Johan Esteban Chaves won his second stage of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana on Thursday, reclaiming the lead in the standings from Tom Dumoulin after Stage 6.
Chaves lost the top spot on Wednesday and entered Stage 6 chasing Dumoulin by just a single second. Thursday's short, steep finale provided him with a great opportunity to strike back, however, and Orica-GreenEdge launched their Colombian leader perfectly. Here are the results from Thursday's stage, as posted by the Inner Ring:
The updated standings:
Thursday's stage toward Cazorla had an odd profile, with the road weaving its way through the Spanish landscape until hitting two climbs in the finale. The final climb, Alto de Cazorla, featured a long approach and a sudden descent, before a very steep section of two kilometres that was always going to cause trouble in the peloton.
Facing such a peculiar stage, the riders took their time to feel things out. Instead of the usual early break, it took almost 80 kilometres for a breakaway group to develop, as five riders, including Niki Terpstra, were given a healthy lead.
Miguel Angel Rubiano, who suffered a mechanical issue at the very start of the stage, stole the show by trying to close the gap on his own, and the Colombian came agonisingly close before dropping back to the peloton. At least he managed to entertain the fans in the buildup toward the climb, per Cycling Direct, with very little else going on:
As soon as the peloton hit the Alto de Baeza, Movistar pushed the pace. Riding for Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, the Spanish side were determined to put the pressure on the other top contenders for the general classification.
As a result, the gap between the leaders and peloton dropped significantly, and with the Alto de Cazorla fast approaching, their lead had dropped to just over a minute. Stephen Cummings had seen enough, launching an attack that no one could counter.
Terpstra tried to bridge the gap, but with the first section of the climb being fairly mellow, Cummings was able to cover plenty of ground in a hurry. Per VeloViewer, the hardest part of the climb was still to come:
In the peloton, Astana and Team Sky pushed to catch up with the leaders, but the two teams soon lowered their pace, likely prioritising the battle for the general classification. Cannondale-Garmin took over, and with the American side working hard at the front of the group, the peloton started to get ripped apart.
Orica-GreenEdge took over and launched Chaves perfectly, and in no time whatsoever the Stage 2 winner had passed Cummings. Dumoulin countered with one kilometre to go, while the Movistar duo of Valverde and Quintana waited patiently.
Chaves started to struggle, the signal for the big guns to gauge each other's form. Nicolas Roche tested the strength of the Movistar duo for Chris Froome, but he didn't push though, allowing Chaves to catch his breath and win the stage, taking back the top spot in the standings in the process.
Daniel Martin finished second thanks to a late counter, while Dumoulin had to settle for third.
Global Cycling Network's Neal Rogers was impressed with Chaves' jump, going alone so early:
In the background, the favourites for the general classification decided against attacking, and the likes of Froome, Quintana, Valverde and Tejay van Garderen arrived at the finish line together.
Orica GreenEdge have enjoyed a phenomenal start to the 2015 Vuelta, and Thursday's win by Chaves has now given the Aussies back-to-back stage wins, with Caleb Ewan winning Wednesday's bunch sprint. Sporting director Neil Stephens weighed in on his team's start, speaking to Eurosport (via Cycling News' live blog of the stage):
It was a great success, we weren’t really expecting that.
We wanted to maintain the position that we had. Esteban, when he can, he tries to take advantage of whatever he can do and he took advantage of it today and he took the win today.
I don’t know what to expect from him next. I didn’t expect what he did today and he did it. So whatever he does is fantastic. It’s been a fantastic week for us, we’re over the moon. Let’s just try to enjoy today and then we’ll think about the three weeks after that.
While Chaves showed off his strong form and ability to power away from a group yet again, fans shouldn't start talking about the Colombian as a favourite for the overall classification just yet. He cracked hard after about a kilometre of climbing, and while he did well to find to find his breath again, that's an ill omen with the high mountains on the horizon.
Chaves is an explosive climber, but stamina remains a question mark. And in the high mountains, a lack of stamina will kill a rider's chances of winning the red jersey.
The specialists will relish Friday's stage toward Capileira, providing the peloton with a full day of climbing and descending before culminating in the first high-mountain finish. Alto de Capileira is a two-part climb, with the first section rising steadily before the steeper sections kick in.
This stage was tailor-made for riders looking to make an early break, but the favourites for the general classification will undoubtedly be eyeing the final climb to make a big statement.