Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing) put the pain of a broken rib to one side, animating stage 15 of the Vuelta a España as one of the five breakaway riders of the day. The Belgian was swallowed up, but not before a brief fight, and spat out by a select GC group that overtook him on the final climb to Lagos de Covadonga but rallied to finish the stage in 15th place.
"I am suffering with a broken rib still, from the crash of the TTT, and I also had problems with pain in my back today," Vandewalle said. "But I tried to cover the attacks at the start. At a certain moment I decided to go myself, and then we had five guys. I had hoped it would have been a bigger group, but they gave us a lot of time."
Vandewalle was powerless when breakaway companion Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida) attacked the group on the final 12km climb to ride away and claim the stage win but explained that he felt he could have challenged for the victory had the break stayed together.
"I think if I was there at the end and fighting for the victory that Niemiec would have been hard to beat, but I am sure I could have been second," he added. "But the GC guys were faster today. Even if my back and ribs are not perfect I was still confident that I could do a good race today, and that I can still do something in the last week."
The efforts of Vandewalle impressed sports director Josu Larrazabal who followed the 29-year-old up the climb in the team car.
"It was a hard 12km climb for Kristof who is not a pure climber, but he did a really, really good job to stay close to Niemiec," Larrazaba said. "In the last kilometres he missed a little bit, and the GC guys caught him, but to finish in the top 15 today, you have to understand for him, that was a super effort."
While Vandewalle was animating the front of the race, the team's Colombian climber Julian Arredondo was making his exit from the three-week race due to fatigue.
Arredondo was making his second grand tour appearance of the year at the Vuelta having won a stage and the climbers classification at the Giro d'Italia in May but struggled through the first hot week of the race in southern Spain.
"Julian was tired for a lot of days, and we encouraged him to keep going in case he could recover and do something later in the race," sports director Adriano Baffi said. "But today he stopped, he is simply very, very tired."