LES PRAERES, Spain (VN) — Nairo Quintana went too soon and Alejandro Valverde (both Movistar) left it too late. Movistar got its wires crossed Saturday and opened the door for Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) to recapture the Vuelta a España’s race leader’s jersey.
The Spanish super-team was poised to take control of the Vuelta on the short but steep finale to Les Praeres in stage 14. Instead of winning the stage and claiming the jersey, Movistar was left wondering what happened.
“Today I risked a ‘bullet’ with these final attacks,” Quintana said. “Sometimes you hit the bull’s eye, sometimes you’re shooting in the air.”
Quintana surged clear midway up the short but very steep 4km climb, drawing out Miguel Angel López (Astana). His fellow Colombian didn’t help, allowing Yates and others to regain contact. Yates bolted clear on the final steep ramp and held off a chasing López and Valverde, who admitted he left it too late on the final false flat to the line.
“It’s too bad I didn’t know the climb. I thought it was steeper at the end,” Valverde said. “I waited too long. When I wanted to attack, it was already too late. I went up front to see if Nairo could come across, but it was a complicated climb for him. He did what he could.”
Instead of taking control of the Vuelta in what was the second of three straight mountaintop finales in northern Spain, Movistar let the race slip away to the very dangerous Yates who made the right calculation when to attack.
“I didn’t know the climb so I was conservative and decided to wait to make the right moment to attack,” Yates said. “I just made my own race. Movistar had the numbers which made me a little nervous, but I made my own race and I chose my moment to attack.”
The Vuelta is still a question of seconds, but Movistar finds itself on the wrong side of the equation. With time bonuses, Yates takes a 20-second lead to Valverde. Quintana slotted into third at 25 seconds back.
Movistar has a chance to rewrite the script in Sunday’s epic finale to Lagos de Covadonga, one of the emblematic summit finishes in Vuelta history.
Sunday’s 178km four-climb stage across Asturias ends atop the long, grinding Lagos de Covadonga summit. At 11.7km with an average grade of 7.2 percent, with ramps as steep as 20 percent, Covadonga will be the longest and most difficult climb of this Vuelta.
Movistar will be expecting to get back into the game in a stage profile that, at least on paper, is ideal for the Spanish team.
“Tomorrow will be very decisive because it’s a hard climb and it’s the third climbing day in a row, so a lot could happen,” Valverde said. “I’m feeling good. The GC is still very close, and that’s good because it’s more emotion for the race.”
Quintana won at Covadonga in 2016 en route to capturing the overall title when he won ahead of Robert Gesink and Chris Froome.
“It’s a climb that gives me good memories,” Quintana said. “It’s a very important stage for the overall in the Vuelta. Today I tried to attack and I tried to make the race. It didn’t go quite as well as I wanted but tomorrow I will try again and it’s another good opportunity for me.”
With Monday’s rest day and Tuesday’s 32km individual time trial up next, Movistar cannot let another opportunity slip through its fingers.