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PENISCOLA, Spain (VN) — Orica – BikeExchange came to the Vuelta a España targeting the final podium. With five days to go, that’s still possible, but the Australian-based team admits it won’t be fighting for the top step.
“We lost the Vuelta on Sunday,” said Orica sport director Neil Stephens about the race-breaking stage to Formigal. “We made a mistake to not be in the right position to fight to win. The podium is still possible, and we’ll race for that.”
Orica started Sunday’s stage third and fourth overall, but after missing the move with the attacking Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), the team ended the day with Esteban Chaves dramatically defending third, now 3:57 back, and Simon Yates fifth, at 5:07 back. In between is Contador, in fourth at 4:02 back.
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“The legs were tired from the Aubisque [Saturday], and we missed the big split,” Chaves said. “With the lead Quintana has, we won’t win this Vuelta, but to reach the podium would still be very important.”
The 26-year-old Chaves has been a revelation over the past year. When he started the 2015 Vuelta, he was an outsider for the top 10. That quickly changed when he won two stages and finished fifth. He backed that up with second at the Giro d’Italia and another stage win.
“The Vuelta last year revealed I could race grand tours. The Giro this year confirmed it,” Chaves said. “I am not crazy about going to the Tour de France. Of course, I want to race it someday, but right now, the Giro and Vuelta are better races for me to have a chance to win.”
Yates, too, has enjoyed his breakout moment during this Vuelta, winning a stage and attacking across the Pyrénées to move within podium range.
“There still are some good stages coming up,” Chaves said. “Maybe the time trial will handicap me, but a time trial at the end of three weeks is different. I hope to do as well as I did last year [in the Vuelta TT] or even better. We’ll fight to be on the podium.”
Two podiums in one season would be a major confirmation for Chaves. Next year? He’d gladly swap both of those for the top step.