Rafal Majka won Stage 14 of the Vuelta on Saturday, whilst Chris Froome maintained his lead in the overall competition. Majka joined a strong break and was the only one to hold on. At the foot of the final climb he had just 90 seconds on the peloton, but he was able to cling on for an heroic victory. Behind him Miguel Angel Lopez picked up second and Vincenzo Nibali third. Froome and Ilnur Zakarin gobbled up the rest of the VDS points on offer.
In GC terms, there was very little to separate the biggest names, despite some hard attacks and plenty of suffering. Fabio Aru, David de la Cruz, Tejay van Garderen and Esteban Chaves were among those who lost various amounts of time, whilst Lopez’s attack in the closing stages confirmed him as one of the best climbers in the race and potentially makes him Astana’s leader for the final week. He looked strong, and Froome looked in control, with particularly strong support from Wout Poels.
Unlike the 2009 stage that finished on the same climb, this was run in warm and dry conditions. A few riders tried their chances early on, and the break that eventually went clear was strong enough, with Majka the biggest name, and Davide Villela there to pick up the points on the early climbs, which he duly did. However, plenty of teams helped Sky set pace in the peloton, and the gap was under two minutes over the top of the Alto Valdepenas 25km from home.
Even before the main climb of the Pandera began, a vicious set of kickers saw the peloton thinned significantly, with Enric Mas working hard on the front for team leader de la Cruz. By the time the first slopes of the finishing climb began, Majka and Villela had only Patrick Konrad, Bart de Clercq and Rui de Costa for company. Konrad’s ride in support of Majka was exceptional; the young Austrian buried himself and can delight in his contribution to the win.
For the next few kilometres as the gradients stayed in double digit percentages, Pello Bilbao set a tough pace with riders, including his teammate Aru, steadily dropping off the back of the Grupo del lider as Majka’s lead didn’t drop. At five kms to go, Sky took over from an understandably tiring Bilbao but were simply riding tempo, perhaps with half an eye towards tomorrow’s stage. A kilometre later, Romain Bardet launched an attack on the steepest of slopes and was followed by Richard Carapaz, and it was at that point that Chaves attacked back and finally lit the blue touchpaper.
Alberto Contador and Nibali followed and the gap to Majka plummeted, whilst Sky continued to push onwards. At 3km to go Majka led by a minute from Nibali, Contador and a tiring Chaves, with Wout Poels pushing an icy calm Froome forwards. Aru and Michael Woods were dropped at this point. Wilco Kelderman and Lopez attacked just before the descent in the final 2km and the latter was able to hold a few second’s gap on the rest of the elite, whilst the former moved up to third in the overall after finishing 6th.
Froome now leads the overall by 55 seconds, with Kelderman in third at 2 minutes 17 back. Villela leads Majka 49 to 28 in the climbing competition, whilst Trentin’s lead over Froome in the points competition is down to five points and may end tomorrow. Froome also leads the combination jersey, which Nibali will wear on his behalf tomorrow. The full classifications are available here.