An absolutely incredible turn of events in the Vuelta a España as Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde have set up a strategically perfect assault on Katusha and cracked Joaquim Rodriguez. Although Joaquim had only 28 seconds lead on Contador, many thought that the hardest stages were behind the riders and that the Vuelta was in the grasp of J-Rod. Instead, on the always dangerous day after a rest day, Saxo-Tinkoff and Movistar launched a series of attacks along with the standard breakaway attempts which resulted in an extremely fast first 2 hours, and put Katusha on the hot seat immediately. Then at km 50, both Contador and Valverde attacked Rodriguez, seeming to test the resolve of the Katusha team. As breaks went up the road containing Jesus Hernandez (STB), Segio Paulino (STB) and Paolo Tiralongo (AST) along with Benat Intxausti (MOV) and Nairo Quitana (MOV) a perfect storm was brewing.
Katusha failed to recognize the danger and instead of mobilizing the teammates, they were lax in there defence. In Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” one of the fundamental premises is to attack were the enemy is weak to defend. Contador and Valverde knew that J-Rod couldn’t be beat in a one-on-one battle, we’ve seen that, but on the long flats was his team up to it? No… they weren’t. First, it was Contador and Saxo Bank who split off the front, and Valverde and Rodriguez chased. With Contador and his teammates TT’ing up the road, Valverde and J-Rod, with only Alberto Losada to aid the leader, were forced to chase. With two teammates up the road, Valverde did less and less work moving his way to the back. As Losada chased with Purito in tow, the stage was being set.
Contador, sensing that his breakmates weren’t happy to help attacked off the front with his old friend and teammate Paolo Tiralongo. Once Losada was cooked and everyone was one Purito’s wheel, Valverde attacked as the road tilted up and J-Rod couldn’t respond. Within minutes, Valverde was joined by Nairo Quitana who had eased his pace for his leader. Quintana pulled Valverde up through the field for some four or five kilomters, where he caught another teammate Intxausti. Intxausti, a strong TT’er in his own right did the same work, protecting and sheparding Valverde up through the field. As Contador was being reeled in, J-Rod was being distanced.
Alberto Contador, at the head of the race was now struggling and on his own, with Purito able to hold the gap even, but that gap… at around 2’30” was fatal for his overall hopesas Contador was the virtual leader. For those two, it was man against man, and again it was something of a stalemate. For Valverde, he was working with and protected by Intxausti, until they caught the rest of the days break – Henao, Nocentini, Verdugo and Bakelants. Here, Valverde who had been protected nearly the whole day, could work with the remnants of the break – those eager to fight for a stage win and reel in Contador. It worked perfectly as Valverde bridged almost completely coming over the line only 6″ behind the stage winner and new leader Alberto Contador. Jaoquim Rodriguez, crushed and with two Saxo riders on his tail came over the line in 10th – 2’38” down and falls to third.
Stage 17 Top Ten
1. Alberto Contador (STB)_____4h29’20”
2. Alejandro Valverde (MOV)___+6″
3. Sergio Luis Henao (SKY)____+6″
4. Gorka Verdugo (EUS)_______+6″
5. Rinaldo Nocetini (ALM)_____+19″
6. Jan Bakelants (RNT)_______+55″
7. Benat Intxausti (MOV)______+1’13”
8. Alexandre Geniez (ARG)____+1’40”
9. Paolo Tiralongo (AST)______+2’13”
10. Joaquim Rodriguez (KAT)__+2’38”
Complete Stage Results: La Vuelta Official
Overall Classification after 17 stages
1. Alberto Contador (STB)________68h07’54”
2. Alejandro Valverde (MOV)______+1’52″
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (KAT)______+2’28”
4. Chris Froome (SKY)___________+9’40″
5. Daniel Moreno (KAT)__________+11’36″
6. Robert Gesink (RAB)__________+12’06″
7. Laurens Ten Dam (RAB)_______+12’55″
8. Andrew Talansky (GRM)_______+13’06″
9. Igor Anton (EUS)_____________+13’49″
10. Benat Intxausti (MOV)________+14’10″
Complete Overall Classification: La Vuelta Official