Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) rode alone to Alcaudete to win stage 7 of the Vuelta a España.
Though the Italian had company for most of the 169-kilometer day, riding with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Johann Tschopp (IAM Cycling), and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r La Mondiale) in the break, he seized the opportunity when Hesjedal crashed with 14 kilometers left.
Initially, there was some hesitation between de Marchi and Tschopp, but the Italian quickly made his move and never looked back.
Tschopp chased to no avail. Eventually he regrouped with Hesjedal and Dupont, but by that point, it was too late.
The Italian claimed his first career grand tour stage victory.
“It’s great to have been in a break with such strong riders,” said de Marchi. “After my top-fives, this is clearly the best result. A near perfect day today. … Obviously today I felt like I had good legs, and I was allowed [by the Cannondale team] to go for it.”
Behind, Chris Froome (Sky), again revealed his canny instinct and form. He remained attentive in the finale, sprinting out of the peloton and causing a slight split that gained him a two-second advantage over other GC favorites.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) still leads the overall by 15 seconds over teammate Quintana, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) in third, 18 seconds behind. However, with his effort in the finish, Froome is now only 20 seconds behind the leader in fourth.
Four riders off the front
A very large group attacked early, but the peloton wasn’t about to let it go.
After the early escapees were brought back, another group went away, including Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Niklas Arndt (Giant-Shimano), Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing), and Dominik Nerz (BMC).
However, many other riders in the peloton wanted to participate, and as others bridged to the leaders, the breakaway’s size swelled to 15 riders.
Again, the field was unhappy with the situation, and brought it all back together.
“The course was tough and the riders made it extra hard,” said Belkin sports director Erik Dekker. “The start was fast and not long after, all hell broke loose. In the first hour, about 100 riders were dropped. If that happens in a pro peloton, the pace must be really, really high.”
Hesjedal and Tschopp then got off the front.
A few kilometers later, the leading duo were joined by Dupont and de Marchi.
In the peloton behind, Chris Froome (Sky) suffered a crash, but returned safely to the field.
With 69 kilometers left, the break’s advantage hit its zenith at 7:18.
The gap was gradually brought down to 4:07 by the time the leaders saw 20km to go.
Crash disrupts breakaway
With 14 kilometers left, Hesjedal crashed on a gradual bend, possibly hitting a patch of gravel, losing contact with the leaders. De Marchi took advantage of the situation and rode away from Tschopp.
Dupont was dropped by the two leaders, while Hesjedal waited for a new bike. When he crashed, his bike was run over by a camera motorcycle.
Back in the peloton, Lampre-Merida tried to chase, but it appeared that Movistar moved to the front and told the Italian team’s riders to ease off the pace. Perhaps they believed the break was too far away to be easily brought back.
With 12 kilometers remaining, de Marchi had a 3:05 lead over the field, and Tschopp was still chasing, 20 seconds behind the Cannondale rider.
At 5km to go, de Marchi’s advantage over Tschopp was 45 seconds.
The Italian leader’s advantage stretched to 1:35 with 3.2km to go. Behind, Hesjedal had joined Tschopp and Dupont in the chase. The peloton remained 3:22 behind.
But de Marchi was long gone, riding solo to win. “It’s never easy to win, but you just have to keep trying,” he said. “The close results give you motivation to try again. This is an important win for Cannondale as well. The team is closing, and we wanted to leave this Vuelta with a stage victory. We will try to win another one.”
Behind, Hesjedal led the chasing trio in, followed by Dupont and Tschopp.
“I am really happy with the day and my fourth place,” Tschopp said. “I already eyed this stage even though it was difficult to know beforehand how I would feel since the heat is so intense from the start. We broke away from the group on the first climb, and with riders like Hesjedal and de Marchi as company, I really had to hang on during the false-flats. I gave my maximum and I managed to score some points for the king of the mountains. This will maybe help me if I recover well and find some opportunities in the second and third weeks of racing. Certainly it has given me a lot of confidence for the rest of the race.”
As the peloton arrived, Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp), Philippe Gilbert (BMC), and Froome attacked out of the group, hoping to cause a split on the final rise to the finish. The Sky leader succeeded in taking two seconds out of other GC favorites, including the race’s current leader, Valverde.
Giant Shimano’s Warren Barguil suffered a crash in the finale. The Frenchman was slow to get off the tarmac, and eventually walked his bike across the finish.
“It was a hard stage, [with] dangerous roads, [and it was] very hot again,” said Valverde. “When Froome crashed, we waited. It’s a matter of respect. Tomorrow should be a bit easier, we hope. Every day has been hard so far in this Vuelta. We hope the heat diminishes in the coming days.”
“I decided to take the wheel of Alejandro [Valverde] because I thought Valverde was going to close the gap,” Contador said of the finish. “Froome started, but I saw that Alejandro didn’t go. That surprised me, and I [didn't] know if at the end we [had] lost any [time].”
The peloton faces a flat 207km stage from Baeza to Albacete Saturday.