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by Shane Stokes
August 30, 2014
Cannondale rider Alessandro de Marchi soloed to victory on the seventh stage of the Vuelta a España, with the Italian emerging from a four man breakaway which went clear inside the first 40 kilometres of the race.
De Marchi had been with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Johan Tschopp (IAM Cycling) and Herbert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale) for much of the 169 kilometre stage to Alcaudete, but Hesjedal lost his chance when he slid out on a bend with approximately 15 kilometres to go.
De Marchi and Tschopp pushed forward, with the former dropping the latter on a climb with 12 kilometres remaining.
He rode strongly from there until the finish, grinding up the final climb and hitting the line well clear. Behind, Hesjedal had got back up to the other three riders and led Dupont and Tschopp home, one minute and 35 seconds back.
Chris Froome’s team Sky team drove the peloton in the closing kilometres, seeking to keep him out of trouble after a crash at the start of the stage. Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) jumped out of the peloton seeking time and points, but was passed by former world champion Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) in the final metres.
They finished two minutes 17 seconds behind de Marchi, while Froome jumped clear for seventh place and was one second further back. His surge earned him a two second gap over the peloton and, equally importantly, underlined he had recovered from his earlier fall.
Those last-minute attacks from the bunch caused some panic and provoked a crash which brought down Giant-Shimano’s Warren Barduil, winner of two stages last year. He appeared relatively unharmed, although he took a bump to his forehead.
Race leader Alejandro Valverde finished in the chasing bunch and maintained his overall lead, holding a 15 second gap over Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana and a further three second lead over Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo). Froome’s time gain has seen him move to 19 seconds off the red jersey.
De Marchi was the day’s big winner, though, the 28 year old landing his biggest result thus far. It follows on from the combativity award he took on two stages and overall in this year’s Tour de France.
“It is the best moment of my career,” he said after the line. “It is great to be in the break with such riders and then to take the stage. “I felt I had good legs and I was allowed to go for it today.
“I was waiting for this moment for most of this year. From Criterium Dauphine through the Tour de France I always tried to take a win like this. It was just destiny to wait for my first ride at the Vuelta to take it.
“I dedicate this success to my team, a great group that unfortunately is going to end, and to the memory of Alfredo Martini, a piece of Italian cycling.”
He said that he believed the stage was suited to a breakaway from the moment the team discussed it on the bus on Friday morning. “I had good feeling and I decided to try and try. When the gap was enough, I understand I had to push more. Only in the finale I had doubts because the peloton was reducing the gap, but anyway I was confident.
“I’m really sorry for Hesjedal because we did most of the work in the breakaway. I waited for one kilometre after he crashed, he deserved to play his chances as much as me. But at 12 kilometres to go, before the last climb, I knew it was the right moment for me to attack and I could not lose that chance.”
Stage seven began in Alhendín and would take the riders 169 kilometres to Alcaudete. The profile was jagged, but the stage was more straightforward than the previous day’s summit finish. The route included two categorised climbs, the category three Alto de Illora (km. 39.8) and the category two Alto Ahillo (km. 121.3).
There were also two intermediate sprints, with the first at Alcala la Real (km. 76) and the next at Alcaudete (km. 121.3).
Several groups got clear early on but each attempt was brought back. Sky leader Chris Froome had a scare when he crashed just before the first climb, putting him over a minute behind the peloton and under pressure. Out front, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Johan Tschopp (IAM Cycling) were clear with 36 kilometres covered and were joined very soon after by Herbert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale).
Froome wasn’t badly hurt and was able to get back to the peloton before the summit of the climb. Tschopp was first to the top ahead of Hesjdeal, Dupont and De Marchi, while lone chaser Steve Morabito (BMC Racing Team) was unable to bridge and was caught by the bunch.
The breakaway quartet worked together to build a lead and opened a gap of three and a half minutes. Meanwhile Orica GreenEdge rider Ivan Santaromita crashed and broke his finger, leaving the race, while John Degenkolb (Giant Shimano) also fell but wasn’t badly hurt.
Tschopp nabbed the intermediate sprint at Alcala la Real (km. 76) ahead of De Marchi and Hesjedal, where the time gap was almost six minutes. Their advantage continued to grow and soared over seven minutes with 70 kilometres left, but dropped by a minute by the time Hesjedal took the intermediate sprint at Alcaudete (km. 121.3) ahead of Tschopp and Dupont.
The peloton continued to draw closer and with 20 kilometres left, the leaders were four minutes ahead. The odds were looking increasingly good that they would stay clear, but Hesjedal’s chances of taking the win evaporated when he fell on a sweeping left hand bend with 15 kilometres remaining.
The impact wasn’t too severe and he might have been able to return to the break, but his back wheel was unfortunately ran over by a motorbike, forcing him to wait for a spare. He remounted and began a chase back, while out front Tschopp and de Marchi pushed on in a bid to go for the stage.
De Marchi was feeling stronger and went clear on a climb with 12 kilometres remaining. Further back, the peloton had realised that the gap was too big to bring back the group before the line and backed off on the chase, making it certain one of the breakaway riders would take the stage.
Hesjedal hadn’t given up and got back up to Dupont and then Tschopp, but de Marchi was a minute and a half clear with two kilometres remaining and wouldn’t be caught. He briefly celebrated with his directeur sportif, the latter driving alongside him and urging him on, then continued on the uphill rise to the line, nabbing victory.
Hesjedal continued driving the chase and showed his strength in dropping the other two riders just before the finish, although the gap was minimal and they were given the same time. The trio were one minute 35 seconds back, while Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team) and Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) were next across the line, two minutes 17 down. Chris Froome (Sky) was a further second back.
Their separate last kilometre surges gained them time on the big group of GC riders, moving Froome to within two seconds of Alberto Contador’s third place overall.
Race leader Alejandro Valverde and his Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana remained second and third in the general classification.