Matej Mohoric wins Vuelta stage seven after daring descent

Vuelta a Espana 2017

Stage 7

Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric soloed to the biggest win of his career with a hard-earned victory from the breakaway in Stage 7 of La Vuelta as Dutchman Jetse Bol put pressure on the race lead of Britain’s Chris Froome.

Bol, of the Colombian wildcard team Manzana Postobon, finished in seventh place in the undulating 207km stage from Lliria to Cuenta – rising to seventh place in the general classification after a streamlined peloton containing the red jersey rolled in almost nine minutes down.

The versatile UAE Team Emirates rider Mohoric, 22, proved the strongest of a 14-man break to finish 16 seconds clear of Poland’s Pawel Poljanski of Bora-Hansgrohe, who was forced to settle for a second successive runner-up spot after missing out to compatriot Tomasz Marczynski one day earlier.

Poljanski pipped Spaniard Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) in a three-man chasing group, with frustrated Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) shaking his head as he crossed the line behind for fourth place.

Italy’s Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) and Belgian Floris De Tier (LottoNL-Jumbo) came home 27 seconds in arrears, two seconds ahead of 27-year-old Bol, whose exploits were rewarded with a considerable rise of 25 places on GC.

The remnants of the break – which was blown apart on the final of three climbs inside the final 15km – came home in dribs and drabs before a Sky-led peloton guided the red jersey home alongside his big rivals, 8’38” down on the man of the day, Mohoric.

Froome retained his 11-second lead over Colombia’s Estaban Chaves (Team Sky) in the battle for red, with BMC duo Nicolas Roche and Tejay Van Garderen staying in the top five ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida).

Bol, on the offensive for consecutive days, moved within 46 seconds of the summit – six seconds behind Spaniard David de la Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) and three seconds to the better of the 2015 champion, the Italian national champion Fabio Aru (Astana).

Britain’s Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and Canada’s Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac) complete the top ten, but Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) slips to eleventh place following Bol’s meteoric rise up the standings.

Three third-category climbs, the first drops of rain to fall on the race, and some blustery crosswinds on an exposed plateau in east-central Spain, made things far from straight-forward.

The day’s 14-man break formed after 10km with the gap stretching to six minutes as De Gendt crested the summit of the first two climbs in pole position to move up the polka dot jersey standings – currently led by the Italian Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac).

Chris Froome retains his position in the red jersey after stage seven of La Vuelta.

Back in the peloton, Team Sky marshalled the tempo on a day that echelons formed on at least two occasions. During one windy moment, a touch of wheels brought down American national champion Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport) and the Eritrean Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) – with both riders forced to withdraw from the race.

As the break approached the walled town of Cuenta and the final climb, their advantage had stretched to nine minutes – putting Bol, who trailed Froome by 8’55” in the overnight GC, into the virtual red jersey.

De Gendt – a stage winner in both the Giro and Tour – made the first move from the break in a bid to lay the foundations for a win that would complete his Grand Tour grand slam.

Frenchman Alexis Gougeard (Ag2R-La Mondiale) and the rangy Italian De Marchi were also aggressive in the approach to the Alto del Castillo – but it was Mohoric who zipped clear to take the intermediate sprint and start the cobbled climb with a small gap over Gougeard.

The Frenchman sunk like a stone on the punchy 2km ascent into the walled town, with Rojas, De Gendt and Poljanski managing to reel in Mohoric’s just ahead of the summit.

But Mohoric caught his fellow leaders by surprise with a strong attack on the false flat going over the climb, before opening up a 15-second gap with his trademark frame-hugging downhill skills.

The chasers were unable to catch the 2012 Junior World Champion and Mohoric – who is set to join Bahrain Merida next season – was able to take it all in as he crossed the line for a maiden Grand Tour stage win – his first success since last year’s Tour of Hainan in China.

“It’s incredible. It’s been a long time since my last big win. I’ve always worked hard and done my best. It feels great to get a victory again,” said the out-going UAE Team Emirates rider.

“I was already in the breakaway the other day when (Alexey) Lutsenko won (in Stage 5). I was feeling really good then and managed to take a fourth place, so I knew my shape was pretty good.

“Today the team wanted me to go in the breakaway. I tried to save as much energy as possible and then I gave it all in the final. It was a good final for me because I’m pretty good in the descent. I knew I had a chance to win with that last descent.”

La Vuelta continues on Saturday with the 199.5km Stage 8 from Hellin to Xorret de Cati near the Costa Blanca, where a tough Cat.1 climb precedes a two-kilometres descent and a small rise to the line. Froome will have to be alert to keep his hopes of a Tour-Vuelta double alive.

Stage Seven Result (Lliria – Cuenca, 207 km)

1. Matej Mohoric (Slovenia / UAE Team Emirates) 4:43:35″

2. Pawel Poljanski (Poland / BORA-hansgrohe) +16″

3. Jose Joaquin Rojas (Spain / Movistar Team) ST

4. Thomas De Gendt (Belgium / Lotto-Soudal) ST

5. Alessandro De Marchi (Italy / BMC Racing Team) +27″

6. Floris De Tier (Belgium / LottoNL-Jumbo) ST

7. Jetse Bol (Netherlands / Manzana Postobon Team) +29″

8. Luis Angel Mate (Spain / Cofidis, Solutions Credits) +1:21″

9. Anthony Perez (France / Cofidis, Solutions Credits) +1:32″

10. Arnaud Courteille (France / FDJ)

General Classification (After Stage Seven)

1. Chris Froome (Britain / Team Sky) 27:46:51″

2. Esteban Chaves (Colombia / Orica-Scott) +11″

3. Nicolas Roche (Ireland / BMC Racing Team) +13″

4. Tejay van Garderen (U.S. / BMC Racing Team) +30″

5. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy / Bahrain-Merida) +36″

6. David De La Cruz (Spain / Quick-Step Floors) +40″

7. Jetse Bol (Netherlands / Manzana Postobon Team) +46″

8. Fabio Aru (Italy / Astana Pro Team) +49″

9. Adam Yates (Britain / Orica-Scott) +50″

10. Michael Woods (Canada / Cannondale-Drapac) +1:13″

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