Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Sky Hoping for Vuelta Rebound, But it May be Too Late

Missing the decisive breakaway in stage 15 may have been the nail in the coffin of Chris Froome's red jersey aspirations. Photo: Tim De Waele |
Team Sky heads into the Vuelta’s second rest day on the back foot following an embarrassing drubbing in Sunday’s Spanish-style shootout at the Vuelta a España.

Chris Froome lost 2:41 to race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in stage 15 to all but cede hopes of winning an elusive Vuelta crown. The surprise attack in the Pyrenees put Froome a whopping 3:37 back, where he remains after Monday’s stage for the sprinters.

“We’re still in the fight for the Vuelta podium,” said Sky sport director Dario Cioni. “We’re still second on GC, having won two stages.”

On Sunday, a humbled Froome tipped his hat to Quintana and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who joined forces early in the 118km stage to blow up the Vuelta.

“Credit to them. They rode a really smart race and they have gained a lot of time today on us,” Froome told ITV Sport. “It’s definitely made it a lot more hard now. A minute was manageable. Three minutes is going to be extremely tough.”

Where was Froome in what may have been the decisive moment of the 2016 Vuelta? Race radio reported Froome chasing down the first move, but he missed a second surge from Contador. With other riders jumping on, including Etixx teammate Davide de la Cruz, Cannondale – Drapac’s Davide Formolo and Moreno Moser, Fabio Felline (Trek – Segafredo), and Kenny Elissonde (FDJ), there were 14 riders in the quickly forming group. Key was the presence of two Tinkoffs and two Movistars with Contador and Quintana.

Both Sky and Orica – BikeExchange suggested a crash just as the Contador-Quintana alliance was forming on the road was a key factor.

“Esteban [Chaves] and Jens Keukeleire were very close to being part of the Contador attack,” said Orica sport director Neil Stephens. “But a crash happened right in front of them at the wrong moment. They got held up, and by the time they were around it, it was too late.”

Lotto – Soudal’s Tosh Van der Sande said he crashed out of the Contador group as the break was forming, and posted a picture on Twitter of his back and shoulder covered in gauze coving scrapes and gashes. It’s hard to say how much a crash might have impacted the chase, but the race was on, and it’s unlikely the attacking riders would have known of a crash behind them — and if they did, they certainly would not have stopped.

As the stage unfolded, only Salvatore Puccio and David Lopez were with Froome as the peloton fractured early under the blistering pace, and by the time the Tour winner hit the final climb, both were long gone. Sky seemed to be waving the white flag following Sunday’s uncharacteristic lack of attention.

“Sometimes in sport you have to take a punch in the face,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford told ITV Sport. “You turn around and say, ‘Right, OK, six days left of racing, we’re still in the same position as we were this morning,’ and we will keep on going.”

So is the Vuelta lost for Froome? Logic would say yes. Quintana was saying he wanted to have three minutes on Froome before going into the 37km time trial in stage 19 waiting in the Vuelta’s final weekend. With a gap of 3:37, the Colombian would need to lose more than five seconds per kilometer to Froome, something very unlikely at this late in the season. Even Froome in mid-July, peak Tour de France fitness could not take not that much time out of Quintana, who is steadily improving against the clock.

When asked before the start of Sunday’s stage how much time Quintana needed, Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué said two and a half minutes.

But there is more to this Vuelta than Friday’s decisive time trial. When the peloton returns to racing after the rest day, they’ll take on a steep first-category climb at the end of stage 17. Saturday’s penultimate stage is a rollercoaster until the “especial” summit at Alto de Aitana. Perhaps Froome can take back some time Wednesday, knock it out of the park Friday, and still have the Vuelta within his grasp Saturday.

Perhaps. Strange things happen in the Vuelta. It’s hard to imagine Movistar getting caught asleep at the wheel with less than a week to go in this Vuelta. Quintana is still haunted by his losses in stage 2 in the 2015 Tour. In fact, that’s been driving him all the way into this Vuelta. As the saying goes, the winner is crowned in Madrid.

Article Source: Velo News

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