Julian Alaphilippe climbs to Stage 8 glory at La Vuelta

Vuelta a Espana 2017

Stage 8

Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) took Stage 8 of La Vuelta but Team Sky’s Chris Froome remains in red and in control of the General Classification standings.

Alaphillippe delivered a third Quick-Step victory at this year’s Vuelta, winning from a large breakaway of 21. The Frenchman outsprinted Jan Polanc (UAE Team Emirates) and Rafal Majka(Bora-Hansgrohe) to take the stage.

Race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) finished alongside Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo) on the same time, gaining 17 seconds on a group behind containing Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) Fabio Aru (Astana) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott). Froome and ‘El Pistolero’ had quite the shootout on the slopes of the Xorret de Cati, with neither able to fully impose himself on the other, but their repeated attacks wreaked havoc among the other favourites.

The stage was defined by a 21-man breakaway and the sweltering Spanish sun. The break went away after around 50km into the stage, with fierce competition to join the escape from the outset. The advantage of the leaders stood at around five and a half minutes at its highest, with Team Sky left to marshal the chase. With the mercury soaring to 37C, it was an exhausting day for those tasked with closing the gap, especially given the reluctance of the other GC teams to work with Sky. Ian Stannard put in a big shift on the front for the British team, occasionally supported by Wout Poels and Gianni Moscon.

Despite there being only one team pursuing them, it was touch-and-go whether the break would reach the finish without being reeled in, especially with the steep Alto Xorret de Cati to contend with in the final 10km. They had two categorised climbs to warm their legs up with before that though, the Puerto de Biar and the Puerto de Onil, both classified as category 3. Laurens de Vreese (Astana) led Przemyslaw Niemiec (UAE Team Emirates) and Brendan Canty (Cannondale-Drapac) over the first of these, while the order was reversed on the second climb, with Niemiec, then Canty, then De Vreese taking 3, 2 and 1 points respectively.

It was on the lower slopes of the first category ascent that the 21 riders out front began to attack one another, with Majka’s team-mates, Emanuel Buchmann and Christoph Pfingsten, doing much of the work to ensure the move stayed away. While De Vreese had looked energetic all day, his attack under the 10km-to-go banner ended with him being shelled from the back of the break, after being reeled in by Buchmann. The young German rider showed his future leadership credentials with an indefatiguable and aggressive display.

Froome is looking to become only the third person to win the Tour-Vuellta double.

With Pfingsten and Buchmann’s energies expended it was down to Majka to try and out-climb Alaphillippe before the short, steep descent to the fnish line. The two were joined going over the summit by Polanc, who took second from a clearly dispirited Majka. Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data) placed fourth with Nelson Oliveira (Movistar) in fifth. Oliveira started the day 3″02′ down, but climbs to eleventh overall after his day’s exertions – he had been wearer of the virtual red jersey for much of the stage. Jetse Bol, who skyrocketed to seventh after Stage 7, dropped down to 18th after being distanced on the Xorret de Cati.

In the GC battle it was a day of minor adjustments rather than major disasters, with Tejay van Garderen slipping a place down to fifth. David De La Cruz dropping a place to seventh and Simon Yates losing three places to end up 14th. Nibali, despite losing time to Froome and Contador, leapfrogged van Garderen into fourth, while Aru took two spots to go sixth. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) enters the top ten, at the expense of Bol.

There were no changes in the leaders of the other classifications, although Majka opened his mountains account with ten points for summiting the Xorret de Cati first. The Pole has won the king of the mountains classification twice in the Tour de France and could well target it here at La Vuelta too, given his heavy time losses in the first week.

Speaking after the stage, Alaphillippe said:

“It’s incredible. I didn’t expect that I would win the stage today. For me, it was a little bit complicated, since two or three stages ago I felt not so good. But I think for everybody it’s the same. We did a good start with the team, from the beginning of the race we were always in the front, and today, I was thinking maybe tomorrow was a good final for me, but today a big group took the lead after 40 kilometres. I decided with Matteo Trentin, he put me in the front.”

The stage saw the abandonment of Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Jesper Hansen (Astana), while Warren Barguil did not start after he was sent home by his teamfor failing to obey orders to support Wilco Kelderman.

La Vuelta continues tomorrow with another fearsome finishing climb, this time the mighty Cumbres del Sol on the Costa Blanca.

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