Aqua Blue Sport’s Stefan Denifl won Stage 17 with a spectacular ride up the punishing slopes of los Machucos from the breakaway to take his first Grand Tour win.
Denifl had to hold off a rampaging Contador who had attacked the peloton on the climb and set off in pursuit of Denifl, but he was able to stay away in the final few km and win by 28″ ahead of Contador.
Chris Froome lost a significant portion of his race lead after struggling with the gradients on the climb, his GC rivals sensing weakness and attacking him to reduce their deficit going into the decisive stages of the race.
The Vuelta’s run of summit finishes continued today with the HC climb of the Alto de los Machucos the finishing point and occurring immediately after the descent of the Cat1 Puerto de Alisas, resulting in a punishing day in the saddle for all the riders and an ideal place for a GC showdown for Froome to defend the large lead he added to in the Stage 15 time trial.
The day began with a flurry of attacks but it didn’t settle down until Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue), Magnus Cort (Orica-Scott) and Dani Moreno (Movistar) went clear after 7km of racing, when the pace in the peloton eased in anticipation of another big day for the GC riders. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step) and Davide Villella (Cannondale-Drapac) were late to the party but managed to bridge across to the break to make it six riders at the head of the race, swelling their lead to more than 6′ on the peloton after the first 30km.
This lead swelled to almost 10′ after 70km with Team Sky at the front of the peloton and only began to come down when Astana joined in the chasing effort with 110km to go just as the road was beginning to go up on the early slopes of the Cat2 Portillo de Lunada. It wasn’t long before the break’s lead was drastically reduced and as the climb began proper their lead was only 5’40” as the break worked well together, Villella taking full points atop the climb to defend his mountains jersey.
On the descent Nibali tried multiple times to attack the peloton and get a gap on Froome was but always shut down, leading to his Bahrain-Merida team being put on the front of the peloton in the valley before the climb of the Cat1 Puerto de Alisas. The breakaway soon began to show signs of fatigue and as the break began the climb their lead was down to 2’30” as Bahrain-Merida continued to keep a tight grip on the peloton.
For most of the climb the GC kept their powder dry but with 6km until the summit, a coordinated attack from Orica-Scott duo Adam Yates and GC hopeful Esteban Chaves saw them both go clear of the peloton, but Team Sky’s reaction was enough to keep them at a manageable distance. Chaves started the day 6’40” down on Froome so wasn’t overly a concern for the race leader with just over 20km to go.
Denifl led to breakaway over the climb and began the descent with the group containing Chaves in pursuit, having gained more riders to bolster their position in the chase.
The break continued to fracture on the early slopes of the los Machucos climb and it was soon clear the Denifl was the strongest of them, something he realised also as he attacked from the doomed breakaway and made his bid for the stage win.
With 6km to go Team Sky had brought back the Chaves group which prompted an attack from Lopez to improve his GC position and try to win a stage. Not long after came an attack from Contador who was quickly able to accelerate away from the peloton with Team Sky unresponsive. The race leader was clearly in some trouble which caused the other GC riders to smell blood and begin their attacks with Froome – for the first time in the race – unable to match them.
Contador quickly passed Lopez and hoovered up the remnants of the breakaway in pursuit of Denifl who was clinging on with a lead of 23″ with 1km of downhill to go for the Austrian leader on the road.
In the peloton the attacks from the GC had weakened Froome and Nibali, Zakarin, Kelderman and Woods all took advantage of the weakness and worked together to put as much time into the race leader as possible on the punishing gradients.
Denifl was able to stay away for the win but all eyes were on Froome and his GC chase, which ended up costing him 42″ to Nibali to almost wipe out the time he put into the Italian in the Stage 16 time trial.
Vuelta a Espana 2017 Stage 17: Villadiego>Los Machucos 180.5m
|Position||Name (Team – Nationality)||Time|
|1||Stefan Denifl (Aqua Blue Sport – Aut)||4:48:52″|
|2||Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo – Spa)||+28″|
|3||Miguel Lopez (Astana – Col)||+1’04”|
|4||Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida – Ita)||s.t.|
|5||Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin – Rus)||s.t.|
|6||Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe – Pol)||s.t.|
|7||Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac – Can)||+1’13”|
|8||Daniel Moreno (Movistar – Spa)||+1’17”|
|9||Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb – Ned)||+1’19”|
|10||David de la Cruz (Quick-Step – Spa)||+1’42”|
Vuelta a Espana 2017: General Classification
|Position||Name (Team – Nationality)||Time|
|1||Chris Froome (Team Sky – GBr)||67:44:03″|
|2||Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida – Ita)||+1’16″|
|3||Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb – Ned)||+2’13″|
|4||Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin – Rus)||+2’25”|
|5||Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo – Spa)||+3’34”|
|6||Miguel Lopez (Astana – Col)||+4’39”|
|7||Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac – Can)||+6’33″|
|8||Wout Poels (Team Sky – Ned)||+6’40″|
|9||Fabio Aru (Astana – Ita)||+6’45″|
|10||David de la Cruz (Quick-Step – Spa)||+10’10”|