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Having taken off in a solo attack even before the halfway mark, Rosa led the race over seven climbs to take a fantastic solo win on the queen stage at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco; Henao and Contador dropped their rivals, with Henao taking the...

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ALBERTO CONTADOR

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ASTANA - PREMIER TECH

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ITZULIA BASQUE COUNTRY

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SERGIO LUIS HENAO

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08.04.2016 @ 18:10 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Diego Rosa (Astana) again proved that he is one of the greatest climbing talents by riding to one of the most impressive solo wins of the 2016 season in the queen stage of the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Having attacked already before the halfway point, he held off the peloton with a big margin to take his second professional win. Sergio Henao (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) dropped their rivals on the final climb to finish second and third respectively and the Colombian is now the new overall leader on the eve of the final time trial.

 

Last autumn Diego Rosa amazed the cycling world when he beat most of the best climbers at Milan-Turin to claim his first pro win. A few days later he was instrumental in setting Vincenzo Nibali up for victory in Il Lombardia and it was evident that a new star had been born.

 

The start of his 2016 season has been less impressive. After a good start in Valencia, he has had a hard time, failing to find the right form for Paris-Nice and Volta ao Algarve. He hasn’t been in the mix in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco either even though he has shown small signs of progress.

 

However, his 2015 results were no fluke and today he again underlined his full potential by riding to a memorable solo win in a brutally tough queen stage at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. On a day with torrential rain and 8 categorized climbs, he spent more than half of the race as the lone leader and reached the finish with an advantage of more than 3 minutes over Sergio Henao and Alberto Contador who was the best of the favourites.

 

Rosa surged clear from a big 18-rider group on the third climb after 40km of racing after a frantic start to the stage. Later 24 riders gathered in pursuit but they never got close to Rosa who was always more than a minute ahead and of his nearest chasers. The peloton didn’t react until they hit the brutally steep Alto de Ixua with 35km to go where a big selection was made, leaving very little domestique resources to chase behind the strong Italian.

 

At the bottom of the final climb with 8km to go, Rosa was more than five minutes ahead of the Lotto Soudal pair of Maxime Monfort and Sander Armee who were the only survivors from the big chase group. A strong group with David Lopez, Mikel Landa (Sky), Simon Clarke (Cannondale), Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) had taken off on the descent from Ixua and had pushed 15 seconds into the small peloton which was led by Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff) and Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).

 

Rosa hit the climb with an advantage of 5.30 over the Landa group and 5.45 over the peloton and was showing no signs of fatigue. At the same time, Landa took over from Lopez who had been working for his teammate and both the Sky domestique and Verona fell off the pace immediately.

 

Landa, Pauwels and Clarke hit the climb with a 15-second advantage and they quickly caught Monfort and Armee, with both got distanced. Surprisingly, Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) started to ride tempo on the front of the peloton after Kiserlvoski and Visconti had swung off at the bottom.

 

Clarke was the next to get dropped as Landa pushed his advantage out to 20 seconds but it was all erased in a matter of seconds when Alberto Contador made his big attack. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) tried to follow the Spaniard but had to surrender, forcing a strong Sergio Henao to bridge the gap.

 

Contador and Henao caught Landa and Pauwels and it was the latter who could keep up the longest. However, he finally had to surrender and was passed by a chase duo of Pinot and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and Lawson Craddock (Cannondale) were next while overall leader Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) found himself in a group with Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ), Louis Vervaeke (Lotto Soudal) and Pierre Latour (Ag2r).

 

While Contador and Landa worked well together to extend their advantage, Kelderman was suffering and losing contact with his companions, dropping back to Landa. The pair cooperated but they were constantly losing ground throughout the entire climb.

 

From there, it was status quo all the way to the top, with Rosa digging deep to maintain his advantage. Near the top, Henao tried to put Contador under pressure but the pair stayed together all the way to the top. However, when Contador led Henao over the summit with 2km to go, they were still more than 3 minutes behind Rosa, with Pinot and Rodriguez not far behind and Quintana further back in sixth.

 

Rosa stayed safe on the 2km descent to the finish before stepping off his bike, lifting it to the air and walking across the line. It took 3.13 until Henao and Contador reached the finish, with the Colombian digging deep to keep Rodriguez and Pinot at bay. The latter two only lost 2 seconds in the end. Quintana lost one second to Sanchez on the descent while Kelderman finished outside the top 10.

 

Having started the stage in second place, Henao takes the lead with a 6-second advantage over Contador and a 10-second advantage over Pinot. Rodriguez is two seconds further adrift in fourth. The Colombian now faces the most important stage on the final day, the 16.5km time trial in Eibar. It’s by no means a traditional TT as it starts with another passage of the Arrate climb, albeit from a much steeper side with sections of more than 20%. The second half is made up of a descent and a short, flat section, meaning that it’s a typical, very difficult Basque TT.

 

The queen stage

After yesterday’s tough stage, it was time for the queen stage which brought the riders over 159km from Orio to the traditional summit finish at Arrate in Eibar. The riders had to tackle a total of 8 climbs throughout the day but the real fight was expected to start on the sixth ascent, Alto de Ixua which averaged almost 20% over one kilometre. The top came with 35.3km to go and from there, the riders had to tackle another climb before they got to the final 6.3km that averaged 7%. The top came just 2km from the finish and from there it was the well-known downhill run to the line.

 

It was cold and rainy when the riders gathered for the start where two riders were absent. Jan Bakelants (Ag2r) and Carter Jones (Giant-Alpecin) who is ill, were not to be found in the 144-rider field that headed out on the stage.

 

A brutal start

As it was the case yesterday, everyone knew that the stage could be a chance for a break so it was again a brutal start. The first promising attack was launched by Natnael Berhane (Dimension Data) after 9km of racing and he was quickly joined by Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Michael Woods (Cannondale), Stefan Denifl (IAM), Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida), Winner Anacona (Movistar), Peter Velits (BMC), Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin), Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal), Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural), Ruben Plaza (Orica-GreenEdge), Haimar Zubeldia (Trek), Maxim Belkov ( Katusha), Diego Rosa (Astana) and Paul Martens (LottoNL-Jumbo). Sky was not willing to let such a large group go so it was a tough fight. The gap was only 15 seconds after 22km of racing and shortly after Denifl had won the first KOM sprint ahead of Rosa, Edet and Woods, it was all back together at the 25km mark. At the same time Sindre Lunke (Giant-Alpecin) abandoned.

 

The attacks continued, and this time the result was in a group of 18 riders. Denifl, Zubeldia, Berhane, Woods, Belkov, Ferrari, Geschke, Ulissi, Edet, Armee, Velits, Plaza, Anacona and Martens were there again, and now they were joined by Jeremy Roy (FDJ), Amael Moinard (BMC). They managed to get a lead of 45 seconds after 39km of racing where they hit the day's next climb.

 

Rosa goes clear

Rosa used the opportunity to go solo and was the first man at the top before Denifl beat Edet in the sprint for second place. The peloton, however, followed only 32 seconds later and was now split into pieves. At the same time, Egor Silin (Katusha), David Lopez (Sky), amets txurruka (Orica-GreenEdge), Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), Maxime Monfort (Lotto Soudal), Laurens De Plus (Team Quick Step), Carlos Verona (Etixx -QuickStep) and Yoann Bagot (Cofidis) had joined the big chase group.

 

Rosa continued his solo campaign and had a lead of 32 seconds over the 24 chasers, 54 seconds to another group and 2.12 to the peloton at the 49km mark. The second group was brought back while the peloton kept the gap relatively stable. After 61km of racing, it was still only 2.15 while the chase group was now one minute behind.

 

A four-rider chase group

The lead had grown to 4 minutes before they hit the day's next climb where Plaza, Zubeldia and Martens were all dropped from the chase group. Rosa won the KOM sprint, and again Denifl was second, this time ahead of Verona and Armee. At the same time, Sky an important riders as Vasil Kiryienka, Jelle Vanendert (Lotto Soudal) and Pirmin Lang (IAM) abandoned. Fabio Aru (Astana) also crashed and was forced to leave the race. Rosa won the first intermediate sprint ahead of Edet and Monfort.

 

Armee, Monfort, Edet and Verona escaped from the chase group and when Armee led Monfort and Edet to the top of the fourth climb, they were 1.35 behind the lone Rosa, with the second group following at 2.35 and the peloton at 3.45. There wasn’t much cooperation in the big chase group and they kept attacking each other on the fifth climb, with Lopez making a first move and Woods then making an unsuccessful attempt.

 

Kelderman crashes

Rosa crested the summit with an advantage of 2.25 over his chasers who were led to the top by Armee followed by Edet, Monfort and Verona. LottoNL-Jumbo were setting the pace in the peloton with young Koen Bouwman but he was unable to keep up with Rosa. As he led the peloton to the top, the gap had gone out to 6.25 and things only got better for Rosa when a crash for Kelderman on the descent forced the Dutch team to slow down.

 

Rosa won the second intermediate sprint ahead of Edet and Monfort before he entered the final 45km with an advantage of 2.25 over his chasers and 4.45 over the big group. Meanwhile, the peloton had got going again, with Bouwman setting the pace on the front.

 

A fight for position

Rosa hit the brutally steep Alto de Ixua with an advantage of 2.45 over his chasers and 6.45 over the peloton in which the fight for position had really started. Movistar took control with Rory Sutherland setting the pace before FDJ and Tinkoff moved up next to them,

 

Michael Valgren (Tinkoff) took control and strung out the peloton in the run-in to the climb while Monfort pushed clear of the chase group. Edet got dropped and Armee finally also distanced Verona, setting off in pursuit of his teammate Monfort.

 

The wall does some damage

Cannondale applied the pressure from the bottom of the climb, making the peloton explode to pieces while also picking up riders from the chase group. Txurruka and Berhane were the first to be caught and when Mikel Landa upped the pace for Sky, the rest of the group was back in the gold.

 

Lopez, Woods and De Plus briefly got a gap before Lopez started to ride tempo on the front. However, it was Joaquim Rodriguez who created the first big selection, forcing Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) to close a small gap with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Sergio Henao (Sky), Thibaut Pinot, Sebastien Reichenbach (FDJ) on his wheel. Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Keldeman also regained contact before a big group with Lawson Craddock, Pauwels, Louis Vervaeke, Landa, Lopez, Rui Costa and Samuel Sanchez also latched onto the group.

 

Kelderman rejoins the group

While Rosa crested the summit and Monfort followed 4 minutes later, Pauwels moved to the front to set a fast pace that clearly put Kelderman under pressure. When Rodriguez took over, the main group had been whittled down to just Rodriguez, Spilak, Contador, Quintana, Henao, Pauwels, Landa, Sanchez, Craddock, Latour, Pinot, Reichenbach, Costa and Kelderman.

 

Kelderman was suffering and finally had to surrender. He fought hard to limit his losses while Sanchez moved ahead as they hit a small descent near the top and sprinted over the line, 6.40 behind the lone Rosa. Kelderman who had been caught by Simon Clarke (Cannondale) and Dario Cataldo (Astana) made contact just before the top.

 

Landa takes off

Monfort and Armee joined forces on the descent but were still 4.00 behind Rosa as they hit the penultimate climb with 25km to go after Rosa had made it three from three in the final intermediate sprint, with Monfort taking second-place points. At this point, the peloton was still 6.30 behind the lone Italian after David Lopez (Sky) had rejoined the group on the descent which meant that 17 riders had gathered.

 

There were constant attacks and after Pauwels had gone clear, it was Clarke and Lopez who finally surged clear. Landa took off in pursuit and the pair decided to wait for him. Further back, more riders rejoined the peloton and after Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) had done some work, it was Robert Kiserlovski (Tinkoff) who set the pace on the climb. They quickly brought Edet back.

 

Landa increases his advantage

Rosa crested the summit with an advantage of 4.40 over his two chasers, with Armee leading Monfort across the line, while the Landa trio picked up Verona and later also Pauwels. In the peloton, Visconti took over the pace-setting but they kept losing ground to the Basque Sky rider.

 

Lopez was distanced from the Landa group on the lower part of descent but managed to get back to squeeze the final bit of energy out of the legs in the final run-in to the climb. Further back, the chase was disorganized as Visconti got a gap on the descent and had to slow down to wait for his companions. Kiserlovski went back to work as they approached the final climb, trading pulls with Visconti, and reducing the deficit to Landa to 20 seconds with 10km to go. Moments later, they hit the final climb where the real action started.

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