Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) won stage 10 of the Vuelta a España, a 36.7 kilometer time trial from Real Monasterio de Santa María de Veruela to Borja.
Tuesday was the German’s seventh TT victory this season, and it was a convincing win, despite a course that had a few tricky turns and punchy hills. Martin was unfazed by the unconventional time trial terrain.
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) set an early best time of 47:13 but was eclipsed by Martin’s effort. The world champion scorched the course, finishing in 47:02.
“It was one of the hardest time trials this year,” Martin said. “The mountain was quite hard, it was hard to find a rhythm and still keep some energy for the second part with the descent and the flat sections. It was also technical with a lot of corners. For sure it was a challenge. I also had some issues with heat at the end. I wasn’t so sure about the win. But I’m super happy I did it, as this is a race that does not suit me perfectly and there are plenty of strong time trialists here at La Vuelta. I made up some time on the second part of the parcours.”
Vuelta leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) came to grief on a downhill shortly after the first time check, dramatically flipping over his handlebars after clipping the guardrail. He carried on to finish, gingerly riding the rest of the course.
With his crash, the Movistar leader ceded over three minutes to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), who now wears the leader’s red jersey.
Of the GC favorites, Contador had the best day. He rode a 47:41 and now looks to be the man to beat, wearing red, with Quintana out of the running.
“It’s a shame about Quintana,” said Contador. “But there was strong wind in the corners. It was a very complicated descent. If you took too long to brake, before you know it, the corner eats you up.”
Parts of the course were freshly paved, but there were rough sections of concrete, and most of roads were quite narrow. Fabian Cancellara was not pleased with the course.
“It’s not just the up and down, the asphalt has nothing to do with a time trial, in my opinion,” said the former world time trial champion. “It will be even harder for the GC guys. I hope they find better roads next time. I did what I could, that was my goal today. My only doubt was my safety for myself, and I could not really find the rhythm.”
In fact, some of the streets were so narrow that a few teams with prominent GC favorites chose to put their mechanics on motorcycles with spare bikes on their shoulders.
Some riders, like Samuel Sanchez (BMC) and Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) chose to swap bikes after the course’s early, hilly kilometers. Anacona even went so far as to ride a standard road bike early in the course, then he changed to his time trial bike for the finish.
“It’s a hard time trial,” said Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) “I don’t like TTs, I like climbing. I think the first part was really good, but on the downhill part, I couldn’t find my rhythm. I tried to stay in position as good as possible.”
Quintana crashes out of lead
At the 10.8km checkpoint, race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was 21 seconds behind the best early time set by Sanchez at that spot.
Cancellara’s concerns ended up being quite prophetic.
Shortly after the time check, Quintana crashed heavily. The race leader reached down to adjust his left shoe on a descent. It seemed that this slight mental error set him up badly for a decreasing-radius corner.
As Quintana realized he was overshooting the bend, he braked too hard, causing his rear wheel to skid. By that point, it was all over. He clipped a stanchion on the guardrail, catapulting him over the bars, onto his back, on the pavement. The saddle was ripped from his bike on impact.
He took several minutes to compose himself, lying on his back, surrounded by team staff. He slowly got up, hopped aboard a new bike and carried on. His skinsuit looked like it had been through a cheese grater.
“I was feeling great in the uphill, but at that point of the descent my bike simply did not brake enough,” Quintana said. “Before the turn, I was tightening my shoe, which was a little bit loose, but I think that didn’t have an effect on my crash. The thing is that I kept braking for quite long, but it wasn’t enough because the bike didn’t stop, and I crashed. Fortunately, I could avoid having a bigger crash and I did not hurt myself really badly. I’m hurting in my left ankle and I also have blows all over my body, but I hope it’s nothing serious. This is cycling. I lost some time and I might be switching to help out Alejandro so we can conquer the overall podium.”
Overall favorites fight for time
Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) turned in the fastest split at the second time check. He finished a mere 15 seconds behind his teammate, Martin.
“We prepared for this time trial very well,” Uran said.”Together with the staff we analyzed all the details, and at the end I think I did very well. I took a good tempo immediately and I had good feeling. When Davide Bramati told me on the radio that at the second intermediate time I had the same time of Tony, I couldn’t believe it! It was really important to have that time gap from the team car, and to know we had a chance to go 1-2 I really went full gas. I lost some time in the last part, but to be honest the last 10 kilometers were really for big engine like Tony.”
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) also turned in a remarkably quick time, 48:03, to finish eighth.
“This was a time trial like the ones I used to make when I felt well,” Valverde said. “When conditions are normal, I usually keep close to the main specialists. There were two good phases for me, plus one not so good. The section before the top of the climb was really good. The first part of the descent also went well, but then, into the rest of the descent, I struggled to get back into a good pace. With 12k to go, I started to feel better; I did superb in the last 7k. Losing so few seconds to Alberto and finishing before Froome and Purito is fantastic.”
On the other hand, Chris Froome (Sky) finished 10th, 1:32 behind Martin, a disappointing result for a GC rider considered by many to be peerless in the time trial.
“Obviously I was hoping for a better ride today,” Froome told TeamSky.com “I definitely started out too fast. For the first 15 minutes I felt fantastic and I think I chased it a little much. By the time I hit the climb I started to really feel the effort of the fast start and I paid the price for the rest of the time trial. I think anyone who races and knows that feeling of starting out too fast, and how hard it is to come back from being in the red, will know what I’m talking about. It’s a horrible feeling and I had to just try to hold on to it and finish the best I could.”
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) also on the rebound from a Tour de France-ending crash, fared much better, riding to fourth place in the TT. He now leads the overall, with Valverde in second, 27 seconds behind. Uran jumped up to third position, 59 seconds in arrears. Anacona maintained his fourth-place position, but he is now 1:12 behind the leader. Froome sits fifth, 1:18 back from Contador.
“I could have never imagined that I would be in the leader’s jersey today,” said Contador. “It’s a huge surprise, even though I could tell I was doing a good ride, I thought someone would better me. It’s something to be happy with, but there’s still half the Vuelta to come. To be ahead of Valverde and Froome is something to be very happy about.”