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Niemiec wins as the bigs do battle

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Przemyslaw Niemiec took the first win in the Vuelta for Poland as he just barely hung on from the breakaway on the big Lagos de Covadonga stage. Behind we saw one of the most action packed GT stages of the year as Contador, with Rodriguez and Valverde on his wheel tried over and over to shake off a desperately fighting Chris Froome.

JAIME REINA/AFP/Getty Images

In what was undoubtedly the best Vuelta stage so far we saw a long fight all the way up the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga. Alberto Contador was the main aggressor among the big favorites but in the end he had to see his compatriots Valverde and Rodriguez sprint past him in the final hundred meters to grab bonuses and a few seconds on him. The mission to shake off Froome wasn't a huge success either as he crossed the line only seven seconds behind.

One could be fooled into thinking that it was an insignificant stage looking at the small gaps at the finishing line but the journey to get there was anything but. Already on the smaller climb 30 kms from the finish the pace was set to high by Movistar to prepare the ground for the finale. This caused the field to split to pieces and most unfortunate was Dan Martin who had some sort of crash that forced him and his team to timetrial to catch up to the Movi-led peloton by the start of the final climb.

What followed for the final 12 kilometers was basically a continuing series of attacks and regroupings. In the breakaway Cam Meyer attacked only to be joined and later dropped by Niemiec who went on to struggle alone against a rapidly approaching group of favorites. Back there there were two aggressors above the the others, Warren Barguil tried again and again to get away for a stage win to follow up his two from last year. Every time though he was caught as Contador attacked behind to try and once and for all drop a Froome who was loitering at the back of the small group, seemingly in trouble. Valverde and J-Rod had an answer every time but never contributed to the effort on the front leading to standstills that allowed Aru, Froome et.al. to rejoin over and over again. Ultimately it also allowed Niemiec to take the stage as he had just enough time to make the lack of cooperation to work in his favor.

While we didn't see a repeat of stage 14 where Froome took time on the competition in the end he did basically the same thing, managing his effort without bothering to respond to anything the Spaniards threw at him. With only seven seconds lost on Contador he is still in the game. In it are also J-Rod and Valverde who took a little bit of time on Contador but the big topic of discussion is why they didn't contribute to try and take more time on Froome? As it stands they both risk losing a podiumspot to the Sky captain should he improve over the last stages, especially with a short timetrial on the final day.

TOP 10 Stage 15

1. POLNIEMIEC, Przemyslaw 6 Lampre Merida 4h 11' 09''
2. ESPVALVERDE, Alejandro 151 Movistar Team 4h 11' 14'' + 5''
3. ESPRODRIGUEZ, Joaquin 131 Team Katusha 4h 11' 14'' + 5''
4. ESPCONTADOR, Alberto 201 Tinkoff - Saxo 4h 11' 19'' + 10''
5. ITAARU, Fabio 21 Astana Pro Team 4h 11' 26'' + 17''
6. GBRFROOME, Christopher 191 Team SKY 4h 11' 26'' + 17''
7. IRLMARTIN, Daniel 102 Garmin Sharp 4h 11' 37'' + 28''
8. FRABARGUIL, Warren 111 Team Giant - Shimano 4h 11' 53'' + 44''
9. COLURAN, Rigoberto 177 Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 4h 12' 09'' + 1' 00''
10. ITACARUSO, Giampaolo 132 Team Katusha 4h 12' 09'' + 1' 00''

TOP 10 Overall

POS. NAME TEAM TIME
1. ESPCONTADOR, Alberto 201 Tinkoff - Saxo 58h 31' 35''
2. ESPVALVERDE, Alejandro 151 Movistar Team 58h 32' 06'' + 31''
3. GBRFROOME, Christopher 191 Team SKY 58h 32' 55'' + 1' 20''
4. ESPRODRIGUEZ, Joaquin 131 Team Katusha 58h 32' 55'' + 1' 20''
5. ITAARU, Fabio 21 Astana Pro Team 58h 33' 57'' + 2' 22''
6. COLURAN, Rigoberto 177 Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 58h 34' 32'' + 2' 57''
7. IRLMARTIN, Daniel 102 Garmin Sharp 58h 36' 30'' + 4' 55''
8. ESPSÁNCHEZ, Samuel 41 BMC Racing Team 58h 36' 37'' + 5' 02''
9. NEDGESINK, Robert 34 Belkin Pro Cycling Team 58h 36' 46'' + 5' 11''
10. FRABARGUIL, Warren 111 Team Giant - Shimano 58h 38' 11'' + 6' 36''