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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

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Each day the world is born anew for him who takes it rightly. - James Russell Lowell

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Vuelta a España team reports

Since a Movistar rider is the GC leader, let's start with their news:

A huge display from a team of stars, old and young. The Movistar Team struck first at the short, intense climb of the Mirador de Ézaro, end of stage three of the Vuelta a España, by setting a young, promising rider from Murcia, Spain, in the lead with Rubén Fernández. Following a summer full of good results and perfectly-timed preparations for the end of the season, the man hailing from Churra was the strongest at the 1.8km climb from the village of Dumbría, from where he drove the pace almost entirely until the finish line, a job well rewarded with the red jersey.

As Geniez (FDJ) battled alone for a coveted stage win via the early break, the squad directed by Arrieta and Chente put all their rivals' hopes into jeopardy already through the first kilometer of the ascent, reducing the bunch to an eight-man group that included four of the Blues, soon down to three out a four-man attack: Rubén, Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Esteban Chaves (OBE). Following a short move from the two Colombians, quickly caught by 'Bala' and Fernández, the 25-year-old Spaniard flew through the last 200 meters for the second place in the stage and a GC lead he visibly celebrated through the finishing banner.

Valverde, 3rd behind his countryman and friend, is already second overall (+7") as Nairo Quintana, sixth over the line, now sits in fifth GC (+17"), only behind his two team-mates, Chaves and Froome (SKY). The Movistar Team will have to defend the red jersey tomorrow on another uphill finish -a longer, less steep one- in the Mirador Vixía de Herbeira (Cat-2) at San Andrés de Teixido, following another lumpy 163km from Betanzos.

Ruben Fernandez

Ruben Fernandez will start stage 4 in red

Rubén Fernández: "I couldn't expect this at all. I knew I was coming in good form to this Vuelta, as I had finished sixth overall in both Pologne and Burgos. Plus, my goal here was working for Nairo and Alejandro. However, I was told in the finale to ride by myself... and here we are, wearing red and the leader's jersey in my second Grand Tour. It hadn't really come through my mind to attack: I was just setting the pace in case Nairo could attack, I was trying to make things harder for the rest. At the end, they told e to ride on my own, and I could open that gap. I celebrated out of pure joy, because of the GC lead; by the earpiece I was told I would sit 1st overall after the stage... I couldn't be happier. My goal remains the same: we can't forget for a second about helping out our team leaders, which is the main objective, yet I'll surely defend this jersey with all I've got."

Alejandro Valverde: "We knew Rubén was in great form leading up to this race, and he proved it today. I'm so happy to see him taking over the lead. He's a young man, but we all know what he's made of. The work he did at the front to take us closer to Geniez was excellent; we couldn't have battled for the stage either if he hadn't worked, and that's why I feel he rode perfectly. He dropped all of our rivals but Chaves when we three went ahead, and later on, we could keep a steady pace to keep the gaps and avoid the late push by Froome taking us out of his wheel. Alberto lost a bit of time, but there's a lot to happen yet in this Vuelta. About me? Well, I didn't feel bad at all - let's hope I can keep it up through the next stages."

Nairo Quintana: "Well, everyone could see Rubén has come fresh to this Vuelta! His climb was phenomenal, he's a young boy full of talent. He was really strong today. When it comes to myself, I could feel the wear and tear of the Tour. Froome was a bit ahead, Alberto lost some ground... yet I feel like these gaps won't matter much at the end of the Vuelta. Let's keep going day-by-day; the legs are feeling all we went through in the Tour at the moment."

Giant-Alpecin sent me this unhappy news:

Warren Barguil (FRA) has unfortunately been forced to abandon the Vuelta a España on the third stage due to sinus problems. Barguil didn't get a chance to test himself on the climbs, stepping off the bike mid-way through the stage to Mirador de Ézaro, the first hill-top finish of the race.

Barguil came to Spain hoping to be competitive in racing for stage results in the tough mountain stages, however after the problems started yesterday they worsened during today's hot stage, forcing him to retire from the race.

Team physician Mannes Naeff (NED) gave further insight into the issues: "Warren is suffering from an upper respiratory tract infection. In the race he has difficulties with breathing and if that’s not quickly improving Grand Tour racing is over. Yesterday morning it started as he was tired and feeling not fit, which got worse yesterday evening. In the morning it didn’t improved so we decided to give it a final try, which didn’t succeed in the heat."

Warren Barguil

Warren Barguil at this year's Tour de France

Barguil told us: "It’s a big disappointment. To go for stage success in the Vuelta was my second big goal of the season and now due to bad luck I have to abandon so early. Yesterday morning it started with minor pain to my throat and nose, and yesterday after the stage and this morning it got worse. We decided to try and go for it, but it didn’t turn out to be the case."

Coach Luke Roberts (AUS) added: "It’s a big loss for the team. We are going for stage success here in Spain and in respect to that our approach won’t change too much. Obviously our chances are weakened without Warren, especially on the more difficult uphill stages. We still have a lot of riders motivated to try something in breakaway and a team to create as many sprint opportunities for Nikias [Arndt]."

The whole of the team wishes Barguil a speedy recovery and return to fitness.

Here's LottoNL-Jumbo's report:

Steven Kruijswijk lost two minutes and two seconds when the Vuelta a España’s third stage finished up the steep ramps of the Mirador de Ézaro. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s leader finished 53rd behind winner Alexandre Geniez (FDJ). Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) is the new overall leader.

“We’re fed up with this, but we still have 18 stages to go,” Sports Director Jan Boven said. “We didn’t start this Vuelta perfectly because Steven Kruijswijk got sick after the Olympic Games. The team time trial went surprisingly well when you’re looking at it from that point of view, but the heavy stages like today and tomorrow come a little bit too early for him. Steven wants to compete with the best, but after his preparation, it’s all about limiting the damage as little as possible.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, today. He shouldn’t have lost much fitness, anyway, because he has been able to complete preparation up through the Olympic Games. He just lost his top form after being sick. From now on, he has to make sure that he improves during this race.”

Kruijswijk was disappointed. “I started this Vuelta with ambitions, so you want to finish among the best riders on the first summit finish,” Kruijswijk said. “I wasn’t able to do that, today, clearly. I didn’t feel strong. The only reason I can give is my illness in the past weeks, which was the reason that I haven’t been able to train a lot. I slipped back a little bit and I have to make sure that I’m able to improve in this race to make the most of it. I’m confident about tomorrow in some way because I feel fit and healthy again. I’m not in my best shape, but I’m expecting to improve in the upcoming days.”

Here's Tinkoff's news:

With only two stages in the legs, the peloton was tested on its first uphill finish of La Vuelta a España on today’s third stage, with the brutally steep slopes of Mirador de Ézaro. As the gradients pushed will over the 20%, it was every rider for himsef as they just tried to stay upright. Tinkoff’s leader, Alberto Contador, eventually came over the line in ninth position, limiting his loses to those in front of him after another hot day out under the Spanish summer sun.

All eyes were on the final climb today, with two separate battles going on – one for the stage win from the remainder of the day’s breakaway, while the GC favourites laid it all out on the road behind. The attacks came as soon as the gradients kicked up, and Alberto set about riding his own pace to limit his loses as he continues to grow into the race, finishing 54” down on the stage winner, just 28” off the first of the GC contenders.

“It wasn’t a good day overall but as I said before, the Vuelta is far from over and the time differences still aren’t very big,” Alberto told us after the stage. “I am not satisfied, but I feel that my form will improve in the coming days.”

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador finishing Vuelta stage 3

The racing got off to a fast start, with riders keen to slip into the early escape, knowing there was a good chance of making it to the bottom of the final climb ahead of the peloton today. Seven riders eventually formed the move and enjoyed a healthy lead as the peloton stayed within a controllable distance, tackling two of the day’s climbs at a fast yet controlled pace. Tinkoff helped to set the pace behind, riding near the front of the peloton for most of the day while staying out of trouble and well-hydrated in the rising temperatures.

Just three riders were left out front as the race hit the base of the Mirador de Ézaro, a 1.8km ascent with an average gradient of nearly 14%, and ramps pushing 30%. By the line there was just one rider left from the break, with the first from the peloton just missing out on snatching the stage win. After losing contact on the steepest sections to the relentless pace, Alberto settled into a rhythm and limited his losses, still coming over the line for a top 10. With the result he climbs to 12th on GC, now sitting 1’31” off the red jersey.

Sport Director Steven De Jongh gave his thoughts on the day. “In the final Alberto didn’t have the power to follow but he really feels confident for this race and is motivated for the what's to come, so he’s not down after today. The rest of the guys rode well again today, and in the final we had Jesús [Hernández], [Ivan] Rovny, and [Yuri] Trofimov there until late on, so the team worked really well. We have to continue going step by step.

“Today it was crazy steep at the finish, but it was a hard day with the heat as well and a lot of people suffered – I saw lots of guys white with salt on the penultimate climb. Tomorrow is a shorter day but will also be quite hard, but not as bad as today.”

Stage 4 takes the riders up towards the northern coast of Spain, for another uphill finish atop the second category Alto Mirador Vixía de Herbeira, an 11.2km climb with an average gradient of 4.8%. Another GC test, but over a longer climb than today’s wall of a finish.

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