Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) produced a massive solo effort to win stage 15 of La Vuelta 21 after an all-day battle in the mountains.
It took more than 70km for the break to establish, and the Pole went on his own with 87km to go and fended off all his chasers, led by Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) at the finish in El Barraco, home of the Spanish climbing icon El Chava Jimenez.
This is Rafal Majka’s first victory since he raised his arms at Sierra de la Pandera, four years ago in La Vuelta 17. Among the GC contenders, Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) gained 15’’ and Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) retained La Roja on the eve of the second rest day, with one week to go to Santiago de Compostela.
On the eve of the second rest day, the peloton of La Vuelta 21 face another big mountain stage with more than 3,600m of elevation from Navalmoral de la Mata to El Barraco (197.5km). After Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) left the race on stage 14, his Ecuadorian compatriot Jonathan Caicedo (EF Education Nippo) is also out of La Vuelta 21. There are 163 riders in the peloton. And they’re determined to battle it out.
A crazy battle for the break
A group of 25 riders quickly go up front, with GC threats such as Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and David De la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates), and the likes of Michael Storer, Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Magnus Cort Nielsen (EF Education Nippo) to hunt for another stage win. The rest of the peloton aren’t happy with this group and a huge battle is on until everyone gets back together at the bottom of the first ascent of the day (km 70), the cat-1 Alto de la Centenera (15.1km, 5.5%).
Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates), Fabio Aru (Team Qhubeka NextHash) and Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Soudal) attack on the first slopes. Van Gils suffers a mechanical and he finds himself in a 21-man chase group that gets together on the ascent with Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R-Citroën), Gorka Izagirre (Astana-Premier Tech), Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious), Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Diego Andres Camargo (EF Education Nippo), Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), Simone Petilli (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Guy Niv (Israel Start-Up Nation), Steff Cras (Lotto Soudal), Carlos Verona (Movistar Team), Lucas Hamilton, Mikel Nieve (Team BikeExchange), Thymen Arensman, Chris Hamilton, Michael Storer, Martijn Tusveld (Team DSM), Guanluca Brambilla, Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) and Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates).
Majka and Aru summit the Alto de la Centenera with an average speed of 43km/h in the first two hours. They have opened a 1’30’’ gap with their chasers. The peloton trail by 3’.
Majka goes solo on the second ascent of the day, the cat-2 Puerto de Pedro Bernardo (9km, 4.2%), with 87km to go. Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux sets the pace for the overall leader Odd Christian Eiking in the bunch and the gap increases to 6’.
Majka pushes alone at the front and the chase group explodes on the following climb, the Puerto de Mijares (20.4km, 5.4%). Kruijswijk is the strongest among them. He trails by 1’40’’ over the top. Chris Hamilton follows with a gap of 3’. The gap to the bunch is stable around 6’.
The leader maintains his advantage towards the final climb of the day, the cat-3 Puerto San Juan de Nava (8.6km, 3.8%), where Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) manages to distance his GC rivals. In El Barraco, Rafal Majka claims his first victory since La Vuelta 17, when he took the solo win at Sierra de la Pandera. Steven Kruijswijk finishes 2nd (+1’27’’) and Chris Hamilton rounds up the podium (+2’19’’). Adam Yates follows (+2’42’’), with a 15’’ gap to the rest of the GC contenders. – www.lavuelta.es