The opening salvos on the stage involve a big break trying to go clear (including Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar, and Caja Rural’s Luis Leon Sanchez), some solo attacking (Matthias Krizek from Cannondale), a rash of punctures (MTN-Qhubeka’s Merhawi Kudus), and an unfortunate clatter of fallers (Ivan Santaromita from Orica-GreenEDGE).
Not for the first time this summer, Chris Froome also pays a close-inspection visit to the tarmac and leaves a little piece of himself behind. It’s becoming a bit of an alarming habit. This time it’s at the bottom of the Alto de Íllora, but he’s back in the field by the top, bandaged but looking … fine.
A group of about 16 guys then gets away, and out of that mayhem, shining and proud, only Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal and IAM’s Johann Tschopp are left standing. Soon, Ag2r’s Hubert Dupont and the Cannondale attacker Aleesandro De Marchi are up to them and that, ladies and gentlemen, is the break of the day.
Chris Froome (Sky) crashed, but all’s well
Into the second half of the stage, and the lead goes up over seven minutes, and the main field can’t seem to make up its mind about committing to the chase.
21 kilometers left, and it’s long, long, long stretches of flat, flat, flat road. Olive groves and desiccated roadsides.
De Marchi drapes his hands over the bars, like a tired old dog, dangling his paws off the front porch in the heat of the day. But the young Italian continues to just grind out the tempo. Still four minutes and change. Lampre and Trek are doing the chasing, but the foursome out front might just go the distance.
Hesjedal gets it wrong on a corner and tumbles out of contention; just three up front but that doesn’t last long.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was the strongman, until he fell
Ten kilometers to go, and De Marchi has ditched Tschopp, and Dupont; the field are a little over three minutes down. Hesjedal, as a Grand Tour winner, was still a theoretical danger even although he lost quite a bit of time over the last couple of stages. Once he fell, the field seemed to knock the chase on the head. Movistar noticeably “had a word” with Lampre, as if telling/suggesting/ordering the Italian team to cease and desist their efforts.
Just seven clicks now, and De Marchi is rocketing up the final slope towards the finish line in Alcaudete. It looks pretty much all over. It’s not steep, just a steady drag to the winner’s enclosure.
Hesjedal and Tschopp eventually pick up Tschopp, but with only two kilometers left, they’re approaching two minutes down on the charging Cannondale man De Marchi.
Trek’s Julien Arredondo rode on the front of the peloton for a long time, why?
The main field are having a day off, by the looks of it. There’s some Katusha representatives on the front of the main field alongside Movistar. Sky’s Vasil Kiriyenka is showing little mercy to his pedals though, creaking a big gear round and looking like something scary … jaw locked tight, jersey unzipped. Wouldn’t mess with him.
De Marchi is solo and coasting to the line, job done. The fans hammer the advertising boards, the officials in the follow car are out of the sunroof clapping and cheering, whipping the fans up a little more.
The Italian points to the sky, highlights the sponsor’s name on the jersey … and takes the biggest win of his career. Nicely done.
Hesjedal pulls Tschopp and Dupont to the line in a ‘what might have been’ moment, 1′ 32” down. Having done all the work, the other two let the Canadian take second, with his elbow showing the wear and tear of his crash.
The field emerges: Dan Martin, Phil Gilbert and … Chris Froome suddenly light it up in the final meters. Froome sprints, trying to get a split in the field. There’s a crash behind as Warren Barguil ends up on the deck. Froome looks back to see the damage.
Barguil ambles to the line, pushing his bike, looking a little crestfallen. Froome is happier; he’s managed to pull back three seconds on what should have been a routine and innocuous finish. It’s not a massive gain, but it just gets into his rivals’ minds …
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) held onto the Red Jersey
That’s it from us. Tomorrow should be a sprinters’ day, so stay tuned to Pez!
Vuelta a España Stage 7 Result:
1. Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Cannondale in 4:01:52
2. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp at 1:35
3. Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale
4. Johann Tschopp (Swi) IAM Cycling
5. Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC at 2:17
6. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp
7. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
8. Gianluca Brambilla (Ita) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step at 2:20
9. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar
10. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo.
Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 7:
1. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar in 26:52:20
2. Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar at 0:15
3. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 0:18
4. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 0:19
5. Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica-GreenEDGE at 0:44
6. Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha at 0:45
7. Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin at 0:55
8. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 1:09
9. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin at 1:12
10. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale.