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Vuelta’17 St11: Mig Lopez Tames The Calar Alto!
Stage Report: Miguel Angel Lopez took the stage honors on a very tough day in the south of Spain. Chris Froome looked in danger but stormed through the final kilometer to take time on all his major rivals. It looked to be game over for Esteban Chaves and Alberto Contador.

Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Miguel Angel LOPEZ MORENO (Columbia / Team Astana)  pictured during La Vuelta ciclista a Espana 2017 (2.UWT) stage 11 from Lorca - Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto (187,5 km) - photo Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2017

The peloton took to the road in stage 11 under disgustingly rainy skies. That didn't dissuade them though and it took 50km of blisteringly fast racing for the break to form. When the fourteen riders did get a lead they struggled to gain time and started the penultimate climb of the day with just over four minutes. That was almost completely taken away but a dangerous decent allowed the break to pull their lead out to two minutes. Simon Yates was involved in the leading trio but popped early on and that left just Romain Bardet and Darwin Atapuma out in front. It looked like the stage win would be fought out between those two until Bahrain-Merida cranked up the pace for Vincenzo Nibali. Chris Froome appeared to be struggling but he wasn't attacked and when Nibali eventually did go Froome was able to claw his way back into the fold. That left just Nibali, Froome and Miguel Angel Lopez as the race hit the final KM.

Lopez went clear and given his place in GC he wasn't going to be chased. That allowed Wilco Kelderman to come back up to Nibali and Froome and they fought it out in the final sprint. Froome nabbed second to take the time bonuses. Meanwhile, further back, it was a terrible day for Fabio Aru, Nico Roche and Esteban Chaves who all threw away time they couldn't afford. Froome now commands more than a minute lead on everyone and Chaves is 2:33 back. Roche has fallen out of the top 10 whereas David De La Cruz was the other winner of the day, moving up to fourth overall and within four seconds of the podium.

We're in the south east of Spain for a stage which might well tear the race apart. The first 130km are relatively straightforward as the peloton head inland from the coast, but the final 50km contain a brutal double of the Alto de Velefique (13.2km @ 8.6%) and the less brutal but longer Calar Alto (15.5km @ 5.9%), which features sections above 10%, the average is tempered by a long flat(ish) section around halfway up. The first 5km of the Velefique are hideously steep, they drop below 10% only briefly. In comparison, the final 8km are a walk in the park, the gradient doesn't get beyond 7% until the leg wrenching final ramp of 15%.

The Calar Alto has been used previously in 2006 when Igor Anton took his first career win ahead of Alejandro Valverde and Alexandre Vinokourov. It's very similar to Mount Ventoux, although not as hard, the peloton will be in the trees for the early stages but will emerge into a moonscape in search of a great big white structure, an observatory in this case rather than the telecommunications tower stuck on the top of Ventoux. Unlike the usual barmy Ventoux weather, the peloton will be dealing with unrelenting rain for the entirety of the stage.

An uncategorized climb from Lorca looked like a good contender for a breakaway launchpad, but the peloton weren't content to let a break go yet. The pace was scorching, even if the weather wasn't, and despite numerous attempts there was no successful break as the race began the short descent onto the flat portion of the course. Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) was the next to lead a break, the Frenchman had a strong start to the race but had fallen way out of contention on stage 6. He was joined by Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac), the Canadian was still in the top 10, less than two minutes behind Chris Froome (Sky) and so it was understandable that he wasn't given much leeway. Soon it was all back together once again.

There was yet more action without any break to show for it as the race flew towards the 50km gone mark. But then, despite the rapid pace, a break formed and the race settled down. The break was fourteen strong consisting of: Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors), Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Antonio Pedrero (Movistar), Lennard Hofstede (Sunweb), Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac), Antwan Tolhoek (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates), Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal), Giovanni Visconti (Bahrain-Merida), Igor Anton (Dimension Data), David Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Conor Dunne (Aqua Blue Sport), and Aldemar Reyes (Manzana-Postobon). The break was packed full of climbing talent; Bardet and De Marchi obviously, but also young talent in the form of Aldemar Reyes. You can read more about the young Colombian by clicking here, which also features young climber and Vuelta rider Chris Hamilton.

The break of the day

As the race made its way into the final 100km, the advantage had crept out to beyond the three minute mark. They still had 50km to pad that before the final twin challenges.

So It Begins
The break's lead had grown out to beyond four minutes as they began the long gradual climb towards the foot of the first climb of the day. The rain had not abated and the temperature was dropping at the summit of the two climbs. It wasn't looking like southern Spain in August. There was around 400m of climbing before the real climb began at the 830m mark, it was yet more ground for the break to pad their lead, but the lead wasn't looking that healthy with the real difficulty of the course to come. For the cycling nerd, there was some interest in the leading group as it contained Connor Dunne, the lantern rouge of the race, he was just over two hours down on Chris Froome. Depending on how the stage continued, Dunne might find himself racing up the leaderboard and away from the coveted last man spot.

A very wet chase

The break's lead had been relatively healthy, but it was on its way down as Orica-Scott sent men up to set a high tempo for Esteban Chaves. As the real climb started, the lead had collapsed below two minutes and the stage win was looking like it was going to come from the peloton. With 12km left of the climb, Dunne was sent packing out the back of the break and was soon followed by Hofstede. Bardet was doing the pace making and he was beginning to crack De Marchi as well who was breathlessly hanging off the back of the pack. Simon Clarke, who started the whole thing, and Mohoric were also fading fast as the pace continued to ramp up.

Orica-Scott had done a lot of work and they were crumbling up the peloton, but as their numbers ran out, Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) kicked off the front.

Up in the break, only Bardet and Reyes remained as the riders found solace in smaller groups further down the mountain. Team Sky were massed on the front of the chasing group as they continued to chop away at the time gap as the gradient eased on the opening climb. The easing of the gradient allowed Igor Anton and Sander Armee to get back to the leading duo in the break.

The Sky pace making was mopping up the earlier breakaway members and were just a minute behind the leading quartet. This was the sign for an attack from Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates) and Hernan Aguirra-Caipa (Manzana Postobon Team) who gained a small advantage immediately. They were eating up the rest of the break and were now hunting the leading six; who had been added to thanks to the break of Simon Yates and the revival of Visconti. There was still 5km left to ride but this was now the easiest part of the climb. The lead group almost immediately went back down to four as Reyes and Anton were distanced.

Nico Roche lost over 4 minutes and his top ten place

In the peloton, Froome had five lieutenants left to burn out and they were ramping up the pace on a much reduced group. However, for the first time in 40 or so km, the gap to the break was going back out, it was now over one minute. Atapuma had dropped Aguirra-Caipa and was about to make the junction with the leading quartet as the gap hit the 1:15 mark.

Bardet led them over the Velefique with Atapuma in second place with a 1:30 advantage. There was now just a descent, on wet roads, and the final climb to overcome. The descent was being taken very gingerly, especially so by Sander Armee who was falling off the back of the four leaders. The gap between the Froome group and the leaders was extending and was now at two minutes as they descended into the final 20km.

Attacking and teeth gritting from Alberto Contador moved him into the top ten

The Stars
The descent was really taking its toll and only Bardet and Yates were left as they began the final climb. Atapuma had only lost a few seconds though and he was back in the lead as the real climbing started. It was looking terminal for Armee who had lost a minute on the climb and Visconti was also off the back of the leading trio.

Fabio Aru now 7th overall

On the steep lower slopes it was a surprise to see Yates fade badly and drop off the back of Atapuma and Bardet as they continued to push on with a 2:30 advantage. Sky had done virtually all of the pace making but they gave way to Bahrain Merida who were putting in the effort for Vincenzo Nibali, they were gradually eating into the lead but hadn't made a significant dent yet. There was still two minutes advantage as they went under the 12km to go barrier. There was some drama as David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) suffered a puncture as the pace was ramping up on the climb. He had no team mates left as he fought to get back into the peloton. The gap had been savaged by Bahrain-Merida and it was now just 1.45 as Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nibali hit the front. Nibali and Contador were working together and beginning to hurt the rest of the leading group. Nico Roche (BMC) was the first to hit the wall and he was blown out the back of the peloton, he was joined off the back by Fabio Aru (Astana) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) who were really suffering on the climb. Chaves had lost 33 seconds to the Froome group, Froome still had two team mates including Gianni Moscon, who is best known for making racist comments at the Tour de Romandie and then not getting punished, Sky don't make it easy to cheer for them. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) had also made it to the front group along with Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb). The Froome group was just 20 seconds behind the two leaders as they continued to put time into the Chaves group, he was 50 seconds down on Froome.

Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Miguel Angel LOPEZ MORENO (Columbia / Team Astana)  pictured during La Vuelta ciclista a Espana 2017 (2.UWT) stage 11 from Lorca - Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto (187,5 km) - photo Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2017
Big win for Lopez

There was 7.5km left as Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida) made the connection with the leaders. Fabio Aru was caught between the Froome group and the Chaves group, he was unfortunately closer to Chaves and was losing over 30 seconds to the leaders. The climb was flattening out though, this was good for Chaves who, in the wheel of the very hardworking Jack Haig (Orica-Scott) slowly coming back to the Aru group. It was a short lived hope though, David De La Cruz had found his legs and he was pulling the Aru group along and away from the Colombian.

Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Christopher - Chris FROOME (GBR / Team Sky) - Vincenzo NIBALI (Italy / Team Bahrain - Merida) - Wilco KELDERMAN (Netherlands / Team Sunweb)  pictured during La Vuelta ciclista a Espana 2017 (2.UWT) stage 11 from Lorca - Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto (187,5 km) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2017
Chris Froome took time from everyone except Nibali

The final ramp was beginning and Froome was looking like he was suffering but nobody was sticking the knife in. The Brit wasn't reacting to the attacks but it was only Pellizotti who pushed on. Mikel Nieve (Sky) was sent off to the front but Nibali immediately attacked and Froome looked to be in trouble. The road surface was terrible but Nibali was adding to his advantage as Kelderman chased hard. Kelderman was bringing it back for Froome though, the Tour winner attacked and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) pushed on as Froome made the junction. Lopez was alone but Froome had now caught and passed Nibali, the Italian hadn't given up, he was stuck on Froome's wheel. Lopez was hanging onto the lead as Froome was forced to chase. Froome was content to let Lopez go though, focussing more on Nibali's efforts. The duo were joined by Kelderman but Froome was still stuck on the front, making all the effort.

Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto - Spain - wielrennen - cycling - cyclisme - radsport - Wilco KELDERMAN (Netherlands / Team Sunweb)  pictured during La Vuelta ciclista a Espana 2017 (2.UWT) stage 11 from Lorca - Observatorio Astronomico de Calar Alto (187,5 km) - photo Miwa iijima/Cor Vos © 2017
Wilco Kelderman moved up to 5th place from 11th overall

Lopez was going to take the stage though, he had picked the perfect time to make the attack and had kept his effort going as everyone else had faded around him. Froome made it home in second place ahead of Nibali with Kelderman keeping fourth. It was looking like a two horse race now, Aru had lost just under 1:30 to Froome and Nibali and Chavez had had a horror show losing just under two minutes. Contador had done better, finishing just behind the leading quartet but he had lost yet more time he couldn't afford to hand over.

Ultimo kilómetro / Last kilometer - Étape 11... por la_vuelta

Keep it PEZ for the Vuelta news catch-up in EUROTRASH Thursday.

Vuelta a España Stage 11 Result:
1. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana in 5:05:09
2. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky at 0:14
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
4. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 0:31
6. Alberto Contador (Spa) Trek-Segafredo
7. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin
8. Mikel Nieve (Spa) Sky
9. Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates at 1:02
10. David De La Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 1:14
11. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 1:17
12. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky
13. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Movistar at 1:22
14. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 1:32
15. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
16. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo
17. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott at 2:05
18. Sam Oomen (Ned) Sunweb
19. Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
20. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates
21. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC at 3:26
22. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar at 3:47
23. Gianni Moscon (Ita) Sky
24. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott
25. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal.

Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 11:
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky in 45:18:01
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 1:19
3. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott at 2:33
4. David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 2:36
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 2:37
6. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 2:38
7. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 2:57
8. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 3:01
9. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 3:55
10. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 4:11
11. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC at 4:45
12. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC
13. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 4:54
14. Sam Oomen (Ned) Sunweb at 5:01
15. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 6:10
16. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates at 6:39
17. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Sky at 7:47
18. Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Dimension Data at 9:50
19. Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA at 10:24
20. Adam Yates (GB) Orica-Scott at 11:00
21. Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates at 16:05
22. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott at 17:35
23. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar at 19:57
24. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 21:37
25. Nelson Oliveira (Por) Movistar at 26:47.


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