Majka Victorious in Stage 14 of La Vuelta
A ten-man breakaway group formed after approximately 25 kilometers. The group featured Simon Clarke, Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac), Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue Sport), Rafal Majka, Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Bart De Clercq (Lotto-Soudal), Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis), and Ricardo Vilela (Manzana Postobon).
Vuelta a Espana route planners had designed today's stage so the intensity would continuously increase along the route. The breakaway group quickly increased its lead over the main peloton group and it soon reached 7 minutes on the hilly kilometers as the riders approached the first classified climb of the day.
Villella was first at the top of the first mountain, the category 3 El Mojon, followed by Cannondale-Drapac teammate Clarke and Rui Costa of Team UAE Emirates. Villela thereby banked valuable points to further increase his lead in the mountains classification.
Meanwhile the Trek, Bahrain and Astana teams increased the speed in the main peloton group in order to reduce the gap to the breakaway and enable their riders to take part in the fight for the stage victory. With 50 kilometers to go, the breakaway group members saw their lead decreased to 04:40, which spurred a strong reaction from Cannondale's Clarke, who went to the front of the breakaway group to deliver a strong performance in defense of Villela and himself on the plateau as they approached the category 2 Alto Valdepenas de Jaen.
Gougeard lost contact with the breakaway group as a result of the powerful lead performances from Clarke and Konrad - hard work that, however, was temporarily derailed when Clarke's teammate Villella punctured.
With the Katusha team leading the main peloton to set a high pace, the front group's advantage had been reduced to 03:00 when it left the false plateau to initiate its ascent to the top of the Alto Valdepenas climb.
With team lieutenants being sent to the front of the main peloton group by their general classification favorites with the purpose of grinding seconds off the advantage of the front group, the group of breakaway hopefuls fractured as Majka, Konrad, Villela, de Clerc and Costa were forced to increase their pace to preserve their lead.
The action in the 175 kilometer stage from Écija culminated on the hors categorie climb to Sierra de La Pandera - a climb that would prove decisive. The front quintet had a 01:55 lead over the chasing peloton when they entered the climb, passing through a small village on narrow streets lined with passionate cycling fans.
Villela was dropped from the front group and eventually reeled in - and Marc Soler (Movistar Team) attacked from behind, but alas in vain. Konrad was dropped from the lead group, thereby eliminating Bora-Hansgrohe's quantitative advantage in the front group.
Eventually, Majka would attack solo with 10 kilometers to go and a 01:40 lead, hoping to reap the benefits of a long day in the breakaway. Would the previous Vuelta podium finisher have the extra energy needed to succeed in the today's stage?
Majka still maintained a 01:39 lead over the peloton 7 kilometers from the finish line with the Astana team desperately chasing from behind. With just four kilometers left, Majka's advantage quickly diminished as Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) attacked and Team Sky took to the front to increase the pace even further in the peloton for general classification leader Chris Froome.
Orica-Scott's Esteban Chaves attacked Froome and other general classification favorites. Alberto Contador countered for Trek-Segafredo. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) soon responded and a group of GC favorites formed, but Froome appeared unable to respond.
Nibali, also known as The Shark, immediately went to the front to take advantage of Froome's lacking responsiveness and Contador clung to his rear wheel like a teenage boy to his first love.
With 2.4 kilometers Froome responded from behind, desperately trying to find the needed gear. Froome, Nibali, Contador, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and other GC favorites regrouped with Majka holding a 54 second lead further up the road, about to reach the flamme rouge.
Miguel Angel Lopez attacked solo to gain a time advantage over Froome and other general classification contenders.
Majka crossed the finish line in solo fashion. Lopez followed in second place. Nibali, Froome and other GC favorites eventually followed.
"I'm happy to get the stage victory today. I came here for the general classification and I got sick, but I don't have problems like in the Tour de France, where I crashed," stage winner Majka told Roadcycling.com.
"I almost went home after getting sick, but today I was pretty confident in the stage. I have really good legs and my teammate Patrick Konrad did a great job for me. When I saw (Rui) Costa suffering, I went in the first position. After attacking solo I needed to go ten kilometers full gas, as a time trial."
"Everybody knows how hard the last week of La Vuelta is. Now I know I have the legs and the motivation. I will try for an additional stage win and maybe the climber qualification," Majka explained.
"When Alberto Contador, Nibali and Chaves kicked on there with 4-5km to go we knew it was a long way to go, with over 10 minutes still of climbing. So I was very much in control with (teammate) Wout (Poels) and also thinking a little bit about tomorrow as that's a massive day - a really really massive day," Vuelta race leader Froome claimed after the stage.
"Even though Sunday's stage 15 is shorter it's going to be explosive and we're expecting fireworks again. Today was a great day for us - a good one to tick off and to come out without having lost any major time. Four bonus seconds to Nibali that's alright. I'll take that for today and save my legs for tomorrow. For us it's really just about maintaining the position we have. And if we see an opportunity then we'll go for it," Froome added.
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2017 Vuelta a Espana - Stage 14 results:
1 Rafal Majka (Pol) Team Bora-Hansgrohe 04:42:10
2 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team 0:00:27
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:31
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky Pro Cycling
5 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin
6 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb
7 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo 0:00:37
8 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky Pro Cycling 0:00:46
9 Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-Scott 0:00:57
10 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:01:03
11 Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac 0:01:13
12 Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana Pro Team 0:01:19
13 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
14 Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar Team
15 David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors
16 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo
17 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:01:43
18 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:49
19 Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team 0:02:15
20 Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:03:01
21 Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates
22 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky Pro Cycling 0:04:07
23 Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto-Soudal 0:04:12
24 Luis Angel Maté Mardones (Spa) Cofidis - Solutions Credits 0:05:20
25 Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) UAE Team Emirates 0:05:33
2017 Vuelta a Espana - General classification following stage 14:
1 Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky Pro Cycling 58:30:47
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida 0:00:55
3 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Team Sunweb 0:02:17
4 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin 0:02:25
5 Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Team Orica-Scott 0:02:39
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:03:09
7 David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors 0:03:11
8 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo 0:03:19
9 Michael Woods (Can) Team Cannondale-Drapac 0:03:23
10 Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana Pro Team 0:03:48
11 Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky Pro Cycling 0:05:16
12 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:05:44
13 Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC Racing Team 0:06:09
14 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo 0:06:38
15 Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates 0:08:56
16 Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:12:46
17 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky Pro Cycling 0:15:49
18 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Dimension Data 0:22:27
19 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar Team 0:24:52
20 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:30:05