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  5. 2017 Vuelta a España, stage 11

2017 Vuelta a España

STAGE 11: Lorca to Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto

This day finishes atop a 3,434-meter slope that could result in significant changes to the general classification. Potentially, the race’s overall winner will come out on top. The final mountain pass is a long one, but not excessively difficult, and it will require consistency in order to conquer Velefique and Calar Alto, two back-to-back category 1 climbs.

Stage 11: Lopez's maiden win; Froome and Nibali spar

Miguel Angel Lopez
Miguel Angel Lopez won his first career grand tour stage in stage 11 of the Vuelta. Photo: Tim De Waele | TDWsport.com

Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez soared to his first career grand tour stage win on a cold, rainy Wednesday at the Vuelta a España. Astana’s Lopez attacked race leader Chris Froome (Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) on the steep final ramp to Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto in stage 11. Froome and Nibali came home second and third.

“I’m very happy, the rain made the stage difficult, but the team worked very well,” said Lopez, 23, racing in just his second grand tour. “I was familiar with the climb, and I preferred to wait to attack a kilometer or a kilometer and a half from the finish.”

The tough summit finish, which came at the end of a 187.5km day, served to whittle down the list of GC contenders. Nibali moved up to second overall, 1:19 behind. Esteban Chaves lost time but now sits third, 2:33 down on Froome.

Stage 11, top 10

1. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL/AST), in 5h05:09.
2. Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY) à 0:14.
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH) 0:14.
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) 0:14.
5. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 0:31.
6. Alberto Contador (ESP/TRE) 0:31.
7. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 0:31.
8. Mikel Nieve (ESP/SKY) 0:31.
9. Darwin Atapuma (COL/EAU) 1:02.
10. David De la Cruz (ESP/QST) 1:14.

Top-10 overall

1. Christopher Froome (GBR/Sky), in 45h18:01.
2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH), at 1:19.
3. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 2:33.
4. David De la Cruz (ESP/QST) 2:36.
5. Wilco Kelderman (NED/SUN) 2:37.
6. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 2:38.
7. Fabio Aru (ITA/AST) 2:57.
8. Michael Woods (CAN/CAN) 3:01.
9. Alberto Contador (ESP/TRE) 3:55.
10. Miguel Ángel López (COL/AST) 4:11.

“It was a very selective day on the general classification,” Froome said. “I finished second — I couldn’t ask for much more than that.”

As rain lashed the peloton early in the day, four breakaway riders reached the day’s first categorized climb together. Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), and Sander Armee (Lotto-Soudal) tackled the 13.2km, 8.6 percent Alto de Velefique.

UAE Team Emirates’s Darwin Atapuma bridged up about 2km from the top, where the five escapees had about 90 seconds’ lead on the peloton.

The cold, wet conditions took a toll on the leaders as they descended to the stage’s final climb. First Armee was dropped on descent. Then, Atapuma and Visconti were also distanced on the fast downhill.

Only Atapuma was able to return to the leaders at the base of the finish climb. There, the three breakaway riders had a 2:30 advantage.

Yates was first to pop with a little under 14km remaining.

In the GC group behind, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nibali accelerated early. Sky rode a measured tempo to keep them in check with Mikel Nieve and Gianni Moscon on the front for Froome.

Thanks to that brisk pace, the GC group caught the two leaders with 7.5km to go.

Finally, after his teammate Franco Pellizotti had driven the group, Nibali launched an attack, just before 2km to go. He had a gap, and Froome looked like he was in trouble. But it seemed the Italian had attacked too soon.

Lopez bridged up to Nibali and Froome followed. Then, Astana’s 23-year-old climber accelerated again and rode clear.

“I think Lopez was the most impressive today with his attack to win the stage,” Froome added. “I was more focused on staying with Nibali seeing as Chaves was already dropped and Contador was on the limit.”

Sunweb’s Wilco Kelderman fought back to Froome and Nibali and finished fourth on the day, moving himself up to fifth overall.

A number of other GC favorites faded from the picture: Astana’s Fabio Aru, Chaves, as well as BMC’s Nicolas Roche and Tejay van Garderen lost time in stage 11.

At 161.4km, Thursday’s stage 12 may be slightly easier for the GC riders, although it does offer two categorized climbs midway through the race to Antequera.