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by Shane Stokes
September 6, 2014
Responding to a final-climb attack by Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma Quick Step) and then jumping past the Italian with two kilometres to go, Daniel Navarro earned Cofidis its first Grand Tour stage victory in three years when he won stage 13 of the Vuelta a España Friday.
The Spanish rider had started the day 12th overall and as his position was of no direct threat to the top race contenders. He was strong enough to get a decent gap and with race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and his main rivals watching each other, he was able to hold on until the line.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) fired off two attacks but both of those were hauled back, as was a solo move by Chris Froome (Sky). Inside the final kilometre Dani Moreno (Katusha) and Wilco Kelderman (Belkin) attacked and picked up second and third, two seconds behind the winner.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) beat an impressive Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr), Damiano Caruso (Cannondale) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) for fourth. However with no time bonus available past third place, he remains 20 seconds behind Contador in the overall standings.
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma QuickStep) stays third, one minute and eight seconds back, while the remainder of the top twelve is also unchanged.
Froome, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing Team) fill places four through to six.
The 188.7 kilometre stage featured two category three climbs plus one category two ascent before the final ramp up to the line. It was marked by a big break of 11 riders, out of which Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) attacked with 15 kilometres to go.
He dug deep to try to stave off the chase but the bunch was too close. He was reeled in with 7.3 kilometres left, this recapture leaving things wide open for the stage win and enabling Navarro to make his victorious move.
“The truth is that I’ve worked hard since the end of October to reach what I’ve achieved today,” he said after the line. “Last year my season ended with a nasty crash at the Tour of Burgos [in early August]. This year I started well with eighth at the Vuelta a Andalucia. I felt I was ready for the Tour de France as I came ninth at the Dauphiné but at the Tour I’ve suffered from the rain and the cold, and also from the pressure. I was nervous because of my birthday, then the heat came and I went home.
“Mentally, it was very hard to be at home during the Tour. I went to recce some stages of the Vuelta. Despite the few days of competition I had, I came to the Vuelta with the aim of winning a stage.”
He won a stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in 2010 but is clear that his Vuelta stage win is much bigger. “The level of this Vuelta is the highest in history. I’m proud to have won a stage already, even though I firstly had in mind the three stages in the Asturias [where he comes from – ed.]. But my desire to win remains intact.
“Whatever can happen in the next few days will be a gift. As professional cyclists, we don’t have many opportunities. We must make the best of them. Now I’m 12th on GC. It would be fantastic to finish in the top ten.”
Stage 13 of the Vuelta a España extended 188.7 kilometres from Belorado to Obregón Parque de Cabárceno and while it lacked the high climbs coming in the next three days, had a saw-toothed profile that was certain to make things tough.
After the first intermediate sprint at Espinosa de los Monteros, the first climb reared up. The third category Alto Estacas de Trueba (km. 110) was followed by the identically-ranked Puerto de la Braguía (km. 132), then the second category Alto del Caracol at kilometre 151.5.
After that the riders would reach the second intermediate sprint at Penagos (km. 179). Just under ten kilometres remained after that point; the final two and a half kilometres were testing, with a steep climb, a sharp secent and then a drag up to the line.
Soon after the start of the stage, fourteen riders clipped away and opened a slight lead. This was whittled down to 11 after Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), Marcel Aregger (IAM Cycling) and Yaroslav Popovych (Trek Factory Racing) dropped back.
Those still out front were Tour de France green jersey Peter Sagan and his team-mate Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), former Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Luis Leon Sanchez (Caja Rural), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Vegard Breen (Lotto-Belisol),.Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Jay Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka) and Stef Clement (Belkin). These were 30 seconds clear after 15 kilometres and added another 30 to that over the next ten kilometres.
The Orica-GreenEdge team did most of the pace setting, trying to keep the gaps reasonable so that Michael Matthews would have a shot at the stage win later on. With 40 kilometres elapsed the break was just under three minutes 20 seconds clear but, ten kilometres later, the Australian team had pegged that back to two minutes 45 seconds.
This lead remained relatively constant to the foot of the third category Alto Estacas de Trueba (km. 110) and over the top, where Sanchez led Thomson and Cunego past the prime line. There was just under 80 kilometres remaining at that point and with a lead of less than three minutes there, it was clear that the break would have to pad its advantage if it was to stand a chance.
Sanchez said prior to the stage that he felt his form was coming and he was also first to the top of the next climb, the category three Puerto de la Braguía (km. 132). Cunego and Clement were second and third. The group was two minutes 14 seconds ahead on the descent, and this had dropped to one minute 44 seconds by the start of the second category Alto del Caracol (km. 151.5).
Sanchez, Lutsenko, Cuengo, Gaudin and Wyss pushed ahead on the climb, while the others from the break slipped back. Sagan was one of those who was quickly recaptured.
Sanchez was again first to the top, beating Cunego and Wyss. Lutsenko and Wyss were still there, while Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) and Maxime Mederel (Europcar) had attacked from the peloton and went over the summit in pursuit.
They were in between the five leaders and the peloton, which was two minutes and three seconds behind.
The FDJ.fr team hit the front with just over twenty kilometres to go and the fresh impetus saw the gap drop to one minute 24 seconds. Mate and Mederel had already been hauled back.
Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff Saxo team was sitting behind the FDJ.fr team and became frustrated with a TV motorobike it felt was too close, providing draft. Some of its riders were gesturing in a bid to get the motorbike to move further forward; the team was concerned that the FDJ.fr riders were getting assistance in their chase and, with bonus seconds up for grabs, Contador didn’t want explosive rivals such as Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) or Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) sprinting for the win.
The gap continued to fall and with just 49 seconds of a difference between break and bunch with 15 kilometres to go, Lutsenko knew that chances were fading. He attacked hard and got a gap, but the former world under 23 champion had a big task in holding off the peloton.
Led by Cannondale, the bunch was just nine seconds back with eight kilometres to go. Sky and Orica GreenEdge swept to the front, with the increase in pace bringing Lutsenko back with 7.3 kilometres left.
Heading into the final five kilometres, the peloton was completely lined out. The Tinkoff Saxo riders had put the hammer down again and were joined at the front by Rodriguez’ Katusha team.
With three kilometres to go Cofidis’ Le Mevel jumped clear but was hauled back just as the climb started. Cannondale hit the front, then with 2.4 kilometres to go Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma Quick Step) attacked alone.
Behind, Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) jumped clear and got across to Brambilla with two to go. He pushed on alone on the very steep gradient, trying to build an advantage before the final kilometres.
With 1.7 kilometres to go Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) attacked hard. He was immediately marked by the other general classification contenders, then Chris Froome (Sky) jumped clear. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) quickly led the others back up to him.
Navarro went through the red kite with a good gap and started the slight descent before the upswing towards the line. Martin jumped again but was closed down.
Dani Moreno (Katusha) attacked and got a gap, pursued by Wilco Kelderman (Belkin). They rode hard after Navarro but ran out of time to deny him victory. The Spaniard reached the line two seconds clear, while Moreno beat his Dutch companion for second and Valverde led Bouhanni, Caruso and the rest of the chase group in a further three seconds back.
The general classification remained essentially unchanged, although twelfth-placed Navarro inched closer to the rider ahead of him in the overall standings, Dan Martin.
The Vuelta a España continues Saturday with a much tougher finish, namely the first category La Camperona Valle de Sabero.