The 34-year-old Czech went on the attack and came close to his second win of the season.
An aggressive start to the stage Wednesday morning saw the peloton travel at more than 45km/h for the first two hours, as numerous attempts to form a breakaway came from the riders who sensed a move could go all the way to Ourense, the former Roman settlement which returned as a stage finish for the tenth time in history and for the first time in 25 years.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step was in the thick of the action – Grand Tour debutant Ian Garrison, Rémi Cavagna and Mattia Cattaneo attacking one by one and getting infiltrated in moves that unfortunately turned out to be short-lived. Eventually, it was 70 kilometers into the race that a seven-man group managed to snap the elastic, and when it did, Zdenek Stybar was there for the Wolfpack and contributed to the group’s five-minute maximum advantage.
On Alto de Abelaira, the final climb of the stage, the gap came down to just two minutes, but somehow on the descent they managed to extend it to three minutes. With 14 kilometers remaining, the former Czech Champion accelerated and together with two of his fellow escapees put some daylight between them and their former companions.
Inside three kilometers to go, it looked as if they would fight for victory, but on the uphill kick to Ourense the chasers bridged across, making it a six-man battle for victory. Stybar was well in the mix and looked poised for his second career stage win at La Vuelta, but was boxed in on the technical and twisting climb and ended the day third, behind Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal) and Michael Woods (EF Pro Cycling).
“Coming into the Vuelta two weeks ago, I didn’t have the best feeling, but kept improving day by day and today I felt really good, so I decided to give it a go. It was very intense from the start and once the move slipped away, we rode full gas until we took our advantage north of two minutes. Even then we continued to work well together and when we hit five minutes, we began thinking it would be our day.”
“When the gap dropped, I still kept believing that we would make it, because the tempo was really high in the group on the last climb. I was a bit on the limit, but making it over the top of the ascent and seeing that also the others were suffering gave me a lot of confidence. In the downhill I tried putting some pressure on the group and managed to drag two more riders with me, but we got caught just ahead of the flamme rouge, which was a real pity. The final kilometer was very tactical, and unfortunately, I got blocked with 400-500 meters to go and that was when I lost the chance to fight for victory. I am disappointed, but at the same time happy with my condition and with a podium on such a hard finish, which only add to my motivation for the next four stages”, Zdenek explained after racking up Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s 35th top 3 finish of the season in the World Tour ranks.
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