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After a breakaway, Geniez held the favourites off on the 30% wall of Mirador del Ezaro to win stage 3 of the Vuelta a Espana; Fernandez took second and claimed the lead, with Valverde, Froome and Chaves all in the top 5

Photo: A.S.O.

ALEJANDRO VALVERDE

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ALEXANDRE GENIEZ

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GROUPAMA-FDJ

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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RUBEN FERNANDEZ

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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22.08.2016 @ 18:27 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) bounced back from a year of disappointments by claiming his second stage win at the Vuelta a Espana with a marvelous ride up the 30% wall of Mirador del Ezaro at the end of stage 3. The Frenchman emerged as the lone survivor from a 7-rider breakaway and held off the late comeback from an amazing Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) who was the strongest in the GC battle and even crossed the line with his arms in the air, believing that he had won the stage. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Chris Froome (Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) were the best of the pre-race favourites and all finished in the top 5 while Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) lost almost 30 seconds to the trio. Fernandez is the new leader.

 

In 2013, Alexandre Geniez confirmed his huge climbing talent when he rode to a marvelous solo win on a big mountain stage in France at the Vuelta a Espana. Since then he showed that he can also me consistent over three weeks when he finished in the top 10 at last year’s Giro d’Italia.

 

Geniez has flown a bit under the radar among the many French climbing talents and was hoping to move up in the hierarchy with another great ride at the Giro in 2016. However, he crashed early in the race and saw his entire spring campaign come to nothing.

 

Geniez set his sights on the Vuelta where he was hoping to salvage his season by claiming another stage win. He proved that he was back on form when he won the final stage of the Tour de l’Ain and today he showed that he achieved his big goal when he emerged as the strongest on the 30% wall of Mirador del Ezaro which was the scene of the first uphill finish in the Spanish race.

 

Geniez was part of a 7-rider break that escaped early in the stage and then made the selection when the first climbs whittled it down to the trio. He dropped his companions on the final climb and while everybody else was brought back, he held the favourites off to take his second win in the Giro.

 

Behind Geniez, the GC battle was on and it was Chris Froome who emerged as the big winner. The Brit briefly seemed to be in trouble when he was distanced on the lower slopes but with his usual ability to gauge his effort, he slowly made it back to the quartet of Ruben Fernandez, Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves who had dropped everybody else.

 

Fernandez was impressive and after having split the field to pieces, he even made a late attack to take second on the stage and ride himself into the race lead, even celebrating what he thought was a stage win. Behind, Valverde beat Froome and Chaves in the sprint for third while Quintana lost six seconds in the finale.

 

The big loser was Alberto Contador who lost 28 seconds to Froome with a 9th place finish and so he is now more than a minute behind the Brit in the overall standings. Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) did even worse as he crossed the line more than 2 minutes too late and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) lost everything as he crashed in the hectic run-in to the final climb.

 

At the bottom of the final 1800m climb, Geniez, Pieter Serry (Etixx-QuickStep) and Simon Pellaud (IAM) led the peloton by 1.45 and it was race leader Michal Kwiatkowski who led the peloton onto the steep slopes. However, Movistar soon took over with Jose Joaquin Rojas and he easily neutralized an early attempt from Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida).

 

In the front group, Serry did the early work and Pellaud was dropped almost immediately but as they approached the flamme rouge, Geniez took over. Without looking back, he rode at his own pace which was too much for Serry who quickly fell behind.

 

Fernandez quickly took over the pace-setting in the peloton and he made the peloton explode to pieces. Suddenly, only Chaves, Valverde, Quintana, Contador, Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural), Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) and Daniel Moreno (Movistar) were still on his wheel as Froome found himself far back in another group.

 

Contador started to suffer and together with Brambilla, Goncalves and Moreno, he had to let the rest of the group go. That left just Fernandez, Quintana, Valverde and Chaves in the main group as they sped past Pellaud and Serry.

 

While Geniez dug deep in an attempt to hold off the peloton, Valverde also fell behind and it was Chaves who accelerated when Fernandez swung off. However, he couldn’t drop Quintana and as he slowed down Valverde and Fernandez made it back.

 

Fernandez had barely caught his breath before he attacked again and he got an immediate advantage. Meanwhile, the consistent Froome had slowly paced his way back to his key rivals and went straight to the front, with Valverde, Chaves and Quintana hanging on.

 

However, there was no one stopping Geniez and the Frenchman had plenty of time to celebrate his second Vuelta win before Fernandez arrived 21 seconds later. The Spaniard raised his arms in celebration before Valverde won the three-rider sprint five seconds later. Quintana and Igor Anton (Dimension Data) arrived six seconds later. A suffering Contador made it to the top together with Samuel Sanchez (BMC), Brambilla and Rudy Molard (Cofidis) 54 seconds behind the winner while Kruijswijk lost 2.02.

 

Fernandez can console himself with the fact that he now leads the race with a 7-second second advantage over Valverde while Froome is now third at 11 seconds. The young Spaniard faces another very stern test in tomorrow’s fourth stage which has another summit finish. After a flat start, the riders will tackle two category 3 climbs in the first half before they get to a flatter second half. In the finale, they will tackle the final category 2 which averages 4.8% over 11.2km but has some steeper sections near the top.

 

A brutal wall

After yesterday’s sprint stage, it was time for the first big GC battle on stage 3 which bought the riders over 176.4km from Marin to the top of the brutally steep Mirador del Ezaro climb on the outskirts of Dumbria. The first 110km were completely flat but the final 65km were significantly harder. The riders tackled a category 3 and a category 2 climb before they descended back to the coast. In the end, they tackled the final wall which averaged 13.8% over 1.8km and included sections of almost 30%.

 

The 198 riders were all there as the peloton rolled out along the Galician coast on a warm and sunny day in Spain. Immediately from the start, Angel Madrazo (Caja Rural) tried to get away but he was quickly brought back. At the same time, Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) had to use valuable energy to get back after a mechanical.

 

Seven riders get clear

After 10 km of racing, eight riders briefly got clear, but they could only stay ahead for four kilometers. Instead, Gatis Smukulis (Astana), Simon Pellaud (IAM), Jerome Cousin (Cofidis) and David Arroyo (Caja Rural) gave it a go and after 15km they had a lead of 9 seconds. Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Pieter Serry (Etixx-QucikStep) and Rudiger Selig (Bora-Argon 18) gave chase, and they quickly bridged the gap.

 

The field was pleased with the situation and allowed the gap to grow. It was 52 seconds after 19km of racing, 1.25 at the 23km later and it was 2.12 at the 32km mark where Sky had taken control.

 

It was a quick start to the stage and the riders covered 45.4 km during the first hour. At the same time the gap went out to 3.24, and there was still no real chase. After 65km of racing, the peloton was 4.42 behind

 

Barguil abandons

The riders hit the final 100km with a gap of 5.15, and it was Christian Knees and Michal Golas (Sky) who did the early work. For a long time, nothing really happened as the lone figure of Knees just kept the gap at five minutes before Michal Golas again lent him a hand as they hit the final 75km. At the same time, Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) who was ill already at the Olympics, became the first rider to abandon.

 

While the escapees hit the climb with an advantage of 5.15, the fight for position intensified dramatically in the peloton where Movistar, Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo lined out their troops on the front. The nervousness caused a crash in the rear end of the peloton where Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek), Damien Howson (Orica-BikeExchange), Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) and Patrick Bevin (Cannondale) hit the deck. They were all able to continue.

 

Pellaud takes off

While Knees and Golas set a steady pace on the lower slopes of the climb, Cousin and Pellaud decided to anticipate the KOM sprint by launching an attack. They caught their companions by surprise and got a solid advantage.

 

After a little more than a kilometre, Serry bridged the gap but while he recovered from the effort, Pellaud went again. Geniez also made it back but Pellaud was increasing his advantage.

 

Pellaud wins the KOM sprint

Pellaud dug deep in an attempt to stay away but Geniez slowly dropped Cousin and Serry and then approached from behind. It became an exciting battle between the pair but the Swiss managed to hold the Frenchman off to win the KOM sprint of the FDJ rider and Serry.

 

Pellaud didn’t wait for his companions and while Knees and Golas slowly paced the peloton to the top, he increased his advantage to seven minutes. At the same time, Nikias Arndt (Giant-Alpecin) was dropped from the bunch, clearly suffering in the heat.

 

Pellaud digs deep

With 50km to go, Pellaud was 30 seconds ahead of Cousin, Geniez and Serry and 45 seconds ahead of Smukulis, Arroyo and Selig while the peloton was at 6.35. The two trios merged but they were constantly losing ground as the impressive Pellaud continued to ride hard. Entering the final 40km, he led the six chasers by more than a minute and the peloton by 6.45.

 

Knees, David Lopez and Ian Boswell set the pace for Sky as they went down the descent where the chase group split in two as Smukulis and Selig dropped their companions. However, the group came back together after the descent where they were 1.15 behind Pellaud.

 

A big fight for position

Pellaud started to lose time when the fight for position really started and it was LottoNL-Jumbo that hit the front with Jos Van Emden. Michal Kwiatkowski then took over for Sky, reducing the gap to 5.25 when Pellaud hit the climb.

 

Geniez went full gas from the bottom and so Arroyo and Smukulis were dropped from the chase group. At the same time, Bram Tankink (LottoN-Jumbo), Imanol Erviti (Movistar) and David Lopez (Sky) paced the peloton up the climb and the group quickly exploded, with riders like Johan Le Bon (FDJ), Arndt and Bonifazio among the riders to get dropped.

 

Pellaud is caught

Pellaud started to suffer massively and as Geniez rode hard in the chase group, his gap melted away. With less than 23km to go, Geniez and Serry caught the Swiss and after he had hung on for a few metres, the young Swiss was left behind.

 

In the peloton, Ian Boswell was riding really hard for Sky and as a consequence, the gap melted away. With 22km to go, the gap was down to just 3.50 and lots of riders constantly fell behind. Meanwhile, Smuklis and Arroyo were brought back.

 

Geniez wins the KOM sprint

Geniez and Serry didn’t sprint for the KOM points and crossed the line almost side by side, with Geniez taking maximum points, before the peloton arrived 3.35 later. The Tinkoff train passed the Sky riders and took control as they hit the descent before Michal Kwiatkowski took over for Sky.

 

The impressive Pellaud rejoined the leaders just as they finished the descent and the trio worked well together as they tried to maintain their advantage of 3.30. In the peloton, there was no help for Boswell but the American slowly reduced the gap which was 3.15 with 7km to go. Serry led Pellaud and Geniez across the line in the intermediate sprint.

 

Lopez goes down

In the hectic fight for position, disaster struck for Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) as he hit the deck hard. Gatis Smukulis and Andrey Zeits waited for him but all his GC hopes were over as it took a long time to get back on the bike.

 

The big fight for position cost a lot of time for the escapees who were only 2.40 ahead of the peloton as they entered the final 3km. Movistar upped the pace massively as Jose Herrada hit the front. Orica-BikeExchange also came to the fore with Jens Keukeleire as did LottoNL-Jumbo with Victor Campenaerts. Moments later, Maxime Bouet took over for Etixx-QuickStep but it was Kwiatkowski who led the peloton onto the final climb where the action really unfolded.

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