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Fabio Aru (Astana) won stage 11 of the Vuelta a España, riding away from a select group of GC favorites to win on Wednesday’s summit finish.
The 24-year-old Italian found his climbing legs atop the Alto de San Miguel de Aralar, attacking with one kilometer left.
GC favorites, like Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Chris Froome (Sky) fought to bring him back on the final pitch, but Aru danced to victory, finishing six seconds ahead of Valverde who sprinted to second place.
“For me it’s incredible,” said Aru. “I’m hugely happy. I didn’t think it was possible, but everything went well today. … Really my main target was to go for a stage. I’ll just take it day by day from now on.”
The overall standings remain mostly unchanged, with Contador leading Valverde — now by just 20 seconds, thanks to the Movistar rider’s sprint to the line today. Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) slid to 1:08 behind in third.
The most notable change in GC was the loss of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who withdrew early on stage 11 after his second crash in as many days.
Quintana crashes out early
Twenty kilometers into the 153.4km stage, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) saw his Vuelta go from bad to worse.
After crashing in Tuesday’s time trial, losing the red leader’s jersey and heaps of time to his GC rivals, the Colombian crashed again in stage 11.
“Nairo’s crash happened just to my side,” said Valverde. “He was riding just behind me. We were riding around 40th position in the bunch: Imanol [Erviti], Nairo, and myself. Some riders crashed in front of us — while I was able to watch them come to my side and avoid them, he just couldn’t and fell. I want to send him all my support from here, and also all my teammates’ [support]. Things went bad for him yesterday with his crash, and many times, when such things happen, there’s almost no way to turn things around.”
Quintana was seen grimacing in pain on the grassy shoulder of a road early in the day, holding his right shoulder. After a lengthy examination by team staff and doctors, the decision was made. Quintana’s Vuelta was over. Later, examination revealed that he’d fractured his scapula. He will undergo surgery Thursday.
“It’s a shame about Nairo,” said Contador. “It’s been a crazy year, with crashes among the favorites at the Giro, Tour, and Vuelta, just like me at the Tour. That’s sport, but you can only take advantage of it when you’re good”
Back at the front, the racing was fast and furious, with numerous large breakaways trying to ride free.
Eventually, a little before the stage’s halfway point, a group of four succeeded in escaping. The break included: Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida), Johan Le Bon (FDJ.fr), Pim Ligthart (Lotto-Belisol), and Vasil Kiryienka (Sky). Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural) soon joined the breakaway.
With Katusha pulling the peloton along to maintain the gap, the break came apart with 50 kilometers to go.
Kiryenka attacked the break, leaving Favilli, Bilbao, and Le Bon adrift.
Le Bon soon left the chase. Favilli and Bilbao were left to pursue the leader, who was one minute up the road with 40 kilometers left. The duo didn’t last long, and soon, only Kiryenka was off the front.
The Sky rider made it over the category 3 ascent of Puerto de Lizarraga alone. Yet with 10 kilometers remaining, his lead had fallen to 40 seconds.
With 8.9km left, Kiryenka was caught by the peloton, which was charging hard into the final category 1 climb.
Category 1 showdown
Sky drove the pace hard early on the ascent, with Philip Deignan stringing out the field, preventing any attacks.
However, Sky’s leader, Froome, was in trouble, dangling off the tail of the group with 6.5km left, bowing his head in pain.
With six kilometers left, Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) attacked. He was soon joined by Belkin’s Robert Gesink. The duo got a gap, but were not out of sight. Behind, Movistar kept the pace.
On a 10 percent ramp with 5.3km left, Barguil was dropped by Gesink.
Gesink’s lead was nine seconds with five kilometers left. Then, a kilometer later, it was 18 seconds.
“I was feeling good, and I wanted to give it a go by myself at 5km to go,” said the Belkin rider. “Maybe in the end, it was a bit too early. If you don’t try, you never win. If I feel good, I will try again in the coming days.”
The attacks started to fly in the chase group. First Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) went, then Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) countered. Contador marked Martin, but then the Irishman attacked again.
At the back, Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) was unable to follow the accelerations, and was dropped. Froome continued to yo-yo off the back, but stayed with the GC group.
Martin chased alone, 15 seconds behind Gesink.
Defying expectations, Froome went to the front on the steep 14 percent grade, accelerating defiantly. Contador responded, tightening the screws even more.
Then Valverde upped the pace, and Martin was soon caught.
Aru went to the front, and the group swelled to nine riders as they caught Gesink.
Then, Navarro picked up the pace, and Aru countered at the one kilometer to go mark. The young Italian soon had a decisive eight-second gap.
Contador went to the front in the final few hundred meters, leading out the sprint to keep the time gap as small as possible. Valverde jumped around the race leader for second place on the stage, with Contador finishing third. Rodriguez was fourth, and Froome rode a gutsy race to finish fifth.
“Aralar was a tough climb; partly because of the rough roads,” Valverde said, “but especially because the pace from the foot of the ascent was really high. Aru went for the win — he really deserved it. He did a great climb. I finished second, with another bonus … finishing a mountain stage with seconds won on [Contador] rather than lost is something to be happy about.
“Everything is very equal,” said Contador. “I was careful about the attacks and I dedicated myself to watching the riders of the GC. … It was a bit of a strange last climb. It wasn’t steady climb to gain a rhythm; it was more of a climb for people with a bit of a spark.”
On Thursday, the Vuelta tackles a 166.4km, eight-lap circuit race that starts and finishes in Logroño.