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With a powerful move on the steep Xorret de Cati climb, Poels dropped Aru and Navarro and rode to victory on the queen stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana; the Dutchman extended his overall lead in the process

Photo: Rapha

BEÑAT INTXAUSTI

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ION IZAGIRRE

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TEAM SKY

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VOLTA A LA COMUNITAT VALENCIANA

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06.02.2016 @ 17:50 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Wout Poels (Sky) confirmed that he is by far the strongest rider in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana when he crushed the opposition in the queen stage. After Astana had tried to get rid of him, the Dutchman made a powerful attack to put more than 20 seconds into his nearest chasers on the brutally steep Xorret de Cati climb and soloed across the line before Benat Intxausti made it a 1-2 for Team Sky. He also extended his overall lead with just one stage to go.

 

Going into the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, Wout Poels felt confident that he would be able to challenge for overall honours. After an excellent 2015 season that saw him emerge as one of the best climbers in the world and a solid winter, he was looking to defend himself in the time trial and do some damage in the queen stage whose very steep 22% climb of Xorret de Cati suited him down to the ground.

 

Poels was hugely surprised when he emerged as a surprise winner in the time trial, proving excellent condition in a discipline that has never done him too many favours. Based on that performance, he was the obvious favourite for the queen stage and he didn’t leave his fans disappointed as he turned out to be in a class of his own.

 

The stage ended with the relatively short 4km climb which summited just 2km from the finish and it was all back together by the time, they hit the ascent. Vasil Kiryienka led the peloton onto the climb for Sky but Astana quickly came to the fore to up the speed.

 

Paolo Tiralongo made the peloton explode to pieces and when he swung off, Sky again took charge with David Lopez. The Spaniard whittled the group down to less than 30 riders before he left it to his teammate Mikel Nieve to take over. A rider from the Spanish national team was the first to attack but he was slowly reeled in by the Sky Basque.

 

That was the signal for Astana to launch their big offensive as Fabio Aru made a big surge with teammate Diego Rosa on his wheel. Dayer Quintana (Movistar) and Poels followed immediately and Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) regained contact.

 

Martin was dropped as Aru continued to ride hard and Poels briefly seemed to suffer. However, the Italian was unable to maintain the speed and Ion Izagirre, Jose Herrada (both Movistar) and Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) got back.

 

Quintana exploded in spectacular fashion and Izagirre, Navarro and Herrada also lost contact, leaving just Poels with the Astana teammates. That was when Rosa made his big attack but Poels stayed glued to his wheel while Aru fell back.

 

Rosa was unable to get rid of Poels and Aru slowly fought his way back to the leaders. He went straight to the front to set the pace while Navarro slowly regained contact.

 

Izagirre was just a few metres behind when Poels decided to make his move. With a big surge, he immediately opened a big gap while Rosa was dropped by Navarro and Aru.

 

From there it was a Poels show and the outcome was never in doubt. Navarro dropped Aru while Rosa cracked completely and was passed by Izagirre. Meanwhile, Poels maintained his speed and crested the summit as the lone leader.

 

Benat Intxausti (Sky) finished the climb very strongly and managed to catch Izagirre. The pair passed Aru before the top and had nearly caught Navarro as they crested the summit, with Intxausti taking third place points.

 

While Poels celebrated his win, Intxausti and Izagirre passed Navarro who fell back to Aru. Intxautis beat Izagirre in the sprint for second 23 seconds behind Poels to make it a 1-2 for Sky while Aru and Navarro followed just 2 seconds later.

 

With the win Poels extended his overall lead over Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) who did well to finish sixth with a time loss of 31 seconds, to 46 seconds while Intxausti is 10 seconds further adrift in third. He now just needs to get safely through the short final stage which should be one for the sprinters. After a flat start, the riders will tackle a category 3 climb at the midpoint but as the stage ends with 10 laps of a flat 2.5km circuit in Valencia, a bunch sprint is expected.

 

The queen stage

After yesterday’s sprint stage, the climbers were back in action stage 4 which was the hardest challenge in the race. It brought the riders over 141.3km from Orihuela to Xorret de Cati and had a flat start before the riders tackled a category 3 climb in the first half. In the second half, two category 2 climbs preceded a flat section and then the massive challenge of the category 1 Xorret de Cati awaited the riders. It averaged more than 9% over 4km and included sections of 22%. The summit was located just 2.1km from the finish, with the final part being made up of a straightforward descent.

 

It was another sunny and calm day when the riders gathered for the start in Orihuela. Matthias Brändle (IAM) who had fallen ill, was a non-starter.

 

An aggressive start

Unlike yesterday, it was a fast start with numerous attacks and Sky were working hard to control things. After 20km of racing, no one had managed to escape and more than 25km when two riders finally seemed to be gaining some ground. However, they were brought back too.

 

After 35km of racing, a big 18-rider group got clear but that was too dangerous for Sky that neutralized the move. Hence, it was still all together when the hit the category 3 Alto de la Garganta.

 

Meersman wins KOM sprint

As they tackled the ascent, there was a crash in the peloton which involved David Arroyo (Caja Rural). Meanwhile, 11 riders got an advantage and as more riders tried to join the move, the peloton exploded to pieces. Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) led Jack Bauer (Cannondale) and Antonio Molina (Caja Rural) over the top.

 

The riders covered 47.2km during a very fast first hour and the situation was still uncontrollable. Sky managed to bring everything back together after the climb and new attacks were launched.

 

Seven riders get clear

Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep), Matti Breschel (Cannondale), Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM), Sjoerd Van Ginneken (Roompot), Andrea Pasqualon (Roth), Aitor Gonzalez (Euskadi) and Liam Bertazzo (Southest) launched the next serious offensive and while Domingos Goncalves (Caja Rural) and Artem Samolenkov (Lokosphinx) took off in pursuit, the peloton finally took a breather. The gap quickly went out to a minute while the chasers did not get any closer.

 

When the gap had reached 3 minutes, the chasers were still at 1.25. Meanwhile, Gazprom-Rusvelo had started to chase, knowing that they had missed the move like they did yesterday.

 

The gap comes down

Burgos joined forces with the Russians and they kept the gap around 3 minutes. Meanwhile, the two chasers sat up and waited for the peloton.

 

As the escapees hit the category 2, Alto de Maigmo, Breschel had a small mechanical problem but he was back in the group as they approached the summit with an advantage of 2.40. Gonzalez beat Pasqualon and Lampaert in the KOM sprint.

 

Lampaert wins the sprint

Burgos and Gazprom-Rusvelo were slowly accelerating and at the top, they had brought the gap down to 2.15. They continued their fast riding despite a small crash that involved a Cannondale rider but he was unscathed.

 

With 55km to go, the gap was down to 2.12 and they had reduced it to 2.03 when Lampaert beat Bertazzo and Pasqualon in the intermediate sprint. At the bottom of the third climb, it was just 1.45 and when Gonzalez won the KOM sprint, it had been reduced to 1.22.

 

Artem Ovechkin (Gazprom-Rusvelo) led the peloton to the top and then swung off to leave it to the Sky pair of Alex Peters and Nicolas Roche to maintain control. With 40km to go, they were just 1.07 behind the leaders.

 

Sky in control

The gap stabilized around 1.15 and even went out to 1.22 as there was a brief moment of calmness before the fight for position intensified with 20km to go. At this point, the gap was down to 1.19 after it had briefly touched the one-minute mark.

 

Bardiani, Movistar, Astana, CCC, Rusvelo and Katusha lined up their trains next to Sky as the peloton fought hard for position in the flat run-in to the climb. The gap was down to 50 seconds with 14km to go and when the break was in sight, van Ginneken and Stake Laengen left their companions behind.

 

CCC took control and brought the chasers back before Sky took over with Kiryienka. With 9km to go, they were just 12 seconds behind and one kilometre later it was all back together. Moments later Kiryienka hit the climb where the exciting finale unfolded.

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