After spending the whole day at the front, the Belgian took his best result in a Grand Tour stage.
Starting from Villalpando and finishing on La Camperona, stage 8 of the Vuelta a España was all about the 8.5km first-category climb at the finish, which was featuring on the course for the second time in three years. Including what was dubbed by many as being "the toughest kilometer in cycling", with an average gradient of 20% and a maximum one reaching 25%, the tough ascent in Castilla y Leon was seen less as an opportunity to gain time on the opponents and more as a battle for survival.
For the second time this week, Pieter Serry was part of the breakaway, one which didn't pose any threat to the general classification contenders, thus going more than 10 minutes clear before the day's only climb. Riding his seventh Grand Tour, Pieter was keen on getting a good result, after being caught by the peloton on stage three not long before the finish line atop Mirador de Ezaro. This time, the big advantage the breakaway enjoyed meant the escape will make it and as soon as they became aware of that, the riders in the lead began playing cat and mouse.
First to attack was Jhonathan Restrepo (Katusha), but the Colombian was caught on the steep section of La Camperona by a three-man group which included Pieter, who rode his own pace, without going in the red. They were soon joined by Perrig Quemeneur (Direct Energie) and Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), with the victory being played in the final 300 meters, on a 14% gradient, where Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) took off and rolled over the line victorious. Pieter, although suffering on the punishing roads, didn't wave the flag and continued pushing, finishing the day in 5th position, his best ever result in a Grand Tour stage.
From the bunch, one seriously thinned out by Movistar's pace, Nairo Quintana attacked and surged clear, putting time into all his rivals and donning the red jersey. In the overall standings, the Colombian leads ahead of teammate Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome (Team Sky), while Etixx – Quick-Step's Gianluca Brambilla rests in 9th place, after a day in which he climbed with the best until the final part of the ascent and limited the losses. Another rider of the team, David De La Cruz, sits in 15th position, while Gianni Meersman continues to top the green jersey standings, following a stage in which he worked hard at the head of the peloton in the run-in to La Camperona.
"I was here before, two years ago, and it was just as I remembered it to be: excruciating, leg-sapping and really brutal. On the 25% segment it was like you were riding in slow motion, so tough it was. There wasn't any moment of respite on the second part of the climb, just a fight with your body to keep pushing and make it to the line", said Pieter Serry after Vuelta a España's first summit finish. "La Camperona is one of the steepest climbs I've ever done. I did my best, as I was thinking of winning for my grandfather, who celebrated his birthday today, but I came short in the end. Once distanced I tried to return to the front, but it was hard, especially as I had to fight with cramps. Knowing I gave it my all I don't have any regrets."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele