Bauke Mollema won stage 17 of the Vuelta a España on Wednesday in Burgos, Spain. Mollema (Belkin) surprised the sprinters in a reduced bunch with an attack in the final kilometer of the 189km leg from Calahorra.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) was second after the race blew apart in late crosswinds. Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) was third.
“I knew this was my only chance to win this stage. To be honest, I was thinking all day about attacking the peloton in the final K,” said Mollema. “The last K, I was suffering so much, but I was just thinking, ‘This is my chance and I have to take it.’”
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) defended his 28-second overall lead on Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard).
The 68th Vuelta continues Thursday with the first of three final, decisive mountain stages. Stage 18 travels 186km, from Burgos to the Cat. 1 finish climb at Peña Cabarga. Three Cat. 3 climbs and the Cat. 2 Alto del Caracol lead to the finale, which climbs 1,788 vertical feet over 5.9km, with an average gradient of 9.2 percent and a ramp topping 20 percent near the finish.
Two early breakaway riders clung to their advantage late in Wednesday’s stage. Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) and Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural) held just over a half minute heading into the final half hour of racing, but the building action behind them would doom their chances.
With crosswinds pelting the bunch in the final 25km, Saxo-Tinkoff went to the front and split the peloton, catching out fifth-overall Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) and seventh-overall Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr). With a number of sprinters missing the move, Garmin-Sharp also contributed to the work for Tyler Farrar, but the move was Saxo’s to drive.
Nibali, Horner, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), and Nicolas Roche (Saxo) each made the split and positioned near the head of the bunch. With 16km, another split cut the peloton down to roughly 35 riders, but the group swelled with 14km to go. Pozzovivo, Thibaut, and Michael Matthews (Belkin) were all still behind.
Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) and Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) escaped on a late, uncategorized climb and Johan Vansummeren gave chase for Farrar. With 4.5km to go, the front of the race was back together, but Astana countered twice, first with Tanel Kangert. Lampre moved forward to close down Andriy Grivko with 3km to go and Saxo led the peloton with 2.5km remaining. Again, Astana attacked, and again, Lampre chased.
Mollema opened the sprint with 900 meters to go, shooting up the right gutter.
“The speed dropped a little bit,” said Mollema. “I moved up on the left side, but one guy from NetApp was trying to attack. I went behind him and gave everything.”
The peloton hesitated, Mollema’s teammate, David Tanner, at the front. Vansummeren led the chase, but the Dutchman was too strong and crossed the line with his arms in the air. Farrar was fourth.
Mollema’s first grand tour stage win was consolation after he fell out of GC contention in the Vuelta’s first week. Fifth overall at the Tour de France in July, he was unable to follow when the race hit a number of steep finishing ramps in the opening stages.
“After one week, I found out it was too hard for me to do the GC in the Vuelta and the Tour,” he said. “I changed the plan to focus on stage wins. I was third Friday and won today, so it is good.”
In the overall race, Pozzovivo and Pinot lost more than a minute by the finish. Pozzovivo gave his fifth-overall position to Roche, who wore the red leader’s jersey earlier in the Vuelta. Pinot stayed at seventh overall, but dropped to 6:06 down on Nibali.