Lopez Wins Stage 15 of Vuelta a Espana
Sunday's stage 15 of La Vuelta a Espana 2017 presented the professional road cycling peloton with a mountainous route from Alcalá la Real to Sierra Nevada Alto Hoya de la Mora Monachil. The route featured two category 1 mountains and one hors categorie climb - served as a condensed 129.4 kilometer menu for the riders to enjoy under sunny conditions with temperatures peaking at 33 degrees Celsius.
The surroundings inspired the peloton to begin the hostilities as soon as the riders left Alcala la Real in the province of Jaén, Andalucia - a city known for its La Mota moor fortress that laid the foundation for the original settlement.
Attacks and counter attacks dominated the first 40 kilometers of today's Vuelta stage, with no functional breakaway group forming as a result of the efforts delivered by breakaway hopefuls.
92 km from the finish a front group formed featuring Tom Van Asbroeck (Cannondale-Drapac), Sander Armée (Lotto-Soudal), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Matteo Trentin (Quick Step), Lluis Mas (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), and Cofidis' Anthony Perez and Stéphane Rossetto. The average speed in the first hour of racing was no less than 51 km/h.
Stéphane Rossetto increased his pace on the category 1 Alto de Hazallanas climb and, thereby, dropped his breakaway companions. Rossetto was joined by Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal) and the front duo continued their battle against the peloton and the mountain, which included sections of 16%. Meanwhile, Trentin fought on 40 seconds behind the duo with Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) and Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) further behind.
Armée replaced Rossetto at the front, Rossetto kept chasing ten seconds behind, while Trentin and Theuns carried on further back, without joining forces. With 56 kilometers to go, further back a four-man counter attack group formed featuring Bardet, Adam Yates, Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo) and Nelson Oliviera (Movistar Team). The quartet quickly gained a 01:30 lead over the main peloton group featuring Vuelta leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) and other main general classification contenders.
Armee was first to reach the top of the Alto de Hazallanas mountain, while Bardet and co. carried on further back and the main GC contenders saved their explosive energies for the remaining fifty climbing kilometers.
Team Astana and Team Sky took to the front of the main peloton group on the descent and some breakaway riders were caught, while others kept their hopes high in the last stage before the second rest day of this year's Vuelta.
As the action of the day reached the category 1 Alto del Purche climb (8,5 km, 8% gradient), Armée was caught by Kruijswijk, Bardet and Adam Yates and a quartet formed, while the Trek-Segafredo led the main peloton in charge for its leader Alberto Contador in the final race of his career.
Contador attacked and brought Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno with him, thereby forcing the Sky team to take the lead and spend valuable energy in the GC peloton group in defense of Vuelta a Espana leader Froome.
Two kilometers from the top of Alto del Purche Adam Yates was at the front in solo fashion with Kruijswijk twenty seconds behind and Contador, Bardet and Lopez 50 seconds back. Yates had a 01:43 minute lead over the main peloton group.
As the riders entered the mythical Sierra Nevada ascent, which would host the final of today's mountains stage, Yates remained Señor Líder with 14 kilometers to ride and Contador, Bardet, Lopez and Kruijswijk struggling in a quartet 01:14 minutes behind.
Vincenzo "The Shark" Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) attacked from the Froome group and Froome sent Mikel Landa to the front to chase him down. The shark, however, was toothless today following yesterday's dominance and he was caught with 10.3 kilometers to go.
6.4 kilometers from the finish, the Contador group had dropped Kruijswijk and all looked set for Contador to take the front stage. Lopez, however, attacked, and Bardet countered, but alas unable to catch Lopez. Contador and Bardet formed a duo while Lopez catapulted up the climb with inhuman explosiveness. Soon, Adam Yates' lead had been reduced to a mere 20 seconds with 4.5 kilometers left to contest.
Adam Yates was caught by Lopez, he tried to follow Lopez, but his engine overheated in the attempt to join Lopez and he had to stop while Lopez remarkably carried on at high pace despite the 6.7% incline percentage.
Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) attacked from the main group with 1.1 kilometers to go, while Contador was caught and dropped. Lopez was the only rider ahead of the main bunch.
Lopez took his second stage victory in this year's Vuelta a Espana and Zakarin followed 36 seconds later.
Wilco Kelderman (SunWeb Team) crossed the finish line in third position, followed by Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Chris Froome and a selection of other general classification favorites.
Contador eventually crossed the finish line 1:37 after the stage winner following an exhilarating performance making his many loyal fans proud.
Froome enters the second rest day of the 2017 Vuelta a Espana as overall race leader.
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2017 Vuelta a Espana - Stage 15 results:
1 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team 03:34:51
2 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin 0:00:36
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:00:45
4 Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-Scott 0:00:47
5 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky Pro Cycling
6 Michael Woods (Can) Team Cannondale-Drapac 0:00:50
7 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:53
8 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky Pro Cycling
9 Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates
10 Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:01:02
2017 Vuelta a Espana - General classification following stage 15:
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky Pro Cycling 62:06:25
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:01:01
3 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin 0:02:08
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:02:11
5 Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-Scott 0:02:39
6 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team 0:02:51
7 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:03:24
8 Michael Woods (Can) Team Cannondale-Drapac 0:03:26
9 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo 0:03:59
10 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky Pro Cycling 0:05:22