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Exploiting a collapse from the entire Sky team, Quintana went on the attack from the start of stage 15 of the Vuelta to ultimately gain 2.37 on Froome; Brambilla beat Quintana in the sprint to take the stage win

Photo: Sirotti

DECEUNINCK - QUICK-STEP

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FABIO FELLINE

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GIANLUCA BRAMBILLA

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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04.09.2016 @ 18:02 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) continued his excellent 2016 season by taking his second grand tour stage win of the year on a very dramatic stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana. However, the big winner was Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who exploited a collapse of the entire Sky team to go on the attack already from the start and finally dropped everybody but Brambilla from an elite breakaway. The Italian beat the Colombian in the sprint and Chris Froome (Sky) lost 2.37 to Quintana.

 

In 2012, Alberto Contador completely changed the script of the Vuelta a Espana by attacking from afar on a medium mountain stage to Fuente De that nobody expected would do much damage. With a gusty attack, he distanced Joaquim Rodriguez and ultimately won the race.

 

It was hard not to have a feeling of déjà vu in today’s very dramatic stage 15 of the 2016 edition of the Spanish grand tour. The short, lumpy stage to the top of the Formigal climb was not expected to create many changes as it ended at the top of a relatively easy mountain but it ended up being the most important stage of the race so far.

 

Contador was again one of the animators but this time it was Nairo Quintana who made what seems to be a race-winning coup. When the Tinkoff leader attacked right from the start, the Colombian was quick to respond and suddenly the pair found themselves in a very strong group with two teammates each.

 

Chris Froome had been inattentive and found himself caught out in the peloton but usually the strong Sky team should have been able to rectify the situation. However, the team collapsed completely and Froome only had David Lopez for company.

 

Orica-BikeExchange and Astana both lent Sky a hand as their leaders had also missed out but it was too little, too late. After a long day with a fierce battle between the two groups, Quintana dropped the hammer on the final climb where Froome was clearly far from his best. Ultimately, the Colombian crossed the line with an advantage of 2.37 to move himself into the position of red-hot favourite for the overall win.

 

The other big winner on the day was Gianluca Brambilla. The Italian was one of the very first to attacks and made it into the elite group. He was the only one who could follow Quintana on the final climb and easily beat the Colombian in the sprint to add a Vuelta stage win to the won he took in the Giro.

 

After yesterday’s queen stage, there were more mountains on the menu on stage 15 which was a short intense affair of just 118.5km that brought the rides from Sabinanigo to the top of the Aramon Formigal climb. After a rolling start, the riders tackled a category 3 and a category 3 climb in the middle section before they got to the bottom of the final climb. It averaged just 4.6% over 14.5km but was a bit steeper in the final 3km.

 

It was another hot and sunny day when the riders headed towards Formigal and as it has been the case, there were lots of attacks from the start. Ben King (Cannondale) and Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) were the first to try but it was Tiago Machado (Katusha) and Sergio Paulinho (Tinkoff) who got the first advantage. They were soon brought back and instead Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) surged clear in a solo move.

 

Brambilla hesitated a bit and then decided to sit up to wait for the big chase group that had gathered behind. Both Quintana and Contador had joined the move and this forced Sky on the defensive. After having chased with Christian Knees, Froome made a big surge to bring things back together.

 

As soon as the junction was made, Contador made a big attack and he was followed by Moreno Moser (Cannonale) and Brambilla. Soon a small group had gathered and Ivan Rovny went straight to the front to work for his captain.

 

Sky again started to chase hard with David Lopez and Salvatore Puccio as it was a dangerous move that included Quintana, Jonathan Castroviejo, Ruben Fernandez, Fraile, Kenny Elissonde, Fabio Felline, Davde Formolo, Matvey Mamykin, David De La Cruz, Rovny, Contador, Brambilla, Moser and Yury Trofimov. The situation was even more critical for Sky as Boswell, König, Kennaugh, Golas and Knees were caught out in a third group and even though they started to ride hard, they never made it back.

 

The gap went out to 30 seconds before Orica-BikeExchange came to the fore with Damien Howson and Jens Keukeleire who started to work with the Sky riders. However, the front group cooperated even better and as the work was soon left to Sam Bewley, Puccio and Lopez, the gap had reached a minute after 14km of racing.

 

As they hit a small climb, Imanol Erviti made an attack to disrupt the chase and make the chasers blow up. Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates then made a big surge, trying to close the gap but the only effect was that they split the field to pieces. Valverde then increased the pace but as they slowed down, a regrouping took place.

 

The effort cost for Puccio who was dropped and so only Bewley and Lopez were left to lead the chase. Sky and Orica-BikeExchange tried to organize thingsbut whenever things got going, Movistar tried to destroy things. As they returned to the start city, Rory Sutherland and Alejandro Valverde made the next attack and this again disrupted the chase.

 

With 95km to go, the gap was 1.15 and the chase finally got more organized. However, it was just Lopez and Bewley contributing to the pace-setting and as everybody was taking their share in the workload in the front group, the gap continued to grow. Movistar again tried to disturb things by sending Erviti off in an attack but this time they failed to disrupt Lopez and Bewley. Meanwhile, the third group was now five minutes behind and so decided to sit up, picking up Puccio in the process.

 

With 80km to go, the gap had gone out to more than 2 minutes and surprisingly, Orica-BikeExchange now stopped their work. Instead, Astana that had missed the move, put Dario Cataldo and Alessandro Vanotti on the front to share the work with Lopez. That had an effect as the gap stabilized at 2 minutes.

 

Fraile beat Elissonde in the KOM sprint and then the group again started to cooperate. Slowly they managed to increase their advantage to 2.50 as they hit the second climb.

 

Orica-BikeExchange finally lost the mental battle and put Keukeleire and Howson on the front. The former quickly dropped off but the latter did a great job to take back 20 seconds in just a few kilometres. At the ame time, the peloton splintered as lots of riders were dropped due to the fierce pace.

 

Howson did a great job to keep the gap at 2.40 before Fraile beat Elissonde in the battle for KOM points. Trofimov rolled across the line in third.

 

Close to the top, Howson finally swung off and then Simon Yates kicked into action. The Brit upped the pace significantly and immediately created a big selection while reducing the gap to 1.50 as he went over the top. At this point, the group almost only consisted of GC riders.

 

Samuel Sanchez (BMC) took over the pace-setting on the descent but when he swung off, the pace went down. Cataldo briefly tried to keep the pace high but when he swung off, the group came to a standstill.

 

A big regrouping took place and this allowed Astana to get domestiques back. While Zeits, Luis Leon Sanchez and Cataldo started to ride on the front, Contador sprinted ahead to win the intermediate sprint ahead of Rovny and Castroviejo.

 

As they finished the descent with 27km to go, the gap had gone out to 2.35. Here Fernandez swung off as the first rider from the front group.

 

The gap remained stable at around 2.30 as they tackled the long gradual uphill section. However, as Zeits left his teammates behind, he managed to shave 20 seconds off the lead with a massive turn over 5km.

 

Moser, Castroviejo, Rovny and Trofimov emptied themselves as they approached the final climb which they hit with an advantage of 2.15. Moser was the first to end his work and moments later Fraile was also dropped.

 

Luis Leon Sanchez took over from Zeits in the peloton and brought the gap down to 1.50 as they hit the final 10km. At the same time, he had whittled the group down to around 15 riders.

 

Castroviejo, Rovny and Trofimov swung off with 108km to go and then Quintana decided that it was time to win the Vuelta. The Colombian hit the front and quickly increased the gap to two minutes.

 

There were a few attacks in the peloton as Sanchez suddenly took off and Luis Angel Mate, Michele Scarponi and Jean-Christophe Peraud also gave it a go. Froome was clearly under pressure and desperately tried to get some help but instead the Cannondale pair of Ben King and Andrew Talansky attacked. They didn’t get clear but it disrupted the chase.

 

Mate was the first rider to get a gap but as Froome finally committed himself to the chase, the Spaniard was brought back. However, the Brit only stayed on the front one kilometre and then the attacking started again. Alejandro Valverde was the first to disrupt the rhythm and then King briefly surged clear.

 

Froome was in great difficulty and when Sanchez again started to ride on the front, it was clear that the pace was way too slow. The Brit even drifted to the rear end of the group and so he had no response when Michele Scarponi and Esteban Chaves attacked. The group splintered as Peraud, Bakelants, Mate and Valverde took off in pursuit of Scarponi.

 

Quintana split the front group as they hit the steep final 3km. First Mamykin, Felline, De La Cruz and Formolo fell back and then Elissonde also had to surrender. With 1.5km to go, Contador also had to surrender and he was even passed by Felline and Elissonde.

 

Quintana didn’t look back and just kept riding on the front while Brambilla stayed glued to his wheel. Hence, the outcome was never in doubt and the Italian easily came around the Colombian to take the win. Felline beat Elissonde in the sprint for third before De La Cruz and Contador arrived.

 

Chaves dug deep to cross the line in ninth with a time loss of less around 1.50, with Scarponi following a few seconds later. Froome split the group in the finale and nearly caught Valverde but still reached the finish with a time loss of 2.37.

 

With the gains, Quintana now leads Froome by 3.37 while Chaves is 5 seconds further back in third. He hopes for an easier day tomorrow on stage 16 which should be one for the sprinters. After a gradually ascending start, there’s a single category 3 climb at the midpoint before the peloton descends for 50km to the flat finish

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