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Behind him, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux put in a huge ride at the front of the peloton to protect Odd Christian Eiking’s red jersey and deter attacks. Adam Yates dashed out of the GC group in the final few kilometers to grab 15 seconds back in the hunt for the maillot rojo, but other than that, the classification remained unchanged heading into Monday’s rest day.
Here’s what the stars said after another day in the mountains at the Vuelta a España:
Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux): GC leader, 6th on stage
Odd Christian Eiking rode the Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert train through Sunday’s stage as his team massed at the front through the long, hot day in the saddle. Eiking had the strength to finish the work of his teammates in the final, marking out closest threats Guillaume Martin and Primož Roglič after Yates’ late attack.
Eiking retained his 54 second GC lead and pulled on the red jersey for the sixth time after the stage. How long can he hang on through the Vuelta’s savage final week?
“I was relieved I was there in the end. It was a really hard day, really long, but I have to say my team did a really good race. Without them, I might not have the red jersey today. A huge thanks to them.
“I know all the riders in my team are very strong, it’s just we’ve never been in this situation before. I see now we should have been in this situation many times before!
“I looked at my two closest rivals, Guillaume Martin and Promoz Roglic, to not let them go in the final. It was a downhill finish, so once we passed the top, I knew I was pretty safe.”
Jan Hirt (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux domestique): 45th on stage, 52nd on GC
Jan Hirt has been a key worker in the Intermarché-Wanty team in the past week. Hirt, Louis Meintjes and Simone Petilli all worked relentlessly through Sunday’s stage and kept the race under control on the final climb as the GC contenders began to stir.
After starting the Vuelta as the minnow of the WorldTour with just a handful of victories all season, Intermarché-Wanty has now held the red jersey for eight days in total and ridden with the confidence of grand tour giants such as Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers.
— Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert (@IntermarcheWG) August 29, 2021
“For us it is something to keep the jersey going into the rest day, we are happy for the sponsor and for the team, and we are proud to keep it. We are motivated and we are doing our best.
“We raced really well, we used our big guys in the beginning, and we started to close on the climbs, we had a rider in the break, so we had a good tactic today. It gives a lot of motivation to have the red jersey and that gives us extra power.”
Rafał Majka (UAE Team Emirates): Stage winner, 18th on GC
Rafał Majka earned his first win in four seasons the hard way Sunday. The 31-year-old dropped escape companion Fabio Aru at 87km to go and time trialed over three mountain passes to score a victory that never looked in doubt.
Majka amassed three Tour de France stage wins, two KoM jerseys and a podium finish at the 2015 Vuelta early in his career before becoming superdomestique at Bora-Hansgrohe in 2017.
After working tirelessly for Tadej Pogačar when his teammate rode to Tour de France triumph last month, Majka reminded the world Sunday that he’s still every bit as dangerous when racing for himself as he is when working for others.
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) August 29, 2021
“Sometimes you try and it’s not easy to get into the break, but today I tried from the start to the end, and I waited for nobody. I wanted to win the stage today, especially to win for my father … ach, and for my two kids, I’m so happy.
“I had a bad start of the season and it’s not been easy for me and my family, especially when my father died and I wanted to do it today for him and my kids, and for my team.”
Matxín Joxean Fernández (Sport director, UAE Team Emirates)
🏁- 54 km | Etapa 15 – Stage 15
🧐A tutta, @majkaformal! El polaco lidera en solitario en el Puerto de Mijares
— La Vuelta (@lavuelta) August 29, 2021
“This is the type of cycling everyone likes to see. We cannot always do it, but when we can, it’s a victory that is much more elaborate and more suffering. All the wins are important, including Kristoff the other day (at the Deutschland Tour).
“Winning with a rider like Majka is important, because we know what a big champion he is, and for him to sacrifice everything for the Pogačar in the Tour, it’s important for his morale and for the whole team.”
Enric Mas (Movistar): 10th on stage, 4th on GC
Enric Mas marked out the final attacks to finish on the same time as all his main GC rivals Sunday. The young Spaniard still sits just 35 seconds back on Primož Roglič, and has teammate Miguel Ángel López less than one minute behind him on the classification.
Mas and his Movistar team are growing with confidence with every stage, so much so as to not feel threatened after Adam Yates’ late attack Sunday. Mas and López have the numbers and the terrain that suits them best heading into the Asturias mountains next week – it seems just a matter of time before they try something spectacular.
🇪🇸 #LaVuelta21: Majka (UAD) se impone en la 15ª etapa en El Barraco, por delante de Kruijswijk (TJV, 2º) y Hamilton (DSM, 3º).
— Movistar Team (@Movistar_Team) August 29, 2021
“The course wasn’t ideal for the battle that everyone hoped for. Beyond that, the balance from the weekend was pretty good. In terms of my sensations, I am feeling very good. Yates took back 15 seconds, but right now, we’re not worried. We will see in the last week if these differences count in the GC.
“Overall, we are feeling pretty good. We have to congratulate Intermarché-Wanty because they really did a great race, taking control of the race, and setting the tempo just as they wanted.”