Only the stiff headwind prevented the Italian from taking the biggest victory of his career, after an incredible ride.
The longest stage of the race waited the riders with a 230km journey from Mos to Pueblo de Sanabria, five classified climbs, more than 4000 vertical meters and some nagging rain, all making for a tough day in the saddle. The huge tempo in the first part of the stage, when several riders tried to go in the breakaway, abated only two hours later, once a group snapped the elastic and built a maximum gap of six minutes, with around 170 kilometers to go.
Mattia Cattaneo was there for Deceuninck – Quick-Step, marking his third time in the breakaway since the start of the race, and the 30-year-old Italian was one of the most active riders in the front, impressing with his workload. Then, with 30 kilometers remaining, he pressed on a short rise just ahead of Alto de Padornelo and pushed through the rain, putting some daylight between him and the other escapees, quickly taking his advantage to more than a minute by the time he arrived at the top of the climb.
Cattaneo displayed an amazing never-say-die attitude as he continued to dig really deep and empty himself in the strong headwind, fighting tooth and nail to maintain his slender lead over the heavily-depleted peloton on the long, wide roads of Castilla y Leon, but it was heartbreak in the end for him, as he got caught with just three kilometers to go.
“It was my goal to be in the break, so I attacked a couple of times until one of these moves managed to get clear. The entire stage was made very hard by the headwind we had all day, but I felt good, so I attacked on the climb and surged clear. I began believing in my chances when the gap stood at two minutes, but the road and conditions played against me and I got caught. I am disappointed, but at the same time determined to try again until the end of the race”, said after the stage an upbeat Mattia, who climbed a place in the general classification.
Deceuninck – Quick-Step moved to the front once the catch was made, experienced lead-out man Michael Mørkøv bringing neo-pro Jannik Steimle into a perfect position and keeping the German well-placed going into the final kilometer, which featured a 600m section averaging 6% and two 90-degree turns. Victorious at the Tour of Slovakia this season, the 24-year-old unleashed a powerful sprint and claimed his first Grand Tour podium, as Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) took the win in Puebla de Sanabria.
“I am very happy with this podium, my first in a Grand Tour. I liked the stage and the weather, so I was really looking forward to it this morning. A big thanks goes to Michael, who gave me a perfect lead-out in the closing kilometer. Unfortunately, I made a mistake there and lost his wheel as I got boxed in with 300 meters to go, and for that reason I lost some precious positions. I somehow managed to come back and I had good speed, but I also had to go a long way as Ackermann swerved twice to the left. Anyway, to be in the top 3 on the longest stage of the Vuelta is a good result, one which boosts my confidence”, explained Jannik after delivering our team’s fourth podium since the start of the race.
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