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by Shane Stokes
September 3, 2014
World time trial champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) blasted to victory as expected in the Vuelta a España’s stage ten time trial, notching up an important win in advance of the defence of his title next month.
The German beat one of his main rivals for gold by 11 seconds, with former champ Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) getting close but not close enough. Neither rider were able to open their usual gaps over the general classification contenders, with the bumpy, technical course differing from their preferred terrain.
Cancellara was later give a seven second time penalty for drafting, elevating Martin’s team-mate Rigoberto Uran from second to third. He was 15 seconds behind the winner.
The day’s big story was the change in race leadership, with Alberto Contador putting in a scorching test to go fourth-quickest, 39 seconds back, and overnight leader Nairo Quintana crashing hard on a descent and ultimately losing over four minutes. He was only 82nd quickest.
Contador ended the day 27 seconds ahead of Quintana’s Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde, who was eighth-fastest in the time trial.
Rigoberto Uran moved up to third overall, and will start on Wednesday 59 seconds off the red jersey.
BMC Racing Team duo Samuel Sanchez and Cadel Evans put in strong rides to net fifth and sixth in the TT, while Chris Froome (Sky) fell well short of expectations and was only tenth, one minute 32 seconds behind Martin.
This saw him remain fifth overall, one place behind stage nine victor Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida). Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) stays sixth overall, while Sanchez’s performance jumped him from 13th to seventh in the general classification, displacing Fabio Aru (Astana).
Quintana will be very disappointed with the outcome, but also relieved to still be in the race after his high speed fall. The accident saw him thrown to the ground, but fortunately he wasn’t as badly hurt as was first feared.
He has plummeted to 11th overall, three minutes and 25 seconds back, and has a big fight on his hands to be able to get back into the hunt for the final overall victory. In contrast, Contador appears in the driving seat at this point in time, with his claimed period of time off the bike after his Tour crash appearing more and more an exaggeration.
Martin described the race as one of the most difficult time trials of this season. “The mountain was quite hard, it was hard to find a rhythm and still keep some energy for the second part with the descent and the flat sections,” he explained. “It was also technical with a lot of corners. For sure it was a challenge.
“I also had some issues with heat at the end. I wasn’t so sure about the win. But I’m super happy I did it, as this is a race that does not suit me perfectly and there are plenty of strong time trialists here at La Vuelta.”
The first 11.2 kilometres of the time trial were uphill, climbing to the top of the third category Alto del Moncayo, and included steep sections. These were difficult for the heavier riders such as Martin, and so he needed to recoup losses afterwards.
“I made up some time on the second part of the parcours,” he said. “We made some good analysis with the team before the race so I was well prepared. I also never had any problems in the corners thanks to the performance of my Specialized Shiv. I also see that my condition is good and I think this gives me huge morale in anticipation of Worlds. I have shown I’m heading in the right direction. I wanted to win for the team also. I am thrilled with the fact that we have two OPQS guys on the top two steps of the podium, and even Pieter Serry was 11th.
“Now we have a victory at La Vuelta and we can look to the next days with Rigoberto Uran on the virtual GC podium. Team spirit is super high.”
The Vuelta a España restarted after the first rest day with a lumpy and technically demanding 36.7 kilometre race from Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela to Borja.
Early on, Trek Factory Racing’s Jesse Sergent set the fastest time. This was however bettered by former world champion Fabian Cancellara, who went a minute and two seconds faster to clock up a mark of 47 minutes 13 seconds. It was a time he hoped would earn him victory.
Sky’s Vasil Kiryienka tried to beat it but was 48 seconds short, having to make do with provisional second. However Tony Martin (Omega Pharma Quick Step) was very much capable of bettering Cancellara’s time, and blasted in 11 seconds clear. This had all the signs of the winning time, but the lumpy nature of the course still raised the possibility that others could go close.
Australian rider Cadel Evans was one who was on a good day and he was riding well on the course. He didn’t beat Martin’s time, but did race in for a provisional third. BMC Racing team-mate Samuel Sanchez was also riding well and finished one second faster, bumping Evans down a slot.
The big guns were underway at this point and all eyes were on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Chris Froome (Sky), who were for many the most likely riders to end the day in the red jersey.
On paper Froome had the better time trial performances in recent seasons but early time checks showed that things were not necessarily going to be in his favour. He went through the first intermediate time check only fifth fastest, conceding 18 seconds to Samuel Sanchez. Valverde then came through and went quickest, setting a new mark.
He was followed by Contador, who went a clear seven seconds quicker and underlined that he was on a good day. Race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was the final rider through but he was unable to equal the Spaniard’s mark, having to be content with fifth, 21 seconds back.
That deficit became academic very soon afterwards when the race leader crashed and ended up on the ground. The fall happened after he adjust his shoe covers and got his line wrong into a twisting bend, clipping a barrier and hitting the deck. He appeared hurt and stayed down for some time; however he was helped to his feet and got going again.
The others riders continued on with their own tests and mobile time checks showed that Contador was 47 seconds faster than Froome. With Quintana out of the running, it looked almost certain that the Tinkoff Saxo rider could be racing into red.
GC rival Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma Quick Step) was focussed on doing his own best performance and was moving briskly on the course. He powered into the finish to set what was the provisional third-best time, just 15 seconds behind Martin. It was a very impressive ride, and would later see him finish second when Cancellara was given a time penalty.
Uran was being pushed close by Contador, though. The Spaniard went through the next provisional time check with a very quick third place; he was eight seconds behind Tony Martin and Uran, who shared the quickest pace. Froome was well out of it, being one minute and one second back at that point and clearly not on a good day.
Soon afterwards Rodriguez completed his own time trial. He normally doesn’t enjoy time trials but fared well, coming in for provisional 13th, one minute and 49 seconds behind Martin. Next to finish was Froome and while he was quicker, finishing one minute 32 behind Martin, provisional eighth was a disappointment for him.
Stage nine victor Winner Anacona surprised in finishing 13th, doing better than even he had expected. He was followed in by Valverde who was moving well and grabbed provisional seventh, one minute and one second behind the fastest pace.
The big question was how Contador would do. He continued to ride well and while he lost a little momentum near the finish, he sped in for an impressive fourth place, 39 seconds behind Martin. After Quintana’s crash, he knew he had done enough to take over the race lead.
The Colombian was still out on the course and was doing what he could to limit his losses in order to try to fight back later in the race. Jersey torn and back exposed, he whipped the pedals around to try to finish well and appeared to be moving fluidly. However the time conceded was too much to recoup and he finished over four minutes back in 82nd place, plummeting from first to 11th in the general classification.