Four classified climbs, a strong pace and hot temperatures, all these made up for a brutal stage 14.
The Spanish Grand Tour rarely goes to France, but when it does, the race puts on the table a tough course in the big mountains. This happened on Saturday, September 3rd, when the riders had to tackle Col Inharpu, Col du Soudet, Col de Marie-Blanque and Aubisque, four brutal climbs which had a big impact on the race from the beginning, when no less than 41 riders went into one of the biggest escapes seen in a Grand Tour in recent years. A double stage winner and former green jersey wearer at this edition, Gianni Meersman was also there, managing to stay with the group until the bottom of the last ascent.
Averaging 7.1% over 16.5 kilometers, Aubisque – which is used regularly in the Tour de France, having made its debut in the race more than half a century ago – witnessed a victory of a breakaway rider, despite the fact that the bunch went really fast in the final 30 kilometers, trying to nullify an attack of Simon Yates (Orica-BikeExchange). Robert Gesink was the day's winner, after powering ahead in the last 500 meters, and he was followed on the podium by Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and Egor Silin (Katusha).
Behind, the peloton got split to pieces on the steep gradients of Aubisque, as David De La Cruz managed to stay with the best until the final five kilometers, when race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) put in an acceleration to which only Chris Froome (Team Sky) could respond. David, the only Spanish stage winner at the 2016 Vuelta a España, paced himself on the Hors Catégorie ascent, fighting bravely and showing grit and huge determination in order to limit the damages and keep a place in the upper part of the general classification.
At the end of the day, the 27-year-old had reasons of satisfaction, as he is 14th in the overall standings, in what's proving to be his best Grand Tour ever. The ride and result of Saturday will now have David look with even more confidence to stage 15, another mountainous one, which is set to finish on first-category climb of Aramon Formigal.
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele