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His team missed out by just one second in the team time trial Saturday, finishing third, but Esteban Chaves delivered glory to Orica–GreenEdge when he scooped stage two of the Vuelta a España Sunday and took the race lead.
The Colombian climber rode aggressively on the Alto de la Mesa summit finish, attacking to bridge up to the leading riders and then pushing ahead with Nicolas Roche (Sky) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin).
Roche tried to drop the other two inside the final kilometre, but was marked; he then had no answer when Chaves accelerated and outsprinted Dumoulin to take the win.
“I felt this was my moment to do it for the team. I felt like I was in a good position. In the end I did it, I got this, I got the jersey,” the smiling Colombian said.
He said that the team had backed his decision to ride aggressively in the finale. “We talked amongst ourselves about how to deal with those around me – the main thing was to attack these guys, so I did. Roche and Dumoulin were good company and we got there in the end.
Dumoulin had a hugely impressive ride, not least because he is much heavier than Chaves and also because he is coming back from the bad shoulder injury which forced him to quit the Tour de France.
“I wanted to give it a try. I was only training seven weeks due to my crash, but I felt pretty good,” he said. “I wanted to see what my level is…it turns out it is really good.”
He said that he played things the best way he could. “Chaves was stronger. I didn’t pull. I had one chance, to stay on the wheel and then try in the sprint but he still had something left. I cannot be disappointed with this.”
The 158.7 kilometre stage was lumpy, although it only had two official categorised climbs. These were the category three Alto de Ardeles (km 113) and the identically-ranked final climb of the Alto de la Mesa. There was also a single bonus sprint at Alora (km 139).
Early on six riders broke away and established a gap of over three and a half minutes after 30 kilometres. They were Bert Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo), Davide Villella (Cannondale-Garmin), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Matteo Montaguti (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Walter Pedraza (Team Colombia) and José Goncalves (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
Pedraza took the maximum points on the first climb, then the break pushed onwards towards the intermediate sprint. Behind, a massive crash took down many in the peloton, with several riders badly hurt. Those delayed included past race winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo), although Nibali was able to return to the fold after a long chase.
Goncalves attacked the break before the intermediate sprint, taking top points there and beginning what he hoped would be a solo run to victory. The chase continued behind, though, and he was caught inside the final ten kilometres.
Cyril Gautier (Europcar) attacked hard at the base of the final climb but was hauled back when Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar) surged past.
Roche and Dumoulin bridged across, as did Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka). However the latter cracked and was replaced by Chaves, who pushed the pace and fended off a chase by Dan Martin (Cannondale-Garmin). This driving saw off Quintana, who appears to still be recovering from the Tour.
Roche played his card inside the final kilometre but cracked and lost contact. Chaves had enough left to hold off Dumoulin in a sprint, beating his rival by one second, while Roche came in nine seconds back and Martin 14 seconds down.
Quintana was led in by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) 26 seconds back, while Froome and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) were seventh and eighth, 30 and 31 seconds behind.
Chaves’ success saw him end the day in the red jersey of race leader. He didn’t want to speculate as to what will happen next. “At this point I am just going to keep going, to be happy about this day and think about tomorrow.”
However his victory has underlined the 25 year old’s talent, as well as showing that some of the big guns from the Tour de France are displaying signs of fatigue at this early point in the race.
Vuelta a España (2.UWT) Alhaurín de la Torre → Caminito del Rey