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As the strongest from an 11-rider break, Lagutin won the first mountain stage of the Vuelta Espana; Quintana won the GC battle and took the race lead and Contador bounced back by being the second best GC rider

Photo: Sirotti

AXEL DOMONT

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KATUSHA ALPECIN

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MOVISTAR TEAM

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NAIRO QUINTANA

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PERRIG QUEMENEUR

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SERGEY LAGUTIN

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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27.08.2016 @ 18:06 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

At 35 years of age, Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) took the biggest win of his career when he emerged as the strongest of an 11-rider breakaway on the brutally steep La Camperona climb on stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana. Further down the mountain, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) countered a big attack from Chris Froome (Sky) and soloed to the line to move into the race lead. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) bounced back from yesterday’s crash by being the second best of the favourites while Froome faded in the finale and ultimately lost 33 seconds to his Colombian rival.

 

In 2003, Sergey Lagutin emerged as one of the most exciting talents when he soloed to victory at the U23 Word Championships in the Canadian city of Hamilton. Many were convinced that a new star had been born but unfortunately things never went as expected for the strong rider from Uzbekistan who is now riding for Russia.

 

Lagutin turned professional with the Landbouwkrediet-Colnago team but soon disappeared into anonymity. He won the Kampioenschap van Vlaanderen in 2005 but apart from that, there were no major results. He briefly showed some GC potential at the 2011 Vuelta a Espana ut in the last few years he has settled into a domestique role at the Katusha team.

 

With the premature retirement of Joaquim Rodriguez, Lagutin suddenly got a chance to chase some personal success at the Vuelta a Espana. After a bad start to the race where he hurt his elbow in a crash on stage 2, the Russian grabbed the opportunity with both hands as he showed signs of his former self by claiming an impressive stage win on the first mountain stage that finished at the top of the brutally steep La Camperona climb which almost averaged 20% for the final 3km.

 

Lagutin was one of 11 riders to make it into the break that decided the stage and he kept calm while staying glued to Axel Domont’s (Ag2r) wheel. He responded to an attack from Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) and finally launched his own attack to get rid of the two Frenchmen less than 200m from the line.

 

While the escapees battled for the stage win, the GC fight was on and it was Chris Froome who launched the first attack. The Brit seemed to be in control when he dropped Alberto Contador and only had Nairo Quintana for company. However, the Colombian had more left and countered the Brit just as they passed the flamme rouge before time trialling his way to the finish and move into the race lead. Froome faded in the finale and was even passed by a resurgent Contador in the final metres.

 

After a steady start, the race came to life in the final 10km as they approached the final 8.5km climb. At this point, Gatis Smukulis (Astana), Zico Waeytens (Giant - Alpecin), Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondial), Sergey Lagutin and Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha), Pieter Serry (Etixx - Quick Step), Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre - Merida), Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon18) and Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) led the peloton by more than 9 minutes and it was clear that they would decide the stage.

 

While the escapees started to save some energy for the final climb and unsurprisingly, one of the heavier guys decided to anticipate the ascent. With 10km to go, Waeytens attacked and no one responded to the move from the Belgian who hit the climb with a solid advantage.

 

Restrepo and Smukulis gave chase and after Waeytens had taken maximum points in the intermediate sprint ahead of the Colombian and the Latvian, the trio joined forces.

 

Restrepo didn’t hesitate and as he went under the 7km to go banner, he dropped his companions. Meanwhile, there was a huge fight for position in the peloton and so the gap was melting away. Van Garderen took one final turn to reduce the gap to 8.30 before he swung off and left it to Drucker to continue the pace-setting. Imanol Erviti (Movistar) was the next to take charge before Michael Gogl (Tinkoff) and later Niki Terpstra and Gianni Meersman (Etixx-QuickStep) took over.

 

Restrepo hit the final 5km with a solid advantage over his two chasers while the rest of the group was gathered further back. In the peloton, riders started to get dropped as Meersman led the group onto the climb 7.50 behind the lone leader.

 

Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep) set the pace on the lower slopes before Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Daniele Bennati (Tinkoff) took over.  Further up the road, the big group brought Smukulis and Waeytens back while Cattaneo was dropped.

 

In the peloton, Sky briefly took control in the peloton with Michal Golas before Jens Keukeleire took over for Orica-BikeExchange. However, it was Movistar that took the initiative with Jonathan Castroviejo as they hit the final 5km. Jose Joaquin Rojas was next in the train and his fast pace made the peloton explode as they passed under the 4km to go banner.

 

With 3km to go, Quemeneur took off in pursuit of Restrepo who had hit the steep section and started to suffer. He almost came to a standstill on the brutal slopes. Further back, Domont went into time trial mode and with Lagutin, Serry and Quemeneur glued to his wheel, he caught the Colombian just 1500m from the line.

 

Domont didn’t slow down and just maintained his pace which was too much for his teammate Restrepo who was left behind. Quemeneur also had to surrender but the Frenchan slowly made it back.

 

Apparently, Quemeneur felt strong as he made an attack just after he had made contact at the flamme rouge. Only Lagutin could follow but Domont slowly time trialled his way back.

 

Domont went straight to the front and continued his time trial, with Lagutin and Quemeneur hanging on. Further back, Cattaneo had passed Serry and was approaching rapidly.

 

It briefly looked like the Italian would make it back but he ran out of metres. Instead, it was Lagutin who launched a sprint with less than 200m to go. Domont tried to respond but soon sat down and from there the outcome was never in doubt. Lagutin had time to celebrate his win, crossing the line 10 seconds ahead of Domont and 17 seconds ahead of Quemeneur.

 

While the escapees fought for the stage win, the battle for the GC was on. Ruben Fernandez led the group onto the steep part and immediately the group exploded. Unsurprisingly, Froome went into TT mode and he soon found himself in a small group that had was losing ground on his main rivals. Meanwhile, race leader Darwin Atapuma (BMC) exploded completely and drifted far behind. His team captain Samuel Sanchez was also losing ground and was dropped from the front group.

 

Fernandez continued to ride hard but when he swung off, the pace went down. Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) briefly set the pace but as no one took the initiative, Sergio Pardilla (Caja Rural). He got an immediate gap while the Froome group made it back to the rather big group of favourites.

 

Apparently everybody was scared of the steep climb and so Pardilla increased his advantage while Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Brambilla and Contador patrolled the front. It was Froome who decided to open the battle when he launched a strong attack and only Quintana and Contador could follow.

 

The trio of GC stars passed Pardilla and them Contador had to surrender to the fast pace. Froome was looking strong but suddenly Quintana countered, creating a small gap as he passed the flamme rouge.

 

Quintana went into TT mode and slowly increased his advantage while Froome was clearly starting to suffer. Meanwhile, Pardilla, Chaves and Valverde rejoined Contador and later König also made it back.

 

Quintana sprinted up the climb and continued to increase his advantage over Froome who started to fade. The chasers were approaching and while Quintana crossed the line, Contador saw an opportunity. The Spaniard sprinted past the Brit to cross the line 25 seconds behind Quintana while Pardilla, Froome and Valverde reached the finish 8 seconds later. The big loser was Chaves who arrived 57 seconds behind Quintana.

 

With the great ride, Quintana took the read jersey with a 19-second advantage over teammate Valverde, with Froome 8 seconds further adrift in third. Contador moves into sixth but is still 1.39 behind. He faces another tough test tomorrow when the riders face the second consecutive summit finish. After a flat start and an early category 2 climb, a long descent leads to the difficult finale. Here the riders will tackle three category3  climb in quick succession before the end the race by going up the famous Alto del Naranco which averages 6.1% over 5.7km and so will be the scene of another big battle.

 

A brutal climb

After three days in survival mode, the GC riders were ready for their next battle on stage 8 which had one of the hardest summit finishes of the entire race. The 181.5km brought the peloton from Villalpando to the top of La Camperona and could be split into two parts. The first 173km were completely flat but it all came to a very dramatic conclusion on the final climb. It averaged 7.4km over 8.5km but the numbers were deceptive. The first 5km were easy but the gradient barely dropped below the 20% mark for the final 3km.

 

All 186 riders, including a bruised Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), were there when the peloton rolled out on another sunny day in Spain. As expected, there were lots of attacks right from the start and especially Astana were very active. However, no one had escaped after 8km of racing.

 

11 riders get clear

Nevertheless, the break was established surprisingly quickly as 11 riders got clear  just one kilometer later. At the 11km mark, Gatis Smukulis (Astana), Zico Waeytens (Giant - Alpecin), Axel Domont (AG2R - La Mondial), Sergey Lagutin and Jhonatan Restrepo (Katusha), Pieter Serry (Etixx - Quick Step), Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre - Merida), Loïc Chetout (Cofidis), Scott Thwaites (Bora-Argon18) and Perrig Quéméneur (Direct Energie) had a lead of 27 seconds, and as the composition of the group suited the bunch, they were allowed to ride away.

 

The gap went out to 3.27 after 17km of racing before BMC went to the front to control the pace. However, they were not chasing yet, and therefore the gap grew steadily. It was 5.14 at the 26km mark and had reached 6.20 sixteen kilometers later.

 

BMC in control

With a strong tailwind, the riders covered 45.8 kilometers during the first hour, but it did not mean that they were really racing. BMC were quite satisfied with the situation, and therefore the gap went out to 7 minutes after 56 kilometers of racing. They increased the pace slightly and stabilized the situation over the next few kilometers.

 

With 100km to go, the gap was 7.28 and it Silvan Dillier and Jempy Drucker riding on the front for BMC. They had no interest in catching the break and so the pair just let the gap grow as the peloton rolled along the flat roads under the blazing sun. While the big riders took the time for a natural break, the gap went out to 8.10 as they hit the final 75km.

 

The gap reaches more than 10 minutes

Tejay van Garderen took over from Drucker but that didn’t change the trend as the gap continued to grow steadily. With 65km to go, the gap approached the 9-minute mark.

 

As they entered the final 55km, the tension started to rise as the big teams gathered on the front, clearly nervous in the windy conditions. However, it was still Dillier and van Garderen riding on the front, allowing the gap to go out to more than 10 minutes.

 

The gap reached 10.30 and this seemed to be what BMC would allow. The gap stabilized at that mark and had even dropped to 10.10 as they hit the final 25km. As the fight for position intensified, the gap started to come down and it had been reduced to 9.30 ten kilometres from the bottom of the climb. Moments later, Waeytens made his attack and from there the exciting finale ensued.

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