James Knox knocks at the door of the top 10 overall after a well-crafted move and superb team effort in the Asturias.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step had a clear goal at the start of the day: infiltrate as many riders in the stage 16 breakaway (Pravia – Alto de la Cubilla, 144.4 kilometers) and help James Knox, our best placed rider at the start of week three, make inroads in the general classification. For that very reason, the team started firing on all cylinders and sent Zdenek Stybar – first Czech rider in history to win a cobbled Classic – up the road, but that move was quickly shut down.
As soon as it was all back together, Rémi Cavagna and James Knox emerged from the bunch and zipped clear, being joined on the first slopes of Puerto de San Lorenzo by a huge chasing group which included two more members of the Wolfpack, Argentinean Champion Max Richeze and stage 12 winner Philippe Gilbert. All three of his teammates turned themselves inside out to ensure the gap would be a healthy one by the start of the last ascent, driving the group and even closing attacks that threatened to fragment the group.
Their tremendous effort, which continued well onto the ramps of Alto de la Cubilla, where our riders piled on the pressure, saw the reduced leading group enjoy a nine-minute buffer over the pack, which despite a furious forcing behind, couldn’t be cut by much. Cavagna and Gilbert continued to bury themselves for James, who then responded to an attack of Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) that made quite a selection with seven kilometers to go. When the Dane kicked out again and went clear, the 23-year-old couldn’t follow, but he smartly paced himself to the top of the 17.8km-long climb, coming home in an extremely impressive fourth place.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s beautifully executed plan, doubled by the resilience of James – who summoned the strength to not only survive, but also stay in the fight for a top result – helped him overtake six riders in the general classification, where he now sits 11th overall with just five days to go after nabbing his best ever result on a Grand Tour. Both Philippe and Rémi followed the 23-year-old Brit home some two minutes later, their presence in the top 15 atop the special-category climb netting a fifth best team of the stage prize for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, a record among the 22 squads at the 74th La Vuelta.
“It was a really successful day. We tried to go in the break from the beginning, with Styby, then after he got caught, with myself and Rémi. When Phil and Max came across, we had a very nice group there and tried to control and keep it together, especially on the last descent, where it became a bit crazy, once many riders attacked”, a delighted James explained on the way back to the hotel. “The guys did an amazing job, they were always there, sacrificed for me and I am so grateful to them. I didn’t have the legs to win the stage, but I gave everything and 11th on the GC now is better than I could have imagined. Hopefully I can stay there after the two hard mountain stages coming up in this final week.”
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele/ Getty Images