Delio Fernandez is a strong climber who has gone really well for the W52-Quinta de Lixo team in recent seasons. In 2013 he won a stage of the Volta a Portugal and last year he was third overall while supporting winner Gustavo Cesar Veloso. This year he was eighth on the big summit finish in the Vuelta Communidad de Madrid and was fifth overall behind WorldTour riders and Pello Bilbao in the Vuelta Castilla y Leon.
On the first cat Serra de Larouca climb, his W52 team had produced a great display, setting a strong pace and 800m from the line, Fernandez launched an attack that only Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) could follow, and when it came to the last 150m, Fernandez was so strong he surged clear in the sprint to win by one second. Defending champion and Fernandez’s teammate Gustavo Veloso was third six seconds later.
Today’s stage took the riders from Macedo de Cavaleiros to the summit finish at Serra de Larouca, a 175.6km trip. There were three intermediate sprints on the route, as well as two third cat climbs, a second cat and the summit finish, the first cat 1 climb of the race.
133 riders lined up at the start with Parkhotel Valkenburg’s Dion Beukenboom being the only non-starter. Attacks went from the gun and LA Aluminios’ Bruno Silva, leading the KOM competition, and Stef Van Zummeren (Verandas Willems) escaped.
Caja Rural’s Fernando Grijalba, De Rijke’s Coen Vermeltfoort and Georg Loef of Stuttgart chased them. 7km in, they were ten seconds behind while the peloton was another 15 seconds back.
Once the front groups joined up, the peloton sat back and at 10km in, they were already 1:30 behind the break. At the first intermediate sprint, Grijalba beat Vermeltfoort and Loef. In the bunch, W52-Quinta de Lixa controlled the pace and the gap was 5:40 as they passed through the intermediate sprint 25km in.
Heading into the first third cat climb of the day, W52 had really lowered the break’s gap to just 2:30 at 56km in to the race. At the top of the climb, Silva extended his lead in the competition, beating Grijalba, Van Zummeren and Vermeltfoort to the top as the gap grew to 2:45.
Over the next 40km, the gap moved continuously between 2 and 3 minutes, with W52 remaining in control of the field as they wanted to set up defending champ and currently second on GC, Gustavo Cesar Veloso for the win.
Just before the 100km mark, Vemeltfoort beat Grijalba and Silva at the intermediate sprint as their gap was currently 2:20. The second cat climb followed shortly after the sprint and Silva once more came out on top, leading Van Zummeren, Vermeltfoort, Loef and Grijalba across. Christopher Hatz (Kuota-Lotto) came to the head of the field to take the last point available 2:55 later.
Up the second third cat climb of the day, Silva, Van Zummeren, Loef and Grijalba took the points while their gap remained a steady 2:45 with 40km to go.
In the valley road after the climb, EFAPEL, working for 2013 winner Alejandro Marque, came forward to help W52 and between the two teams, they whittled the breaks gap down from over 2 minutes to just 30 seconds with 20km remaining.
Silva and Loef sat up, clearly feeling that their race was done while the remaining trio pushed on. Grijalba dropped his two companions not long after and he maintained a lead of 25 seconds to the bunch as he went solo at 15km. Vermeltfoort and Van Zummeren were recaptured not long after the 15km to go banner.
In the bunch, riders were being shelled out the peloton, with Hector Saez, best young rider, one of the many casualties of the savage pace set by Efapel on the last rise before the drop down to the foot of the final climb. Grijalba was hauled in at 14km allowing the GC favourites to plan how they would tackle the climb.
At the day’s final intermediate sprint, EFAPEL dominated, with three of their riders taking all of the points: Joni Brandao led Filipe Cardoso and Domingos Goncalves across the line.
The final climb was 9.6km at 5.6% with a maximum of 8% coming not far from the top. On the early slopes the pace was clearly up as many teams wanted rid of the riders who wouldn’t contest the GC. Cardoso and W52’s Samuel Caldeira, second yesterday, were among the early casualties. One man still in the group was Gaetan Bille, the yellow jersey.
6km from the line, W52 came to the front and laid down a savage tempo with Rui Vinhas and one by one riders began falling out of the group, leaving about 30 men left. EFAPEL rider David de la Fuente was one of the men to go just before the 5km to go banner, a surprise with the Spanish veteran being a good climber, although he wasn’t his team leader.
Finally, at just inside 3km to go, Gaetan Bille was dropped from the lead group along with Eduard Prades of Caja Rural, ensuring there would be a new race leader at the end of the stage. Bille did the jersey proud, constantly yo-yoing back onto the group but he had to give up at 2.5km to go as he completely blew up.
Meanwhile, W52 had kept up their pace as Veloso was just three seconds behind Bille at the start of the day. This dissuaded anyone from attacking until Marcos Garcia of Louletano launched an attack just before the 2km to go banner. W52 seemed to finally run out of steam, allowing the Spaniard to get a gap of 13 seconds quite quickly as EFAPEL came back to the front.
Under the flamme rouge he still maintained a small gap of 7 seconds on a 20 man chase group as Bille had fallen to 1:30 down. At about 700m to go, Delio Fernandez of W52 launched with Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural) in his wheel and they gained a big gap.
Coming up to the line, Fernandez was too strong and despite Goncalves‘ attempt to come round, he couldn’t pass Fernandez and faded, allowing the Spaniard to take a big win by one second, his second ever win in the race. A few seconds after the duo passed the line, Fernandez’s teammate Veloso won the sprint from the bigger group six seconds after, even managing to put 2 seconds into Marque. Bille finally came across the line 2:18 down after a valiant effort.
Veloso now leads the GC by 2 seconds ahead of Fernandez and Goncalves. He should have no problems keeping his jersey tomorrow in a stage that features just one cat 3 climb and two cat 4s and is expected to be decided in a sprint.
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