The headlines were inevitably dominated by Fabio Aru’s unseating of Tom Dumoulin, but Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) had ample reason to celebrate following the penultimate day of the Vuelta a España as he moved into third place overall.
The Pole was one of the beneficiaries as the red jersey Dumoulin was distanced on the Puerto de la Morcuera and then cracked on the Puerto de Cotos, with the Dutchman shipping more than four minutes to the podium contenders and slipping from first to sixth on general classification.
Already provisionally on the podium, Majka then went on the offensive towards the top of the Cotos, tracking the acceleration of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and threatening the second place finish of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Majka finished the stage almost a minute clear of Rodriguez and Aru, but ultimately missed out on second place overall by just 12 seconds. He rides into Madrid on Sunday afternoon third on GC, 1:29 behind Aru.
“I was only 12 seconds away from second place in the GC. It’s a pity since it’s such a small margin but it doesn’t matter, I am just so happy with the podium right now,” Majka said. “We did it on the final day! I was on my maximum pulse on the last kilometres after attacking with Quintana but I kept going as fast as I absolutely could only thinking about gaining as much time as possible.
“I am so happy right now because this is my dream. To reach the podium of a Grand Tour is very special for me.”
Majka, who turned 26 on Saturday, paid tribute to the efforts of teammate Jay McCarthy, who was part of the day’s early breakaway and provided assistance on the rapid drop to the finish in Cercedilla. After fine showings at the Giro d’Italia in 2013 and 2014, and three Tour de France stage wins in the past two editions, it was Majka’s first podium finish in a Grand Tour.
“Movistar and Astana set a fast pace on the first climbs and everybody was on their limit so I decided to attack and follow Quintana on the last climb. It was Astana’s job to drop Dumoulin and it was the Tinkoff-Saxo’s and my job to reach the podium,” Majka said. “We were pushing and pushing and on the top I met up with Jay McCarthy, who pulled very hard for me.”
A low-key showing in the Burgos time trial on Wednesday had appeared to have put paid to Majka’s podium aspirations, but directeur sportif Tristan Hoffman highlighted the Pole’s remarkable powers of recovery in the third week of such a tough Vuelta as key to the late turnaround in his fortunes.
“Rafal was so strong today, everybody was tired but his performance shows that his ability to recover is extraordinary,” he said. “The doctor said that it only took five deep breaths for him to get his breathing under control after he crossed the line. He had the legs and he has raced in a very active fashion – he really deserves this result.”