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Jai Hindley lost almost one minute under the relentless pressure of red jersey Remco Evenepoel, and co-captains Sergio Higuita and Wilco Kelderman suffered harder in Saturday’s expansion of the GC gaps.
“The last climb was really brutal. On inclines like that, you either have the legs or you don’t,” Hindley said. “Unfortunately we all lost a bit of time there, but the race is far from over.”
Now in ninth and nearly three minutes back, the Giro d’Italia champ has Alp-size mountains to climb to keep his hope of a grand tour double alive.
An explosive summit finish Sunday and 31km time trial in the deep south of Spain on Tuesday could prove crucial in the race for red.
“There’s still a long way to go to Madrid, and hopefully we can recover from that,” Hindley said of Saturday’s stage.
‘Nothing is lost here yet’
Hindley and Bora-Hansgrohe captured the Giro’s maglia rosa with a hammering 90-second overturn of Richard Carapaz in the penultimate day of racing this May.
Team brass is optimistic for a similar upheaval on a parcours peppered with potential pot holes and towering summit finishes.
Higuita and Kelderman are close enough on GC to play tactical pawns in a potential multi-rider ploy.
“The stage today, it was very tough, with the five climbs before the final ascent. Our riders were up there, and at times it went well, but at other times it could have gone better, to be honest,” sport director Jens Zemke said.
“Nothing is lost here yet and we will continue to motivate the guys to further perform at their best.”
Bora-Hansgrohe also lost out in the hunt for the green jersey Saturday. Trek-Segafredo speedster Mads Pedersen made the day’s early break and earned the points to blow Sam Bennett off the top of the classification.
“It was a shame of course that we had to give up the green jersey, but it’s all still very close in that competition and we’ll certainly get more chances to take it back,” Zemke said.
For Bora-Hansgrohe, the Vuelta is still young. But it won’t stay that way forever.