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by Shane Stokes
September 7, 2014
Surging forward after running second for much of the steep final kilometres, Ryder Hesjedal caught and dropped the previous leader Olivier Zaugg (Tinkoff Saxo) to win stage 14 of the Vuelta a España. The Canadian Garmin-Sharp rider had been part of a 23 man break which went clear approximately 40 kilometres into the stage, and made the selection which pushed forward from that to duke it out in the final climb.
Hesjedal was heavier than Zaugg and thus at a disadvantage on the steep slopes near the top of the La Camponera Valle de Sabero climb. However the roads flattened out inside the final kilometre and he was able to use this section to drive forward and snatch victory. He hit the line ten seconds clear of the disappointed Swiss rider, with Movistar’s Imanol Erviti a further 20 seconds back in third and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) netting fourth.
Louis Meintjes took a strong result for South Africa and the MTN Qhubeka team with fifth place.
Hesjedal’s win was his first of the 2014 season, and came several days after he crashed in a breakaway on stage seven and lost his chance of fighting for the victory then.
“That was 190 hard kilometres,” he said, referring to his time off the front. “A really tough day but my legs were good. I had a chance to enter the break. I went on my own in the final and it worked out. Breaks like that sometimes get complicated but I had a good rhythm in the end.
“It was pretty straight forward. Giant-Shimano won the first bonus sprint. They started to control and I just stayed quiet. I put myself in the break soon after that. It was a good group. The guys were committed. We had enough of an advantage in the end. I finished it off.
“I accelerated to see where the other guys were at. Zaugg responded right away but he also had an easy ride today. With his team leading the race, he didn’t have to do any work all day. I was able to get him at the end.”
Zaugg rued what might have been. “I feel so tired and a bit disappointed. On the one hand I am disappointed but on the other, it wasn’t a bad day after all,” he said. “It was a perfect situation in the breakaway, I didn’t have to work, I was feeling good and I could go for a stage win.
“The last two kilometers were so steep, I needed one smaller gear. It was very hard and 150 meters from the finish, Hesjedal came really fast up behind me. It was impossible to respond and I just kept my rhythm.”
The final climb also served as a battleground for the general classification contenders. The rider in second overall, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was the big aggressor and blew the group apart when he surged several kilometres out. He put Chris Froome (Sky) and others into difficulty, but was caught and later dropped by race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Fabio Aru (Astana).
Froome looked to be struggling but rallied and got back up to those ahead. He then pushed on to reach the line first of the chasers behind the break, netting tenth, two minutes and 36 seconds behind Hesjedal. Rodriguez was a second behind him, while Contador conceded seven seconds and Aru nine.
Valverde rolled in 29 seconds down on Froome and saw his overall deficit to Contador increase by 22 seconds.
The revised general classification saw Contador end the day 42 seconds ahead of Valverde. Froome improves from fourth to third, one minute 13 seconds back, while Rodriguez improves one place to fourth overall. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step), who finished back in 18th place, slipped from third to fifth overall.
Froome will be encouraged by his showing and will try to keep pushing forward in the next two day’s summit finishes. As for Contador, he still has a considerable buffer but will hope to prevent the British rider gaining momentum and morale before the rest day on Tuesday.
The fourteenth stage of the Vuelta a España was one of three consecutive days with major summit finishes. The final first category climb to La Camponera Valle de Sabero was just 8.3 kilometres long but what it lacked in length it made up for steepness. Averaging 7.5% and climbing to 1,600 metres, it included sections of up to 19.5 percent, thus resulting in riders using some extremely low gear ratios.
Race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo), for example, decided to use gearing of 38×30.
Before that, the first half of the stage 200.8 kilometre stage from Santander was on flat to lumpy roads. The first point of note was the intermediate sprint at Cabezon de la Sal (km 35.7), then after 77.5 kilometres the riders would crest the second category Collada de la Hoz.
The first category Puerto de San Glorio followed and topped out at 130.9 kilomeres and 1,585 metres in altitude; the riders then would drop down gradually and through the day’s second intermediate sprint at Riaño (km. 159.6) before that final climb.
After fifteen kilometres of racing 19 riders had a gap on the peloton, but this move was deemed too dangerous and was reeled in. King of the Mountains jersey wearer Lluis Más Bonet (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) had been part of the move and was hoping to add to his total, but was frustrated when it was hauled back.
Prior to the first intermediate sprint at Cabezon de la Sal (km 35.7), Lampre-Merida’s Jose Serpa jumped clear but was quickly recaptured. The Giant Shimano team drove the pace toward the prime and there its rider John Degenkolb won the sprint and added to his points jersey lead.
Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge) was second while Degenkolb’s team-mate Ramon Sinkeldam was third.
Soon afterwards a 23 man breakaway slipped clear and knuckled down to open up a decent lead.
The riders present included Serpa and his Lampre-Merida team-mate Przemyslaw Niemiec, Robert Wagner (Belkin), Luis León Sánchez and David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Guillaume Levarlet (Cofidis), Romain Sicard and Yannick Martinez (Europcar), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Johannes Fröhlinger (Giant-Shimano), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Bart De Clercq and Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Louis Meintjes, Jacques Van Rensburg and Jaco Venter (MTN Qhubeka), Tom Boonen and Carlos Verona (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Luke Rowe (Sky), Sergio Miguel Paulinho and Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff Saxo) and Fabio Felline (Trek Factory Racing).
By kilometre 51 the group was almost two minutes in front. With Niemiec the best placed overall at 21st, over 11 minutes behind Contador, there was no threat. The gap continued to rise as a result and after Sanchez beat Van Rensburg and Hansen atop the second category Collada de la Hoz (km 77.5), they had five and a half minutes.
This was still over five minutes at kilometre 100, some ten kilometres before they started the first category Puerto de San Glorio.
Sanchez and Arroyo were feeling good and attacked on the early slopes. They were joined by Van Rensburg, but he didn’t last long before slipping back.
He was absorbed by a chase group of eleven others, namely Levarlet, Sicard, Hesjedal, Kolobnev, De Clerq, Hansen, Erviti, Meintjes, Verono, Paulinho and Zaugg. Martinez managed to bridge across. Back in the bunch, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) called it a day and packed the race, deciding to focus fully on his preparation for the world championships.
Sanchez and Arroyo pushed onwards. The gap over the peloton was up to 7 minutes 20 seconds but after Rigoberto Uran asked his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mates to ride, they cut this down to five and a half minutes with two kilometres to go before the summit.
The leading duo were caught by the chasing group just before the prime line, but Sanchez had enough left to take the top KOM points ahead of Martinez and De Clerq.
Paulinho then dropped back from the chase group and waited for the peloton, while Levarlet had also gone backwards. With 60 kilometres remaining the gap was four minutes 20 seconds, although this climbed to five and a half minutes over the next 20 kilometres. There Kolobnev beat Arroyo and De Clerq to take the second intermediate sprint at Riaño (km. 159.6).
The gap continued to grow, increasing to six and a half minutes after the peloton realised that the break would not be caught.
Martinez was the first of the break to play his hand, attacking with 17 kilometres remaining. He was caught but continued driving the pace on the early slopes of the final climb.
Hansen then came through and did a lot of driving for De Clercq. With 2.5 kilometres remaining the gradient tilted upwards and Meintjes upped the pace. Sicard, Hesjedal, De Clerq, Kolobnev, Erviti and Zaugg went with him, reducing the list of stage contenders to just seven.
With two kilometres left Hesjedal attacked hard. He was caught and passed by former Il Lombardia winner Zaugg, while Kolobnev and Erviti were close behind Hesjedal. Back in the bunch, the Sky team were driving the pace to try to set things up for Chris Froome.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was determined to try to take time out of Contador but the Tinkoff Saxo rider quickly got up to him after his surge. Also present in the reduced group were Joaquim Rodriguez and his Katusha team-mate Daniel Moreno, with the latter briefly taking the lead before Valverde turned the screw again.
Further down the slopes, Froome had been dropped and looked like he could lose time.
Fabio Aru (Astana) got back up to the Valverde/Contador/Rodriguez/Caruso group, but the others who had been dropped were clawing their way back.
Contador saw this and was next to surge. He jumped hard, getting a gap on the others and distancing Valverde. Rodriguez clawed his way back up to him and began pushing the pace, while Aru was able to bridge.
Out front, Zaugg went under the kilometre to go banner. Hesjedal was several seconds back but kept fighting on, believing that he might yet have a chance.
Unexpectedly, Froome got up to the Contador group and started driving the speed.
With 200 metres to go Hesjedal got up to Zaugg and immediately attacked, getting a decisive gap and racing in for victory. Zaugg cracked and trailed in nine seconds back, while further down the hill Froome attacked hard but was chased down by Contador and the others.
He kept going, through, and opened a lead on the group. Rodriguez took up the chase with Contador on his wheel, but the latter cracked slightly. Froome took a second out of the Katusha rider and seven out of the race leader.
The gains were slight, but a psychological point had been scored. The Briton will believe that it’s still possible to win the race. Contador, meanwhile, will perhaps regret pushing hard when he did, and will try to respond on Sunday’s next summit finish.