Aru Wins Stage 18 of Vuelta a Espana
Fabio Aru (Astana) has won his second stage of this year’s Vuelta a Espana. Aru, who won Stage 11, took a two-up sprint to win Stage 18, a 157-km medium mountain stage from A Estrada to Monte Castrove in 3:47:17. Chris Froome (Sky) finished second at 0:01, and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) led the red jersey group home at 0:13. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) remains the red jersey but with a reduced lead.
The early racing was aggressive. Numerous sallies occurred, and the peloton snuffed all of them out. The average speed during the first hour was 50.5 kmh, which prevented escapes.
At 64 km, Johan Le Bon (FDJ.fr), Hubert Dupont (Ag2r-La Mondiale), and Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) got away. At 68 km, the trio led the field by 2:30. Movistar went to the front and pegged the lead on behalf of Valverde.
On the approach to the first ascent of the Category 2 Monte Castrove, Astana, Sky, and Katusha joined Movistar at the front. On the climb, Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) attacked. The Tinkoff-Saxo Bank-led peloton reeled in the Australian, but Alberto Losada (Katusha) bridged up to the break. Sanchez attacked and dropped his companions. He sought the points for the King of the Mountains competition, which he received when he reached the summit. The Spaniard then sat up and let the Sky-led peloton catch him.
Movistar and Sky led the field into the descent. Froome took two bonus seconds at the second intermediate sprint at 147.8 km. On the second ascent of Monte Castrove, Christophe Le Mevel (Cofidis) and Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff-Saxo Bank) attacked, and Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) and Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) attempted to bridge up to them. Katusha led the chase that reeled in the four.
Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) was the next rider to try his hand. The Frenchman attacked, was caught, and tried again. Jerome Coppel (Cofidis) accompanied him on his second attempt and dropped the Giant-Shimano man. Aru then bridged up to the Cofidis man.
Aru dropped Coppel, while Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) attacked. The Spaniard took all of the heads of state with him. Froome attacked the red jersey group and linked up with Aru.
A concerted chase from the red jersey group would have caught the pair, but such was not forthcoming. Valverde and Rodriguez expected Contador to chase, but the two-time Vuelta winner would not give the pair an armchair ride to the finish. Eventually, Rodriguez began to chase, followed by Valverde. Only with 700 m remaining did Contador take up the chase. At that point, Aru and Froome were beyond catching.
Froome wanted the stage win and the 10-second bonus that went with it, but Aru was too strong for the Briton. Froome did take the six seconds for second place, which with the margin between himself and Valverde were enough to take second place overall from the Movistar man.
According to Tiralongo, the tactics on the day’s last climb were improvised. “The climb itself was not very hard,” he said, “but we improvised our tactics at the bottom to bring Fabio to the front and break some legs.”
Despite losing time to Froome, Contador was happy about the stage. “Clearly, it is better not to lose time,” he said, “but I hope it’s not too much of an issue. I had to control the three, and I thought that Alejandro had to defend the podium, while the stage was a pretty good opportunity for him as well. It is true that we lost time, and now I have to follow Froome on Ancares [the special category climb on Stage 20]. But I’m happy with my shape, I feel pretty good, and we have one less day to go now.”
Contador added that he did not want to work alone to close the gap to Froome. “They also had interests, especially Alejandro, who didn’t want to lose his second place on the podium. Perhaps I was a bit cooler than usual.”
In the overall, Contador leads Froome by 1:19 and Valverde by 1:32. Stage 19 could produce more finish-line fireworks. The 180.5-km medium mountain stage from Salvaterra do Mino to Cangas do Morrazo will feature two Category 2 climbs, the second of which will summit 15 km from the finish. Who will win? Valverde? Froome? Contador? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!
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