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Vuelta a Espana 2017: López takes Stage 11 summit victory

Peter Stuart
30 Aug 2017

Chris Froome strengthens his grip on the red jersey as Astana's Miguel Ángel López wins stunning summit showdown

Miguel Ángel López of Team Astana took a stunning win atop the summit finish of Calar Alto, beating red jersey Chris Froome to 2nd place on Stage 11 of the Vuelta a Espana. Froome kept strong form on a final climb that fragmented the entire race and distanced Esteban Chavez of Team Orica-Scott from the red jersey.

Despite losing the stage to Lopez, Chris Froome extended his overall lead considerably, after a dramatic last few kilometres on the climb of the Calar Alto when an attack from Vincenzo Nibali looked sure to stick, but was eventually reeled in.

Froome finished over two minutes ahead of Chaves, and even took a vital 6-second bonus over Vincenzo Nibali in the sprint for the line, who moved into second.

Froome sits attop the general classification, with Nibali in second place overall, 1.19 behind. Chaves now sits in third, 2.33 behind Chris Froome. David de la Cruz of Team Quick-Step Floors is only three seconds behind Chaves, putting his place on the podium at risk.

How the stage unfolded

With both the giant Velefique and 2,120m Calar Alto on the itinerary for the day, it was clearly a day for a showdown between the Vuelta’s strongest climbers.

Despite that gruelling mountain finish, and torrential rains forecast for much of the stage, riders were out in droves in pursuit of a spot in the breakaway. 

An early attack from Julian Alaphilippe had hearts racing in the pack, but was brought pack quickly no doubt on account of his admirable climbing form.

In the following 20km numerous attacks were launched, but it was a break led by Romain Bardet that eventually seemed to gain traction.

The successful group eventual came together to contain 14 riders, including Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), Lennard Hofstede (Sunweb), Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac), Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Sander Armée (Lotto Soudal), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Igor Anton (Dimension Data), David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport) and Aldemar Reyes (Manzana Postobon).

Tensions were always going to be high on the major climbs, with Esteban Chaves sitting only 36 seconds behind Chris Froome. So despite some big names in the leading group, it seemed likely that no one would go on to win from the break. Sure enough, the gap only extended as far as 4.45 before the mild climb to Sorbas.

With an average speed of over 45kmh for the first 90km, the break entered the long undulating slopes to the beginning of the Velefique on tired legs. 

The Velefique

With 50km to go, the break’s lead was down to a slim 2 minutes 25 seconds, slashed down to under two minutes only 2km later, as the peloton’s pace began to ramp up.

Entering the climb proper, the break hovered around one minute ahead of the pack on the steep double-digit inclines.

Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) and Simon Yates (Team Orica-Scott) were the big names to disrupt the order by bridging up from the main group to the breakaway, which was gradually trimming down in number, but continued to be led by Bardet.

Team Sky maintained an authoritative presence at the front of the peloton, but let the break stay out over the top of the Velefique as the main pack wilted down gradually to a group of 20-25 riders, while only a handful of attacks from within made any impression.

From the group up ahead, Bardet attacked the other breakaway riders in the hope of reaching the summit first. Yates, now with the front group, responded and chased down Bardet, which made things tougher for Atapuma who was still hovered off the back, having not quite made the gap from the front group.

Atapuma eventually closed the gap, making for a very capable group alongside Bardet, Simon Yates, Visconti, and Armee. The climbing legs proved dangerous as the break stretched out 30 seconds more to 1.30 over the peloton at the top of the climb.

Calar Alto

The descent contained a few attacks in the leading group, but nothing decisive enough to break it up before the final climb.

A nervous descent took Armee back to the main group, as a wet road surface kept the journey downhill cautious.

The break arrived at the base of the climb over 2.30 ahead of the group, down to a select three of Yates, Bardet and Atapuma.

With 14km to go on the climb, Atapuma and Bardet accelerated on, with Yates unable to hold the pace. Atapuma and Bardet switched turns and quickly pulled out a one minute gap on Yates.

In the main group, drama unfolded as Vincenzo Nibali (Team Bahrain-Merida) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) made a pincer move on Team Sky, and opened up a small but significant gap. Consequently, the red jersey group trimmed down to a neat five, containing Moscon, Poels, Froome, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).

With Poels and Moscon working hard for the red jersey, the attack of Nibali and Contador was brought back, before Moscon lost grip on the front and left Froome with only one henchman in the group of nine.

Under the heat of the attack in the red jersey group,  Bardet and Atapuma were pulled back, to swell the front group to ten.

Esteban Chaves found himself in trouble as his group dropped back to more than 50 seconds behind Chris Froome's group, seriously denting his chances of taking hold of the red jersey.

At the bottom of the final ramp, Nibali made a savage attack which fragmented the front group on the steep 10% incline of the final kilometres.

The group came back together only briefly before Lopez counter-attacked to make a decisive final attack in the last kilometre and take the stage victory, undisturbed by a red jersey well aware of the Columbian's considerable deficit in the general classification.

Vuelta a Espana 2017 Stage 11: Lorca - Calar Alto 187.5km, result

1. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) Astana, 5:05:09
2. Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky, at 0:14
3. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Bahrain-Merida, at same time 
4. Wilco Kelderman (NED) Team Sunweb, at st
5. Romain Bardet (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale, at 0:31
6. Alberto Contador (ESP) Trek-Segafredo, at st
7. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) Katusha-Alpecin, at st
8. Mikel Nieve (ESP) Team Sky, at st
9. Darwin Atapuma (COL) UAE Team Emirates, at 1:02
10. David De La Cruz (ESP) Quick-Step Floors, at 1:14

Vuelta a Espana 2017: General Classification after Stage 11

1. Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky, 45:18:01
2. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Bahrain-Merida, at 1:19
3. Esteban Chaves (COL) Orica-Scott, at 2:33 
4. David De La Cruz (ESP) Quick-Step Floors, at 2:36
5. Wilco Kelderman (NED) Team Sunweb, at 2:27
6. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) Katusha Alpecin, at 2:38
7. Fabio Aru (ITA) Astana, at 2:57
8. Michael Woods (CAN) Cannondale-Drapac, at 3:01
9. Alberto Contador (ESP) Trek-Segafredo, at 3:55
10. Miguel Angel Lopez (COL) Astana, at 4:11

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