After surviving the breakaway that formed early in the stage, Michael Woods dug deep to take an emotional stage 17 victory at the Vuelta a Espana. Woods denied Dylan Teuns and David de la Cruz the honours while Simon Yates fought through a strong GC challenge to maintain his overall lead; 25 seconds clear of Alejandro Valverde.
157km in length, the 17th stage of this year’s Vuelta a Espana took in 6 categorised climbs between Getxo and Balcón de Bizkaia and presented breakaway candidates with their last serious opportunity prior to tomorrow’s anticipated bunch sprint finish. There were no shortage of candidates for the day’s breakaway and after an electric start to the day a big group containing the likes of former Vuelta champion Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo, Ilnur Zakarin of Katusha-Alpecin, Simon Clarke and Michael Woods of EF Education First-Drapac, Alessandro De Marchi and Dylan Teuns of BMC Racing.
De Gendt takes KOM lead with aggressive race
Despite attacking one another the breakaway had a lead of over 8 minutes towards the halfway point of the stage, and it was clear that Mitchelton-Scott – working for Simon Yates – were not concerned with losing out on stage honours. There were no serious threats up ahead, and the Australian-based outfit were happy to provide a controlled and measured expression on the front of the peloton to keep their rivals at bay rather than the breakaway within reach.
After negotiating three climbs in the space of some 30km the final climb saw a reduced breakaway group arrive at the foot of the climb in the lead with 3 minutes in hand and 7.2km to go. Over the climbs thus far Thomas De Gendt had been busy notching KOM points and getting set to take over from Luis Angel Mate as the new wearer of the polka dot jersey. Back in the bunch it was interesting to note that Euskadi Murias pushed themselves to the front and put in a big shift before Astana then took on the pace-setting approaching the final climb.
Back in the bunch a crash brought down two riders, in the form of Fabio Aru of UAE Team Emirates and Hermann Pernsteiner of Bahrain Merida. Aru’s season had been a torrid one by his own lofty standards and stage 17 – and the Vuelta as a whole – was only going against him too.
With 5km to go the pace was on in the bunch courtesy of Astana, and it was on in the break courtesy of Alessandro De Marchi. As the break hit 4.6km to go, George Bennett – who had looked after teammate Steven Kruijswijk until now – dropped off the group, allowing himself to concede plenty of time; knowing that his work was done for the day and he could do battle again later in the race.
Woods instigates finale and wins war of attrition
It wasn’t until 3km to go that Michael Woods finally lit the break up and attacked with Dylan Teuns for company, meanwhile Alejandro Valverde launched from the front, putting Rigoberto Uran and Tony Gallopin under big pressure. Mitchelton-Scott were looking very composed though courtesy of Adam Yates and Jack Haig doing the work for Simon Yates.
On the front of the break Rafal Majka was leading a group of some 10 riders on towards the finish, while as Adam Yates set the tempo in the GC group, Nairo Quintana blew up and began losing serious ground on his rivals.
With 2km to go David de la Cruz took up the pace and gradually shelled the riders in the break, with Teuns, Majka and Woods looking like the only ones able to go with him. With 1.7km to go Majka became the next to crack as the Yates brothers continued to tap out a strong tempo back down the road.
It looked like de la Cruz was looking to play the long game and attack from a little way out. On another steep section of road the Sky rider attacked and dropped all but Woods; who simply stayed on his tail. Dylan Teuns and Rafal Majka looked to be bridging across and with 1km to go a group of four were contending the stage. At 800m to go Majka moved to the front and pushed, though it was Woods who made the powerful acceleration that had been lacking so far. He was countered by Dylan Teuns and it looked like there might be a gap but then the Canadian went again and this time Teuns began to look like he’d met his match.
Woods was aching his way up the 16% gradient in the last few hundred metres that increased to 18%. He was almost ground to a halt, as Teuns began to close the gap one more time, but this time it was too late as Woods took the stage ahead of Teuns, with de la Cruz and Majka completing the top four.
Back down the road the battle was on for time as Alejandero Valverde launched an attack that took time out of Yates. He finished with an 8 second advantage over Yates; who still kept his red jersey by 25 seconds.