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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, September 12, 2016

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Vuelta a España final team reports

Here's what winner Nairo Quintana's Movistar team had to say about the 2014 Vuelta:

Story of the Giro d'Italia volume 2

The 70th edition of the Vuelta a España ended on the highest possible note for the Movistar Team. Seven years after Alejandro Valverde worn the last 'jersey oro' in the race, Nairo Quintana claimed red following a perfect race, in all instances, by the Eusebio Unzué-managed squad.

Following a close call -2nd, by only 0"28- in Ourense's opening team time trial and a brief spell in the lad by an impressive Rubén Fernández in Ézaro, Nairo stroke twice almost consecutively, at La Camperona and the Lagos de Covadonga -the Blues' sole stage win in the race-, to which he subsequently added the big time gain at a huge stage 15 towards Formigal. Friday's 'scare' against a sensational Chris Froome in the Calpe ITT was happily forgotten a day later, thanks to yesterday's solidness by the whole group in the Aitana showdown.

Quintana joins a very restricted ciub of riders -17, after the Colombian took his win today- with podiums in all three Grand Tours, adding a second victory to the 2014 Giro that makes him become the only Colombian to have won more than one three-week stagerace. His success, the fourth in the Spanish grandtour for Unzué's squads -'Perico', 1989; Olano, 1998-, is also the 14th GT victory for a structure that today hits 850 wins since 1980, and takes over the lead in both the 2016 individual (Nairo) and team WorldTour rankings. The Blues also remain two wins short (34, vs. 36) to a new record in a single season -dated back to 1998-. They will still have a whole month after the end of this Vuelta to reach, or improve, that figure.

Nairo Quintana

Nairo Quintana

This Vuelta's exploits would have been impossible to carry out without a thirty-man group that includes sports directors (José Luis Arrieta and Chente García Acosta), different staff members and eight devoted, superb domestiques. Valverde, a torrent of experience and commitment, less than two minutes short to achieve top-ten finishes in all 2016 GTs; Dani Moreno, 8th overall, always consistent; Erviti and Sutherland, two sensational rouleurs; José Herrada, wonderful allrounder; Fernández and Castroviejo, crucial at key points of the race; and José Joaquín Rojas, whose awful crash yesterday prevented him from enjoying the last parade through Madrid with his team-mates. The whole squad kept the Spanish road race champion in their minds as they reached this marvelous success.

NAIRO QUINTANA'S OVERVIEW: “Yesterday, when I crossed the finish line in Aitana, I finally could feel pure joy and calmness. We had got through a big day, a difficult one, where we could have lost it all. It didn't happen - thanks to the big team that supported me. They helped me out from the very beginning, and all the way through these three weeks. Riders, sports directores, mechanics, carers... the whole group took care of me and remained there for everything I needed. They really deserve this win, they deserve to enjoy this.

"I came into this Vuelta with a grudge after not being able to really contest the win in the Tour - yet very calm. The training rides I went on prior to the race showed that my fitness level was good, the data was telling me I could aspire to get a good result, and the team offered me their confidence from the start of the race. It kicked off with a great team time trial, where we lost by barely a fraction of a second, and from the very first week, my team-mates always kept me at the front and fought every single day so I didn't lose terrain on stages that didn't favour me. That was one of the keys to me winning this Vuelta.

"At La Camperona, when I took those meters in front of my main rivals, I saw that I was really going strong - then I pledged to dig deep and really go for the GC win. I transferred that confidence to my team, I wanted to let them know I could fight for victory and I needed their support, which I always got. And after Covadonga, and the first leader's jersey, came Formigal, the place where we re-confirmed our condition and intentions. There, the huge job by my team-mates was most visible, fundamental to reach that time advantage that could let me enter the Calpe TT not so stressed and remain in red before Aitana.

"This Vuelta win means a whole lot to me. At the Tour, I reached the podium more out of class rather than legs. I didn't feel well in France, yet I found my best condition here. Also, it was a race with almost all all big GC names in the peloton present: a huge Chris Froome; Alberto Contador, who is one you must always keep an eye on; Chaves and Orica... Winning the race this way, and against them, makes it even more valuable."

Here's second-place Chris Froome's Team Sky's report:

Chris Froome wrapped up second place overall at the Vuelta a Espana after three weeks of hard racing. The Spanish Grand Tour culminated with a largely ceremonial run into Madrid, confirming the overall podium which saw Froome take the runner-up spot, one minute and 23 seconds behind victor Nairo Quintana (Movistar).

The two men went to battle across a gruelling parcours, with Froome taking two impressive stage wins along the way, with the stage 11 summit at Pena Cabarga, followed by an emphatic stage 19 time trial.

Chris Froome

Froome winning Vuelta stage 11

Team Sky also kicked off the race in the best-possible fashion, with victory in the opening team time trial. That win put both Pete Kennaugh and Michal Kwiatkowski into the prestigious red jersey for a day apiece. Leopold Konig sat as high as fourth in the GC battle before slipping back, and along with David Lopez, Kennaugh and Ian Boswell, supported Froome in the mountains. Michal Golas, Salvatore Puccio and Christian Knees got through a huge amount of work, as did Kwiatkowski before pain from saddle sores forced him out of the race.

After crossing the line and taking an incredible third runner-up spot at La Vuelta, Froome told "This has definitely been my most successful season to date. I think I can be happy with how things have gone. Of course I can't help but have wanted more out of this Vuelta - but at the same time it's been a great race. As a team we've fought hard.

"I think we learnt a lesson on stage 15 and we weren't prepared at the beginning of the stage. Inevitably that cost us the race - but I think we can still be happy with what we've achieved here. Second place overall, winning the team time trial, winning on Pena Cabarga was a special day for me, and also the time trial. So I think all in all I'm certainly going into the office season looking forward to spending some time with the family, and happy with how things have gone."

Froome also reserved special praise for the Spanish fans, and believes it is still possible to do the Tour de France/Vuelta double. "The fans are one of the reasons why I love coming to the Vuelta," he added. "The people make the race really special. The passion of the fans, and the way they cheer for all the riders, not just the Spanish riders, makes it really special and enjoyable. At the same time it's one of the hardest races on our calendar, but enjoyable at the same time.

"I definitely think (the double) is possible. I've finished second here and I won the Tour. So I came close, and I'll have to be back again in the future to try again. Maybe that could be my objective for next year."

After a four-man break featuring Kennaugh was hauled back with 5km to go, as expected the final stage came down to a bunch sprint on the streets of Madrid. Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica-BikeExchange) took his second win of the race, while Puccio mixed it up to take 10th over the stripe.

Johan Esteban Chaves' Orica-BikeExchange team sent me this:

The Vuelta a Espana concluded this evening with ORICA-BikeExchange walking away with an impressive four stage wins and third overall with Esteban Chaves.

Dane Magnus Cort put the icing on the cake for the Australian outfit by claiming the final stage sprint in Madrid, giving the 23-year-old his second stage victory in what was his debut Grand Tour.

Magnus Cort

Magnus Cort Nielsen winning Vuelta stage 21

Chaves’ bold, long-range attack on yesterday’s penultimate stage saw the 26-year-old return to third position overall after he lost it in the individual time trial to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) the day prior. It’s the second Grand Tour podium this season for Chaves and the Australian outfit, following his second place at the Giro d’Italia in May. Briton Simon Yates also finished sixth overall to give ORICA-BikeExchange two riders in the top ten.

“The objective this year for me and the team was to try to do two big tours strongly on the general classification and I think we did it,” Chaves said after the podium. “Also for the team, this is a really important one because we won four stages and had two riders in the top ten.”

When asked if he can take the final step on the podium, Chaves greeted the question with his famous optimism. “Why not, all is possible,” he said. “Things arrive when it’s time. This year it’s not my time, maybe next year, maybe in two years or maybe in three, you never know. The most important thing is that you keep trying, you keep believing and continue to work and it will happen.”

On speaking about the three weeks of racing, sport director Neil Stephens was full of praise for the entire nine-rider team. “Two riders in the top ten, a rider on the podium, four stage wins - all on varying terrain and with young riders. It just shows the promise and belief we have in this team,” Stephens said. “There were obviously the race winners in Movistar but we were one of the major players and we did a fantastic job.

“We took four stages but there were an additional two or three stages that we really animated the race and put everything on the line. These were critical days for the GC and the team executed every piece of the plan to perfection on these days.”

Cort’s success on stage 18 and tonight’s final stage was joined by victories from Yates (stage six) and Belgian Jens Keukeleire (stage 12) – each rider’s first taste of success at a Grand Tour. “This is unbelievable,” Cort said. “This is my first Grand Tour. It was incredible to get one stage but to get this one in Madrid too is amazing. Plus we had two other stage wins, a podium and two in the top ten overall. It’s been an amazing month with this group.”

How it happened: The peloton rolled out of Las Rozas bound for Madrid for the 21st and final day of the 2016 Vuelta a Espana. After the traditional celebration for overall winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the racing began in earnest as the bunch hit Madrid for the fast and technical circuit.

Four riders formed the breakaway of the day, but they never threatened a bunch sprint finale. After being positioned by teammate Keukeleire, Cort was too strong and took the final honours.

Here's BMC's Vuelta wrap-up:

11 September, 2016, Madrid (ESP): BMC Racing Team capped off the Vuelta a Espana by winning the team classification, after three weeks of racing which saw Darwin Atapuma in the red jersey for four days and Jempy Drucker claim his first Grand Tour stage win.

With the good also came the bad, and on stage 19 Samuel Sanchez crashed in the time trial while currently sitting seventh overall to end his race, following on from the abandon of Tejay van Garderen and Philippe Gilbert, who crashed in the first week.

Darwin Atapuma

Darwin Atapuma at the end of stage 20

As the race came to an end on the traditional circuit finish in Madrid, the team did an excellent job of positioning Drucker for the sprint. Drucker was in a perfect position in the final 500m, but was eventually boxed in 200m before the line, ending his chances for the win.

As BMC Racing Team's six finishing riders took to the podium for the team classification presentation with Sports Directors Valerio Piva and Max Sciandri, they reflected on their past three weeks of racing.

How would you sum up the Vuelta a Espana?

Valerio Piva, Sports Director: "It was a Vuelta a Espana with a very nice result but also bad luck. In the end we are very happy that we have this team classification. We have a victory and we we had a lot of nice days of racing. Now we look forward to the end of the season."

Max Sciandri, Sports Director: "It was fantastic. We came away with four days in the red jersey, best team and Jempy Drucker's stage win. Obviously we lost Samuel Sanchez who came here as a leader. For sure he could have done maybe even a top five finish, that would have been fantastic, but that's cycling. But I think at the end we did a good result."

Darwin Atapuma: "For me this Vuelta a Espana was a dream come true. To have the red jersey for four days was never something I imagined coming into the race. I would have liked to win a stage, and I was close on two stages, but I'm still really happy with my ride. It was a great experience to be on the podium with the team for the team classification."

Silvan Dillier: "For me the Vuelta a Espana was the first race after the track experience in Rio and it was good. I started ok and could build up my shape and this was the most important for me. As a team we won the team general classification so we could step on the podium here in Madrid and this is an awesome experience."

Jempy Drucker: "For me it was a good Vuelta a Espana with the stage win and I think as a team we did our best and we won team GC. In the final stage I was in a good position and the team did a very good job. I got a bit boxed in in the final 200m and touched Nielson's wheel so then I had to brake and my sprint was over, which is a pity because I felt really strong."

Ben Hermans: There were some positive sides and some negative sides for the team. We came for the GC with Samuel Sanchez but he crashed out in the final week so it was not so good. But we were active in every stage and I think that's why we also won the team GC and we were pretty close with three times second place."

Dylan Teuns: "It was my first Grand Tour and it was a totally new experience for me. In the first week I was not so good but I started to get better. I had a small crash but overall I'm really happy with my three weeks of racing and for sure I'm really happy to be on the podium for the team GC."

Danilo Wyss: "I think it was a good Vuelta a Espana for the team with the stage victory, three second places, team classification and a few days with the leader's jersey. That's a good Vuelta a Espana for BMC Racing Team. But there were also some hard times with the crash of Samuel Sanchez, Tejay van Garderen stopping and Philippe Gilbert was also in a crash so it was an up and down Vuelta but I think the overall summary is positive. For myself it's good with a second place on stage 13 and a lot of help for Jempy in the sprint. I'm happy with my race."

Tinkoff sent me this Vuelta report:

Stage 21 presented one final sprint opportunity at the Vuelta a España for the peloton as the race rolled into Madrid for its conclusion after a hard three weeks of racing. Eager to set up Daniele Bennati for one more shot at a stage win, the team delivered him for the sprint where he nearly took the win, only being overtaken by one in the dying metres.

After three gruelling weeks with searing temperatures, numerous uphill finishes, bad luck and crashes to negotiate, the race was finally ready to come to a conclusion. As with the other Grand Tours, the final stage is some what of a procession until the finishing circuits where the sprinters come to the fore, and today in Madrid followed the same format.

The riders were able to savour their achievements on the road towards Madrid before the pace soon picked up on the city centre streets where they tackled ten laps of a 5.8km circuit. A four rider break soon went clear but the stage was always destined to finish in a sprint and come the final lap the race was all back together as teams vied for the front to set up their sprinters.

The team had to overcome a late mechanical for Alberto but they brought him back in a good way before turning the focus to the sprint. After a big turn by Manuele Boaro in the final kilometres, it was over to Michael Gogl as the last rider to position Daniele for the sprint. Launching his effort quite early, Daniele dug deep but was passed in the dying metres, leaving him in second place.

For his efforts in lighting up the racing over the course of the Vuelta, Alberto was awarded with the award of most combative rider in what is the team’s final Grand Tour. Another race to remember.

Alberto Contador

Alberto Contador about to start Vuelta stage 2. Seems like a long time ago.

Alberto said after the hype had died down: "I enjoyed racing at the Vuelta but, obviously, I am not happy with the fourth place. This was not at all our goal at the start, our aim was to win. Yesterday, we lost the podium spot but this doesn't worry me. I could say I am satisfied overall with the way I raced and we lived a few days of incredible cycling that thrilled the crowds.

"I will now discuss with the team what the schedule is for the end of the season. We will see what we can achieve in terms of WorldTour Team ranking. This being the final year of Tinkoff it is important to close the curtain on a high note. Last but certainly not least, I would like to express my gratitude to the Spanish public. Their support made me hang on and not abandon.  In every village and town we went through it was amazing to hear them cheering me. I feel fortunate to be able to live that."

“It was the traditional procession today, and it nearly always finishes in a sprint here,” Sport Director Sean Yates added. “Benna got close and the team did a good job as always. The pace was high out there – Alberto had a bit of a mechanical but the guys brought him back well. Then Boaro and Gogl did a good job in the final, before Benna gave a good effort and came up short, but not for a lack of trying.

“If you look back, we went for it and the guys gave their maximum. Alberto had the massive set back with the crash and lost energy that he would never get back during the race. All in all, though it was a good tour. There was a good ambience and the guys helped each other as much as they could. Yesterday was disappointing and the result wasn’t as we wanted but as Alberto said, we didn’t come here to finish third, we came to win.”

Here's Lotto-Soudal's Vuelta review:

Today the 71st edition of the Vuelta a España finished in Madrid. Like every year, the riders had to ride several laps in the centre of the Spanish capital. After the race, Nairo Quintana celebrated his first overall win of the Vuelta on the Plaza de Cibeles. Christopher Froome and Esteban Chaves finished second and third on GC. Magnus Cort Nielsen sprinted to the last stage win.

Lotto Soudal went through a lot the last three weeks. In the first week GC rider Bart De Clercq crashed pretty hard. From that moment on he could forget about his goal of achieving a top ten place. Luckily Maxime Monfort, the second GC rider of the team, finished his Vuelta with a well-deserved sixteenth place in the classification, at 29’37” of Quintana. The Lotto Soudal riders may have been very active in the stages joining many breakaways, but they didn’t win a stage. Sports director Mario Aerts is pleased about their efforts, but he wanted better results. Also Maxime Monfort expected a little more of his three weeks in Spain.

Mario Aerts, sports director: “I cannot be happy with the results because in the past three weeks we only got one sixth place, three eighth places, one ninth place and one tenth place. However, I cannot blame my riders because they did a great effort and they were in the break many times. They did everything I asked them to do. Unfortunately the difficult courses, steep climbs at the finish and chaotic sprints made it hard for them to win.”

“The sprint train for Tosh Van der Sande wasn’t the best one we have as a team. He only had Jelle Wallays, Gert Dockx and Adam Hansen to help him and that’s not enough. Also for Thomas De Gendt it was a difficult Vuelta. He already rode the Tour de France and then he was in top condition. Here, in the Vuelta, he was good, but not like at the Tour. That made it hard for him to go all the way.”

“We were always in the breakaway that lasted until the end except for one time. Maxime Monfort tried his best to join a breakaway but he didn’t succeed. He knew that he had to be in a long and lasting breakaway to get a better result in the general classification. Anyway, he also knew that a place in the top ten would have been off limits. He has given all that he had and he’s finished on the right place in the GC of this Vuelta a España.”

“For Bart De Clercq this was his chance to shine. He had the condition of a lifetime! When he crashed in the first week, we knew that his chances of a good GC were gone. Due to his injuries, he couldn’t sleep well and that has a negative effect on the condition of a cyclist. In the last week he was still able to get in a breakaway twice and I believe that he was getting better. Too bad that he crashed in the first week because I really think that he would have been close to the top ten.”

Bart De Clercq: “After my crash in the first week I was scared that my Vuelta was over. I had to do a lot of efforts to, first of all, stay in the peloton as long as possible and then manage to get to the finish line in time. I was counting down to the rest day but that was still four days away. Then I focussed on healing as fast as possible. I had abrasions all over my body but the flesh wound on my elbow was the worst. I convinced myself to keep going and I hoped that I would be better soon. Physically I felt better in the last week and maybe the Vuelta should have been one week longer for me.”

“I didn’t want to just ride around doing nothing and finishing with the last twenty riders every day. That’s not why I came to Spain. I wanted to do well and ride in the spotlights and I was able to do that several times. At the end of the Vuelta I also struggled with a cold. Because of that cold I couldn’t go full. However, I’m happy with the fact that I was in the break three times and that I could finish in the top ten of some stages. The crash was unfortunate because my condition has never been better and the cold might have cost me the win on Saturday. But I’m glad that I could turn the negative into the positive and still set some good results. Now I’m going to rest for a bit and let the last wounds heal.”

Maxime Monfort: “Finishing as sixteenth overall in the Vuelta is definitely not bad. The level of performance here was very high this year. Still, I can’t say that I’m fully content with my result. I thought I would be better. I knew that I had to be in the breakaway of the day to reach a higher place in the GC and I didn’t succeed. There were three stages in the second week where I definitely had to be in the break. In two of those stages I gave everything to get away, but both times my companions and I were reeled in. Of course, the riders that created a gap just after the attack I was in, did stay ahead… That’s bad luck, I guess.  The third important stage was the one to Aubisque. That day I wasn’t feeling one hundred per cent so I had no chance at all to join the breakaway. At the end of the Vuelta I still moved from the eighteenth place to the sixteenth place because Samuel Sanchez abandoned the race and Sergio Pardilla had a bad day in the second last stage. But that’s part of the race! Anyway, the sixteenth place on GC isn’t bad for sure, not with these great cyclists at the start.”

And finally, here's LottoNL-Jumbo's Vuelta final report:

Team LottoNL-Jumbo ends the 71st edition of the Vuelta a España with a victory of Robert Gesink in the queen stage and a tenth place of George Bennett in the overall standings. The last stage in Madrid was won by Magnus Cort Nielsen (Orica - Bike Exchange). George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo crossed the line as 29th. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the final standings holding off Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica - Bike Exchange).

Team LottoNL-Jumbo can look back on a successful Vuelta. After the setback in the first week where the team saw its captain Steven Kruijswijk literally disappear, the team had to push back the ambitions for a classification a shifted to stage victories.

"The crash of Steven Kruijswijk was a huge disappointment for us," said Sports Director Addy Engels. "We came with ambitions for the general classification at the Vuelta losing the leader of the team was hard. Also the loss of Enrico Battaglin, who like Steven fell in fifth stage, hurt the team a lot."

Sports Director Jan Boven adds. "After Steven’s loss we directly sat down with each other and re-defined the strategy. It took some time for the riders to get used to their new roles, but they have taken it quiet well and accomplished their tasks good. We as sports directors are very pleased with the results. If you win a stage and have a rider in the top ten in the standings and also rode offensive and attractive at the stages then you can be happy."

In the second and third week of the Vuelta LottoNL-Jumbo rode an offensive race with Robert Gesink. The new role of Gesink paid off with a couple of podium places and a stage victory.

“This is how I wanted to ride in the Tour but the season turned out differently," said Robert Gesink. "Maybe it's something to do in the future. The game to get into the decisive escape, choosing the right day and time to attack is difficult. I have learned a lot in this Vuelta and I know where I can improve on while on the attack. I'm happy with the performance here."

After the crash of Steven Kruijswijk the team management gave his domestic George Bennett the opportunity to have a shot at the general classification. "I never expected this. A top ten in a big Tour. I am very happy,” said an enthusiastic Bennett. "I was here to work for Steven. After Steven crashed out I started living for the GC per day. Robert Gesink took me by my arm. Also Tankink and Van Emden did. They have a lot of experience. Especially Robert shared his knowledge with me how to tackle a classification. Again, I’m over the moon."

The 71st edition of the Vuelta was hard. The many vertical metres (54.013m), the heat and arrivals uphill made this Vuelta one of the toughest in history.

But also the way of racing," Bram Tankink adds. “There was only one day there was no fighting from the start to get away. Thirty, sometimes forty kilometres long battles to be in the break. I did 16 grand tours but this one was physically quite possibly the hardest of all. We were smart and did tactically well with Robert and George. We used all the opportunities there were."

At a personal level were also boundaries pushed, as rookie Koen Bouwman told about the physical pain in the Vuelta. "I'm totally empty. Every day you step back on the bike and hope for a good day. I experienced one day that I was dropped and drove between the cars in the caravan. Other riders came to get water bottles and got back to the peloton. I had never experienced this before. But I managed to get to Madrid and I will benefit from that. I am glad I have finish a Grand Tour. Its in the legs now."

For Victor Campenaerts the Vuelta went as desired. The Belgian time trial champion played a crucial role in the team and did a lot of work for team leader Robert Gesink and also rode a good time trial in Calpe.

"The shape was good when I came to the Vuelta," said the Belgian. "We stood not long still after the loss of Steven. We had to adapt and turn the key. That’s sport. I had put my mind on the trial to Calpe. I finished fifth a good performance at the end of a Grand Tour."

For Martijn Keizer the Vuelta went differently than expected. “I was going as a domestic of Steven to the Vuelta," he said. "We were going to do the same as in the Giro with Steven. But after five days, that role falls away. If you then can not do what you want, you need to do something else. It is precisely this flexibility we have shown here with Robert and George. I myself was once in a break, all the other days I have sacrificed me for the team."

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