arrears to De Marchi, and the Italian was able to hold Restrepo at that gap with 1km to go.

As the sun came out for the finish De Marchi sat up and raised his arms in exhaustion as he claimed his fourth grand tour stage.  Restrepo crossed the line 28 seconds later as the time kept ticking to Thibaut Pinot.  Sadly for the Frenchman he crossed the line having taken just a solitary 12 seconds out of his GC rivals; led home by Steven Kruijswijk and Alejandro Valverde.  

George Bennett finished 20th on the stage to stay at 10th overall; 47 seconds behind Simon Yates.

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