Rafal Majka takes strong 6th place on the brutal climb up the Los Machucos.
After deciding not to go in a break today, BORA – hansgrohe tried to go for the stage win on the final climb with Rafal Majka. But one breakaway rider, S. Denifl could hang on his early lead, defending a 30 seconds’ advantage over a strong A. Contador. Rafal Majka finished the stage in a confident 6th position in the first chasing group, ahead of overall race leader C. Froome who lost some seconds today.
Back in the mountains at La Vuelta, the peloton faced a challenging 17 stage with over 3000m of climbing. Starting in Villadiego, the 180.5 kilometer parcours covered a second and a first category climb, before hitting the final ascent to Los Machucos. This fearsome climb really tested the riders’ legs, as some sections were up to 28% steep.
Like last week, when Rafal Majka won stage 14, for BORA – hansgrohe it was all about making the right group with the teams’ climbers. Therefore, especially in the first flat part of the stage, the team had to control the race and support the likes of Rafal Majka. But today there was also a possibility that the stage would be decided just in the final, as headwind was expected to make the ride in a break even harder. However, BORA – hansgrohe was prepared for both scenarios.
Right from the gun attacks started to fly. A very high pace stretched the peloton with no successful move until finally 6 riders went away from the bunch after 25k of racing. As this was just a small group and taking also the headwind into consideration, BORA – hansgrohe decided to stay in the bunch, while the leading group managed to build an advantage of up to almost 10 minutes. Then, with about 110 kilometers to go, Astana started to increase the pace in the bunch, a little later joined by BORA – hansgrohe, and the gap started to drop significantly.
Halfway through the stage, at the feeding zone, the gap was already down to five minutes, with still BORA – hansgrohe and Astana leading the bunch, on the first KOM down to three minutes. When Bahrain-Merida took control in the peloton, setting a hard pace in the narrow decent with lots of fog and bad visibility, a 60-men first bunch formed. One minute behind, a second bunch with Rafal Majka who had some problems in the decent after his crash in the Tour earlier this season. But BORA – hansgrohe managed to close the gap between the two groups for their leader, and Majka was back into play.
The real action started when Chaves and Yates attacked on the penultimate climb and V. Nibali joined them, but Sky controlled the gap and closed on them before the last downhill. At this point the 4 remaining leaders had still a lead of 1:30. Right into the brutal last climb, Lopez attacked, but this time A. Contador could challenge and overtake him. While S. Denifl still could hold on a 30 seconds’ lead over Contador, a group with Nibali, Zakarin and Rafal Majka stared to chase, and dropped C. Froome. In the end, S. Denifl took the win ahead of Contador, while Rafal Majka finished in strong 6th position, proving his good climbing shape.
“We decided today to don’t go in a break because of the headwind. So the goal was to bring me to the final climb in a good position. But on the first downhill I struggled, it was wet and a lot of fog made it difficult to see the road. After my crash in the Tour I still don’t want to risk too much. We had to chase then afterwards because we were in a group one minute behind the main bunch. But my team mates did a great job and closed the gap. The last downhill was ok because the road was better. I tried to fight for the win in the final, but Contador was too strong today. When he attacked, nobody could follow. The last corner was slippery and I didn’t take any risk in the sprint because it’s not a big difference in becoming 3rd or 6th, it’s about winning another stage. My legs are good and I will try again, there are still chances to come.” – Rafal Majka
“Our idea today was to fight for the win on the final climb with Rafal. He was there where we wanted him to be, and showed a strong performance taking 6th place in the end. Unfortunately, we had to spend some energy when we chased after the first downhill. I don’t know if we lost the race there, that’s always hard to say, but for sure it was not ideal. But the team did a great job to bring Rafal back in position. And anyway both, Denifl and Contador rode really strong in the end.” – Steffen Radochla, Sports Director