Fränk Schleck takes his first career Vuelta stage win as the strongest rider from the break, while Rodríguez rides into the GC lead

With the red jersey hopefuls squarely focused on each other on the final summit finish of the 2015 Vuelta a España, Fränk Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) took the stage 16 victory as the strongest rider out of the early breakaway move. Eight minutes and 51 seconds later, Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) was the first of the GC contenders to cross the line, a mere two seconds ahead of race leader Fabio Aru (Astana) — but the gap was enough to put Rodríguez into the red jersey by just one second.

The 185km stage from Luarca to Ermita de Alba involved seven categorized climbs, including a special-category climb to close out the stage. A 10-rider breakaway formed inside the first 20km, consisting of Schleck, Rodolfo Torres (Colombia), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Carlos Verona (Etixx-Quick-Step), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin), Larry Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), George Bennett (Lotto NL-Jumbo) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida). With no GC threats in the move, the advantage of the breakaway group quickly grew out over 10 minutes as the peloton drove a more relaxed tempo through the first half of the stage, with the gap ultimately reaching over 21 minutes at one point.

Fraile, already leading the mountains classification, took the maximum KOM points over the first five climbs before Torres and Schleck left the rest of the group behind on the penultimate ascent. Schleck tried to drop Torres on the descent to the foot of the final climb, but Torres held his wheel until mid-way up the special-category Alto Ermita de Alba, when the 35-year-old from Luxembourg left the Colombian behind and rode on solo to victory. Torres finished 1:10 behind Schleck, with Moser taking third on the stage 38 seconds later.

Top 10, stage 16

 

Top 10, GC


Schleck’s stage victory was his first win outside the Luxembourg national championships since 2011.

“I have to be very happy with this victory,” said Schleck after the stage. “I was suffering the past few months with injuries, and I could not race the Tour. I had to give up on the GC here, and I was focused on winning this stage. It took a lot of character in the head to win today.

“The past 10 days of the Vuelta have been so fast. We’ve had some good teamwork and good team motivation. We have won three stages.”

The GC showdown was a battle of attrition, as the group of favorites was gradually whittled down on the steep gradients of the last few climbs. With the exception of a short-lived attempt by Mikel Nieve (Sky) on the penultimate climb, none of the riders inside the overall top 10 made an attack until the last kilometer of the stage, when Rodríguez finally went on the move on double-digit gradients. Aru initially looked to be in serious trouble, appearing to be barely holding on at the back of the group of favorites, but he worked his way through traffic and eventually finished just two seconds behind Rodríguez.

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), starting the day in fourth place overall, 1:25 behind Aru, hung with the main favorites until the final kilometer. He ultimately finished 27 seconds behind Rodríguez, putting him 1:51 behind in the general classification at the end of the day.

“It’s going to be very complicated to win,” said Rodríguez. “Dumoulin was looking good today, better than he was yesterday. We got back a little time, but he will have tomorrow to recover, and I think he will have a very good time trial. It was a very hard stage, and Tinkoff set a very hard pace, and then Astana, I think to try to gap Dumoulin, but it put everyone on their limits.

“It would be crazy to try to attack from far, so when I went with about 1km to go, I tried with what little spark I had in the legs. The breakaway got a lot of time, and no one was interested in making the chase. We would have liked to try to win the stage again, and take some bonuses, but we were not going to chase by ourselves. I will try to have the best time trial I can, but the differences between everyone for the podium are going to be close. I hope to be able to finish on the podium.”

Rodríguez and Aru will now hope to keep Dumoulin at bay in the stage 17 time trial Wednesday: Dumoulin won the bronze medal in the discipline at the 2014 world championships in Ponferrada, Spain.

First, though, the entire Vuelta peloton will enjoy a day off, as Tuesday is rest day.

 

Stage 16 results

 

General classification

 

Points Classification

 

Mountains classification

 

Teams classification