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Landa Soars Again; Aru Into Red; Tour Heroes Fall Away on Vuelta Queen Stage

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Jaime Reina, AFP/Getty

Mikel Landa of Astana continued his season of intrigue with another massive stage victory over the sport of cycling's hardest terrain, winning the Queen Stage of the Vuelta a Espana in Cortals d'Encamp, Andorra. The Basque climber ignited the attacks on the final climb from the remains of the breakaway, briefly with Lampre's Nelson Oliveira, and eventually soloed home to the win, while his teammate Fabio Aru attacked the favorites and took over the race lead from Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin as Tour de France combatants Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde all fell out of contention.

Landa was allowed in the day's break on the 11th stage, a historically-fearsome six-climb adventure around Andorra, and delivered his third stage victory of great distinction on the year, having previously won two major mountain stages of the Giro d'Italia in May. He began his final surge with two minutes in hand and matched the speed of almost everyone chasing him, save Aru, by finishing with those same two minutes, or more, in hand.

Among the favorites it was Landa's teammate Aru who attacked first and drew out Joquim Rodriguez and Daniel Moreno as Katusha tried to impose its authority on a race course that was actually designed by Purito himself. Valverde immediately went backwards, with teammate Nairo Quintana ahead of him, and though Quintana eventually moved up on his own as Valverde faltered, he eventually sagged backward and unable to respond to the opportunity. Movistar's hopes for glory blew up spectacularly today, as Quintana finished over four minutes back on the day. In the perpetual battle between the Tour/Vuelta double and the Giro/Vuelta double, the latter was the big winner today.

Aru eventually moved out alone to see if he could join his teammate Landa, but Landa was too far along as the road leveled off. Instead, Aru reeled in the remaining riders from the day's break and finished 1.23 back of his teammate, making it a 1-2 success for Astana. Sky's Ian Boswell also survived the early break for third on the stage, followed by the Katusha duo at just under two minutes.

Froome began the day getting tangled up in a crash and having to chase back to the main group, but by the Puerto de la Rabassa his Sky team were on the front doing their thing. However, once the serious climbing began on the Coll de la Gallina, Froome was out the back, showing the ill effects of a hard (if successful) season, or the earlier fall, or both. Speaking of crashes, Tinkoff's Sergio Paulinho was taken down by a motorbike in the descent, suffered a wound requiring stitches, and abandoned the race, touching off what promises to be a hot debate about rider safety.

The race for the overall lead began shaping up as Rodriguez and Valverde were among those escaping on the descent of the above-category Gallina, but in this case it was advantage Rodriguez, who had two helpers to Valverde's one. Quintana lurked in the next group half a minute back, with Aru, but the pace slowed as they began the penultimate, cat-2 climb of the Alto de la Comella, and by the start of the final climb they were all together. This included overnight leader Tom Dumoulin who hung in gamely on this impossibly tough stage, as well as Domenico Pozzovivo of AG2R and Louis Meintjes of MTN-Qhubeka.

Ultimately Dumoulin may prove to be the big winner on the day, with a 39km time trial remaining, by having survived within shouting distance of the leaders. Dumoulin continually fell back when attacks happened, but settled into his pace and regained his position -- no more so than on the final climb, when the favorites took off only for Dumoulin to regain his place among them, minus Aru and the Katusha duo.

Results:

1. ESPLANDA MEANA Mikel 23 ASTANA PRO TEAM 04h 34' 54''
2. ITAARU Fabio 21 ASTANA PRO TEAM 04h 36' 16'' + 01' 22''
3. USABOSWELL Ian 2 TEAM SKY 04h 36' 34'' + 01' 40''
4. ESPMORENO FERNANDEZ Daniel 186 TEAM KATUSHA 04h 36' 51'' + 01' 57''
5. ESPRODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin 181 TEAM KATUSHA 04h 36' 53'' + 01' 59''
6. POLMAJKA Rafal 201 TINKOFF - SAXO 04h 37' 04'' + 02' 10''
7. ESPNIEVE ITURRALDE Mikel 6 TEAM SKY 04h 37' 04'' + 02' 10''
8. COLCHAVES RUBIO Johan Esteban 141 ORICA GreenEDGE 04h 37' 53'' + 02' 59''
9. NEDDUMOULIN Tom 174 TEAM GIANT - ALPECIN 04h 37' 53'' + 02' 59''
10. ITAROSA Diego 25 ASTANA PRO TEAM 04h 37' 56'' + 03' 02''

GC:

1. ITAARU Fabio 21 ASTANA PRO TEAM 43h 12' 19''
2. ESPRODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joaquin 181 TEAM KATUSHA 43h 12' 46'' + 00' 27''
3. NEDDUMOULIN Tom 174 TEAM GIANT - ALPECIN 43h 12' 49'' + 00' 30''
4. POLMAJKA Rafal 201 TINKOFF - SAXO 43h 13' 47'' + 01' 28''
5. COLCHAVES RUBIO Johan Esteban 141 ORICA GreenEDGE 43h 13' 48'' + 01' 29''
6. ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro 121 MOVISTAR TEAM 43h 14' 11'' + 01' 52''
7. ESPMORENO FERNANDEZ Daniel 186 TEAM KATUSHA 43h 14' 13'' + 01' 54''
8. ESPNIEVE ITURRALDE Mikel 6 TEAM SKY 43h 14' 17'' + 01' 58''
9. COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander 125 MOVISTAR TEAM 43h 15' 26'' + 03' 07''
10. RSAMEINTJES Louis 133 MTN - QHUBEKA 43h 16' 34'' + 04' 15''