By Shane Stokes
Young Irish rider Philip Deignan has been making a strong impression in his first three-week race, climbing well on recent stages of the Vuelta a España and riding aggressively on Saturday's 207 kilometre lumpy stage to Villacarrillo (Parque Natural Sierra de Cazorla).
The third year Ag2r Prévoyance pro was one of eleven riders who went clear roughly 66 kilometres after the start. He was in the thick of the action on the last of the day's four category three climbs, the Villanueva del Arzobispo, and attacked with approximately 18 clicks to go. Deignan was caught just before the top, after approximately three kilometres of freedom, and ultimately finished tenth on the stage after a jump close to the line was negated by the others who were racing for third place.
They crossed the line 50 seconds behind winner Jason McCartney (Discovery Channel) and 22 seconds after Thomas Lövkvist (Française des Jeux).
"The stage was good," said the 24 year-old after the finish. "I was supposed to try and get into the break today or tomorrow, because the break was probably going to succeed in these two days.
"I tried at the start and made it into the break. The hardest part was getting away, the first 70 km were very hard. Once we got the gap we pretty much rode tempo all day it was just the last 25 or 30 km when they started attacking.
"Up until then I felt okay, as well as could be expected anyway. I then tried to get away on the last climb, but I was caught just before the top."
He had another go near the end but the flatter terrain didn't suit the 63 kilo rider's characteristics. "I didn't really have the acceleration on the flat. I tried to get away again with about 800 metres to go, but I didn't really have the power or the speed in the sprint. I think a summit finish would have suited me better than a finish like today. I will try again, though, there is still a week left."
Deignan missed much of this season due to injury and a very busy return to racing [he rode Polynormande, the Deutschland Tour and the Tour of Ireland prior to the Vuelta] saw him start the Spanish race a bit below par.
He felt off-form in the first week but deliberately finished with the gruppetto whenever possible in order to enable him to ride back into shape. The tactic worked well; he rode strongly on the two recent summit finishes, placing 16th on stage nine to Estación de esquí Cerler, despite waiting for Ag2r's GC rider Stéphane Goubert. He was then 12th the following day to Andorra Arcalis, crossing the line 51 seconds behind stage winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank). Saturday's 10th place continued that upward trend.
"I will maybe try to go for another break, if I can," he said, when asked what his goal was for the rest of the race. "It is all about how you feel when you wake up in the morning. Some days you are bad and some days you're good. I will go for it whenever I can.
"I have the world championships the week after the race ends, and then there are some other big races all the way to Lombardy. There are a lot of objectives to come."