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Monday, September 5, 2022

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Paris–Roubaix: The Inside Story

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Vuelta a España stage 15 reports

We posted the race organizer's report with the results.

Here's the report from stage winner Thymen Arensman's Team DSM:

The queen stage of the race lay ahead of the peloton this afternoon as they rolled out of Martos this afternoon, faced with roughly 4000 metres of climbing and an altitude finish at 2500 metres above sea level in Sierra Nevada. It was an aggressive start to the stage as attacks peppered the front of the peloton, with Joris Nieuwenhuis and Thymen Arensman both attentive and following any large groups.

Eventually after 30 kilometres a move of around 30 riders went clear, which Arensman had managed to infiltrate for the team. With the peloton fanning across the road their gap expanded and reached roughly six minutes at one point but a few other teams decided that it was growing too large and upped the pace, immediately shredding the gap down to four minutes.

As the climbs came and went, the pace went up and down but as the race hit the bottom of what was a 22 kilometre ascent to the line the gap stood at three minutes and 30 seconds, where Soler immediately went on the attack. Riding within himself, Arensman set tempo alongside the group of chasers and made it over the steeper slopes and onto the “easier” six and seven percent gradients – where he then set off in pursuit of Soler inside nine kilometres to go. Making the catch and going immediately past him, Arensman dug as deep as possible as he pushed on up the mountain and the altitude increased.

As the final kilometres ticked by, Arensman remained steady and held the gap to those behind him and as he passed under the flamme rouge it still remained at around one minute and 30 seconds. Giving everything to the line with one eye on moving up the GC classification, Arensman raised his arms aloft atop Sierra Nevada once across the finish – celebrating a brilliant win for himself and Team DSM.

Thymen Arensman wins stage 15. Sirotti photo

“It’s unbelievable to win here on the queen stage atop Sierra Nevada,” expressed a jubilant Arensman. “In the beginning it was really hard and we knew it would be tough on the smaller roads like yesterday. The team was really committed to be in the front. Joris did a really good job, he was constantly with me in the front and I was just following the moves. It was a really hard pace so the break went by force and I made it in, which was perfect as we wanted to be in if it was a bigger group as it was a good day to be in the break. Compared to yesterday I felt like I was suffering on the steeper parts but in the end it turned out the others were suffering even more. I know that I like long efforts so the finish climb really suited us. When I got the gap over the chasing group and then to Soler, Matt [Winston, Team DSM coach] was just shouting in the radio giving me encouragement and motivation and I just went all-in. To then gain time on the GC guys behind is amazing. I’m just really happy with the victory.”

Team DSM coach Matt Winston added: “It was nice to get the win today with Thymen. We said we wanted to find the right move where we could really press on and go for a nice victory and improve our GC result – and that’s exactly what we did today. We got into a really strong group. When the group is big enough and you can be in there, then that’s perfect and Thymen rode a really good race. When the rest of the break fell apart at the end, the time Thymen has spent with the team at altitude this year really paid off and he was able to solo to victory. It was a really, really good ride from Thymen. I’m happy with how the day has went and we have made a really nice step.”

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Here's the Vuelta report from GC leader Remco Evenepoel's Team Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl:

Remco Evenepoel defended himself superbly on the highest summit finish of the season, which featured at the end of stage 15 and took the riders at an altitude of 2512 meters, all the way to the top of the Sierra Nevada climb. Considered by many as being the hardest day of La Vuelta, stage 15 threw two hard climbs into the GC favourites way, but Remco didn’t flinch for a single moment despite the continuous pressure the other riders applied on him and kept the red jersey firmly on his shoulders.

Remco Evenepoel limiting his losses on the Sierra Nevada climb. Sirotti photo

The race got off to another crazy start on Sunday afternoon, and when a breakaway was finally established, Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl had two delegates in the 28-man group: Fausto Masnada and Louis Vervaeke. Behind them, things remained quiet until the first classified climb, Alto del Purche, where a sudden injection of pace at the front of the peloton thinned out the group while eating into the escapees’ four-minute advantage.

Evenepoel found himself isolated, but only for a brief moment, as on the descent he linked up with Masnada, who in the meantime had slowed down and dropped out from the bunch. A group of around 50-60 men arrived at the bottom of the 22.3km Sierra Nevada climb, where things exploded in the first 500 meters on the viciously steep 20% gradient.

Immediately, Remco took to the front of the select group that emerged, showing his strength and determination as the others just sat on. The Belgian did the work until 14 kilometers to go, when Louis Vervaeke – who had been in the breakaway – took over and dug deep for his teammate, allowing the red jersey to keep his strength for the final part of this mammoth climb.

The 22-year-old produced an enormous effort, and at the same time a huge display of panache, to keep things under control, and even when three of his rivals jumped away and gained time as they got closer to the top, he remained as cool as a cucumber and made sure the elastic wouldn’t be snapped decisively, demonstrating his capacity for performing under pressure. At the finish line, only 15 seconds separated Remco from his nearest rival, which means that he will enter the third week of the race with an advantage of more than a minute and a half over the next rider in the standings.

“This morning I felt the legs were better than on Saturday, so I remained calm and confident the entire time even as the others were pushing that furious pace at the bottom of the last ascent. It was the first time in my career that I finished at this altitude and I kept fighting and pushing when the others tried to make things difficult for me. Remaining calm and confident was important, and I can be content with how things went, as I didn’t lose too much time.”

“Now it will be important to recover for the final week of the race and keep a fresh mindset for the remaining stages. My advantage is still a good one, the team continues to do an extraordinary work – you could see that again today – and we keep the same morale and motivation”, said the first Belgian rider in 44 years to lead a Grand Tour for ten consecutive days.

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Here's the report from Primoz Roglic's Team Jumbo-Visma:

Primoz Roglic has caught up to classification leader Remco Evenepoel in the sixteenth stage of the Vuelta a España. Despite not having his best day on the Sierra Nevada, the Slovenian managed to gain fifteen seconds on the Belgian rider.

Rohan Dennis and Sam Oomen were initially part of a large group of escapees. The two dropped back to the peloton at the right moment and, together with Chris Harper and Robert Gesink, made the race hard. At the base of the hill, Roglic was launched by his teammates and the GC riders then engaged in a man-to-man fight.

Just below the top of the Sierra Nevada, Roglic managed to put Evenepoel behind. At more than two thousand meters altitude, the three-time Vuelta winner created a gap. "In the end, I got a little bit tired. I didn't have my best legs; unfortunately, I couldn't attack earlier. Nevertheless, I'm happy with the time gained on Remco. Tomorrow is a rest day and we are all looking forward to it. Today I was able to make another step towards my big goal, to wear the red leader's jersey in Madrid", a motivated Roglic said.

Primoz Roglic with Ben O'Connor on the Sierra Nevada climb. Sirotti photo

"We wanted to make the race hard", Chris Harper explained Team Jumbo-Visma's plan. "Primoz was eager to take this opportunity to once again win back time. He said he felt okay at the beginning of the day. We already expected that it wouldn't be easy to ride away on this climb. I'm glad he managed. We intended to send some riders off in the breakaway. They dropped back and on the climb's steep part, we decided to increase the pace. I don't think it was too early because we managed to drop a big group of strong riders. I think it gives Primoz the confidence that he will make up time again today. The third week will be exciting. We'll see if there are opportunities to catch up. Primoz is in good shape. He's also very motivated to make the most of it. It's going to be a great final week."

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And here's the report from Jai Hindley's Team Bora-hansgrohe:

Before the final rest day, today's queen stage took the riders through the Sierra Nevada. The grand finale took place at the Hoya de la Mora, the steep 20 km final climb at 2,500 meters above sea level. In the end, in summer temperatures and in the thin high-altitude air, the escapees battled for the day's victory.

Shortly after the start, Wilco Kelderman was unfortunately involved in a crash, but with the help of Jonas Koch and Matteo Fabbro, he was able to eventually rejoin the peloton. In the meantime, a large breakaway formed, which was joined a little later by Jai Hindley. In the last third of the race, the leading group attacked each other multiple times and on the final climb Jai managed to make it into the first chasing group.

The decisive attack came when Thymen Arensman broke away from this group and went on to take the stage. Jai finished the day in eighth place, 1:55 minutes behind the day's winner, moving up three places to 10th overall. The Australian is now the best-placed BORA-hansgrohe rider in the GC, while teammate Wilco Kelderman is now 14th. Tomorrow will see the final rest day before the Vuelta continues in western Andalusia.

Jai Hindley on the Sierra Nevada climb with Louis Meintjes. Sirotti photo

"Today there could have been two scenarios: a day for the breakaway, or a big battle for the general classification. I knew it was a good opportunity to try to make it into the breakaway, especially with the long mountaintop finish at high altitude. These types of climbs normally suit me quite well, when I have good shape. It was good to be up front and fight for the win and giving it a good crack. Unfortunately, I didn't have the legs that I'd have hoped for." - Jai Hindley

"Wilco crashed early on, after only 6 km, which was quite unlucky. Nevertheless, the race of course continued up front and Matteo and Jonas waited for him to pace him back. It took about 30 km to get him back to the peloton because there was a very high pace being set in the field. That took an incredible amount of energy and he unfortunately dropped out of the top ten in the GC. In the meantime, we also had Jai in the leading group and he put in a super performance. He fought very hard for a top result today and was rewarded for this with a top-10 finish overall."- Jens Zemke

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