An aggressive Chris Froome of Sky gave the top Spanish riders at the Vuelta a Espana something to think about tonight with an aggressive performance, wherein he took three seconds in intermediate bonuses and another 12 on the line, barely losing the race's 18th stage to Fabio Aru of Astana. Aru, winner of stage 11 in the Basque Country, jumped away from the favorites on the short, punchy climb of Monte Castrove in Galicia, Spain's northwest coastal area. Aru patiently waited for the race's final 3km before showing his ambition, recognizing an attack by Froome on his opponents as the ideal time to launch. He came up to and around Froome, then the two worked together to the final few hundred meters, and Aru easily took the stage sprint.
Froome had shown an early inclination to take back the three seconds that still separated him from second-placed Alejandro Valverde of Movistar, attacking on the stage's penultimate climb to steal back bonus seconds while Valverde sat back. With a time trial upcoming, perhaps Froome could have rested on his laurels against the watch and assumed he would make up plenty of time over the final 9km of the Vuelta. Instead, Froome chose to settle that score today, and his subsequent, final, stage-deciding attack followed a flurry of activity by the top GC men, most of which didn't seem to involve the Briton, until it did. Nobody had an answer when Froome went, except of course the patient Aru. Valverde and Contador each conceded 13 seconds to Aru and 12 to Froome, and Contador is now looking at a mere 1.19 padding for his overnight lead, with a mountain stage and the last-day 9.7km ITT left to perhaps settle the score.
Special props to Warren Barguil of Giant-Shimano, who looked for a while like he might control matters to the end and take a sprint win. He didn't react to Aru quickly enough, but at least he kept everyone on edge prior to the winning move.
|1.||ITAARU, Fabio||21||Astana Pro Team||3h 47' 17''|
|2.||GBRFROOME, Christopher||191||Team SKY||3h 47' 18''||+ 1''|
|3.||ESPVALVERDE, Alejandro||151||Movistar Team||3h 47' 30''||+ 13''|
|4.||ESPRODRIGUEZ, Joaquin||131||Team Katusha||3h 47' 30''||+ 13''|
|5.||ESPCONTADOR, Alberto||201||Tinkoff - Saxo||3h 47' 30''||+ 13''|
|6.||ESPSÁNCHEZ, Samuel||41||BMC Racing Team||3h 47' 34''||+ 17''|
|7.||ESPNAVARRO, Daniel||71||Cofidis Solutions Crédits||3h 47' 50''||+ 33''|
|8.||ESPMORENO, Daniel||137||Team Katusha||3h 48' 05''||+ 48''|
|9.||ITACARUSO, Damiano||65||Cannondale Pro Cycling||3h 48' 05''||+ 48''|
|10.||FRABARGUIL, Warren||111||Team Giant - Shimano||3h 48' 05''||+ 48''|
|1.||ESPCONTADOR, Alberto||201||Tinkoff - Saxo||71h 38' 37''|
|2.||GBRFROOME, Christopher||191||Team SKY||71h 39' 56''||+ 1' 19''|
|3.||ESPVALVERDE, Alejandro||151||Movistar Team||71h 40' 09''||+ 1' 32''|
|4.||ESPRODRIGUEZ, Joaquin||131||Team Katusha||71h 41' 06''||+ 2' 29''|
|5.||ITAARU, Fabio||21||Astana Pro Team||71h 41' 52''||+ 3' 15''|
|6.||IRLMARTIN, Daniel||102||Garmin Sharp||71h 45' 29''||+ 6' 52''|
|7.||ESPSÁNCHEZ, Samuel||41||BMC Racing Team||71h 45' 36''||+ 6' 59''|
|8.||FRABARGUIL, Warren||111||Team Giant - Shimano||71h 47' 49''||+ 9' 12''|
|9.||ESPNAVARRO, Daniel||71||Cofidis Solutions Crédits||71h 48' 21''||+ 9' 44''|
|10.||ITACARUSO, Damiano||65||Cannondale Pro Cycling||71h 48' 22''||+ 9' 45'|
Stage 19: Salvaterra do Miño - Cangas de Onis, 180km
Should be a sprint, possibly a reduced sprint, possibly a tremendously reduced sprint thanks to a successful breakaway. Right now, the only overall placement issue facing anyone who would worry about the break would be the prospects of Giant's John Degenkolb holding on to the points jersey. He currently leads Michael Matthews by a robust 56 points, but between them (and as close as 19 points) are the GC men, who will undoubtedly hoover up points on Saturday. So while Degenkolb won't have to worry about losing his lead tomorrow, he may worry a bit about needing to pad it. A small breakaway won't require him and his mates to chase, but a large one might. And here's the terrain they'd be chasing over:
Hm, a cat-2 climb that tops out 15km from the line? That could spell trouble. Degenkolb will likely hope that a small group is well away and everyone can soft-pedal the Alto Monte Faro, after which he can saunter up to the front and scoop up some points. But Valverde is the guy 19 points back -- a fair sprinter and a guy who can put Degs into difficulty on that last climb without burning too many matches. So there may be some intrigue happening after all.