After being part of the breakaway, Brambilla came out on top, while David De La Cruz returned to the top 10.
Undoubtedly, stage 15 of the Vuelta a España (Sabiñanigo – Aramon Formigal, 118.5 kilometers) will go down in the history books as one of the most memorable seen in the history of Grand Tours. In theory, it should have been just another fight on the last of the day's three classified ascents, but an explosive start meant that the pre-stage script was changed in a truly spectacular way, after several riders ignited a dangerous breakaway, which included Gianluca Brambilla, David De La Cruz, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and overall leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
This surprising move caught the likes of Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) off-guard, so the two red jersey contenders began a frantic chase together with their teammates, but all they could do by the end of the day was to shave 30 seconds off the lead's group 3-minute advantage as the escapees worked well together and maintained their gap even on the punishing slopes of the 14.5-km long Aramon Formigal.
A late attack of Quintana distanced all the riders bar one, Gianluca Brambilla, who climbed superbly on the first-category ascent, taming the 10% gradients omnipresent in the closing kilometers. Gianluca, already a Grand Tour stage winner earlier this season at the Giro d'Italia, where he also got to wear the pink jersey, responded to every acceleration of the Colombian, then patiently bided his time and with 200 meters to go came around his opponent and powered away to Etixx – Quick-Step's 48th victory of the season.
Brambilla wasn't the only rider of the team who had reasons to smile at the end of the day, as David De La Cruz got rewarded for his effort and amount of work in the breakaway with a significant jump in the general classification, where he now lies in 9th place, after coming in the top 5 on Aramon Formigal.
"It was the hardest but also the most beautiful stage of the race. I've never been in a breakaway with the GC leader in a Grand Tour, so it was fun from this point of view. I was one of the guys to attack from afar and rode full gas together with David, as there was no time for respite until the finish", said 29-year-old Gianluca, one of the only four riders to have won stages in two Grand Tours this season.
"On the last climb, I could see that Quintana was looking really good and once he upped the pace, many riders had problems in following him. When Contador was distanced, I jumped into Nairo's wheel and managed to stay there, despite a powerful acceleration he put in with 700 meters to go. Winning this epic stage is one of the best moments of my career and it makes me really proud", continued a happy Gianluca, who credited the team for the constant improvement shown since the start of the season and the results which came with it. "2016 has been a fantastic year for me so far and I want to thank the team for believing in me at all times. It's great knowing that I can count on such a well-organised outfit that is always by my side. Seeing how the team supports and puts its trust in me, coming every time with the best advices and tactics, gives me huge self-confidence and motivation, and this helps me do the right things."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele