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Vuelta’17 St15: Miguel The Sierra Nevada Angel!
Stage Report: The Colombians go crazy as Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) tames the savagery of the Sierra Nevada; Spain’s favorite son, Alberto Contador cracks after a brave effort - but Froome stays calm, holds the line and owes Wout Poels ANOTHER beer.

Two top days for the Colombian

Kilometer zero and there’s no chat or promenading as the motorbike speedos register 70KPH within minutes of the flag dropping. Just 130K today but two first cat. climbs and a ‘special’ category finalé – perhaps the toughest stage of the race and coming off the back of yesterday’s brutality.

We’re 25K in and Luis Leon Sanchez punctures out of the peloton, that’s going to hurt to get back.
Meanwhile up front, a dozen or so optimists are trying to break clear – but the peloton is in no mood for gifts and the breakaway attempts are over before I can list the names.

We’re nearly 40K in and still nothing has stuck albeit we have three getting a little daylight, two Cofidis and a Movistar – Perez, Rossetto and Oliveiro respectively. Five bridge across, ‘Triple’ Trentin is there and this is it, the break of the day – eight men with the first big climb of the day within sniffing distance and the lead two minutes. The parcours passed close by the Alhambra Palace – no luxury for the convicts of the road today though as the first climb of the day looms.

Perez, Rossetto, Oliveiro, Mas Bonnet (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Armee (Lotto Soudal) and Van Asbroeck (Cannondale-Drapac) are our 'Hateful Eight'. They have an appointment with the cat. 1 Alto de Hazallanas (16.3km at 5.5%) there probably won’t still be eight at the top though and they can’t stretch their advantage to much more than two minutes as Astana keep a weather eye on things.

Sky and Chris Froome were calm and held the day together without much problem

The break is on the climb now, there’s a little 'dip' half way but apart from that there’s little respite. The back door has opened on the bunch as the first casualties slip backwards.

The break is on the second section of the climb now – and splintering as the gap back to the peloton begins to shrink. And on the subject of shrinking, the peloton is doing the same with even Sky riders like Rosa and Stannard in trouble. This is one tough climb – and we still have two to go.

Armee leads and has 1:50 on the head of the peloton on what is a very telling ascent with Sky and Astana setting the tempo. There are a few in between, the shape of the race will become more clear at the top but it’s on the last ‘double’ ascent this race will really begin.

‘Steady’ rather than ‘savage’ describes the peloton’s pace – they all know what’s to come. Armee tops the climb, takes the points; Kruijswijk, Bardet Oliveira and one of the Yates boys (Adam) come next at 1:22 as Armee throws himself down the 20K drop to the day’s biggest and final test.

The Yates brothers were active on the stage, but didn't achive what they wanted

The peloton is at 3:15 on Armee as we ponder the last two climbs which actually run straight into each other; the category 1 Alto del Purche (8.5km at 8%) first but there’s no rest between the Purche and the final grim battle to Sierra Nevada, up the Alto Hoya de la Mora, which is 19.3km at an average gradient of 5.6% reaching an altitude of 2510 meters.

The air gets thin above 2,000 meters and favors the Colombians who grow up and live at much higher altitudes. On the short valley road now with Armee barely ahead of the three chasers but the Astana powered peloton just around a minute back.

On the climb now. . . Bert goes, with Lopez. Interesting but there are 26K to go as the two skinny climbers pursue just Yates and Bardet, Armee has gone and so too has Kruiswijk. Sky keep calm, riding to those damn power meters as Yates goes solo, ciao Romain.

Froome had to contend with attacks from Nibali, but nothing from Aru

Lopez taps it out, Bert grimaces but does his spell, they’re opening a gap but there are still 15 MILES of climbing to go. Sky are around Froome in numbers, the tempo is steady, as you’d expect so far from home. Yates is riding well, holding a gap of some 50 seconds – Contador and Lopez catch Bardet, if the Frenchman was in better condition this would be ideal for the two Spanish speakers. De La Cruz (Quick-Step) pops; but up ahead, Yates dances nicely and stretches his advantage – can he ‘do a Majka?’ Doubtful.

Yates takes the points on the cat. 1 just the 19K to go now! The three are at 1:11 and the peloton at 1:40 on Yates.

Yates is holding at a minute plus on the three with gap between them and the peloton over a minute; and just to make it interesting Thomas De Gendt has decided to bridge, solo. Onwards, upwards goes Yates, 14K to go now. The three catch Kruijswijk, four versus Yates now, the Englishman riding strongly on a big gear.

Kruijswijk was scooped up by every group

Behind, Sky tap it out, cool, calm, collected – as Nibali heads off from the red jersey group. Yates is holding steady, he’s riding well. Nibali’s not really getting a gap – and yes, Sky reel him in again. Contador grimaces as he does a big spell, Lopez next up as Yates goes under the 10K banner still with 1:15 advantage.

Yates rides tight to the gutter to keep the distance as short as possible on the radius of the curve.
nine K and 1:08 for Yates. Froome looks terrible – but he always does.

Yates inside eight K with 1:01 and more upper body movement; a kilometer later and he’s dropped 15 seconds – Lopez attacks, Bert’s gone in an instant as has Bardet.

Yates is doomed, Lopez is chewing up the tar between him and the Englishman as Bardet and Bert collaborate but they too look doomed as the peloton pounds onwards. Lopez makes the catch. Yates explodes, he’s almost stationary.

Inside four K and it’s over for Bardet and Bert as Poels for Sky sets the tempo – but Lopez isn’t coming back, full of riding, strong and a big name for the future. Poels is doing a superb job for Froome, smooth, steady and no doubt Froome will go for the second place bonus seconds.

Lopez on the attack

Lopez is flying in the thin air with a minute in hand with 1500 meters to go. Zakarin attacks, Poels can’t lift it and the rangy Russian is opening a gap. Red kite for Lopez as Bert pops from the group.
He crosses himself as he freewheels below the finish banner – it’s Lopez! ‘Superman’ they call him. . .

As the South American commentators say: “Co-lom-bee-ah!” Zakarin pummels a big gear in at 35 seconds on Lopez.

A late effort from Zakarin gave him 17 seconds and 3rd overall

Kelderman is third. Froome is right there.

Every second counts and Kelderman took 1 back on Froome, plus 5 bonus seconds, but lost his podium place

Bert fights hard but 1:26 has elapsed since Lopez took the laurels – it’ll be a plane crash back down that hill.

A new big rising name from the New World then as Father Time finally catches up with Bert – but Sky and Froome hold the line.

Ultimo kilómetro / Last kilometer - Étape 15... por la_vuelta

Rest day tomorrow then it’s nightmare day for all the skinny guys on Tuesday – 40K flat and fast on the low profile. Ouch!

Adios amigos.

Vuelta a España Stage 15 Result:
1. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana in 3:34:51
2. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 0:36
3. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 0:45
4. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott at 0:47
5. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky
6. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 0:50
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 0:53
8. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky
9. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates
10. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 1:02
11. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana
12. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 1:23
13. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 1:27
14. Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates at 1:46
15. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 2:17
16. Antonio Pedrero (Spa) Movistar at 2:42
17. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC at 3:19
18. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar at 3:37
19. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott at 3:41
20. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Sky at 3:43
21. Simon Yates (GB) Orica-Scott at 4:37
22. Adam Yates (GB) Orica-Scott
23. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 4:58
24. David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 5:23
25. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 6:04.

Vuelta a España Overall After Stage 15:
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Sky in 62:06:25
2. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Bahrain-Merida at 1:01
3. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin at 2:08
4. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb at 2:11
5. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-Scott at 2:39
6. Miguel Angel Lopez (Col) Astana at 2:51
7. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 3:24
8. Michael Woods (Can) Cannondale-Drapac at 3:26
9. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Trek-Segafredo at 3:59
10. Wout Poels (Ned) Sky at 5:22
11. David de la Cruz (Spa) Quick-Step Floors at 7:47
12. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 8:08
13. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC at 8:16
14. Louis Meintjes (RSA) UAE Team Emirates at 09:02
15. Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Sky at 18:45
16. Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA at 19:12
17. Nicolas Roche (Irl) BMC at 21:40
18. Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Movistar at 27:42
19. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R-La Mondiale at 30:41
20. Darwin Atapuma (Col) UAE Team Emirates at 34:47
21. Stef Clement (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 44:44
22. Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Dimension Data at 47:49
23. Jack Haig (Aus) Orica-Scott at 48:25
24. Sander Armee (Bel) Lotto Soudal at 51:04
25. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Astana at 52:34.


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