A gutsy mid-climb attack by Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) on the Vuelta a Espana's stage 11 ascent of the Peña Cabarga finally failed to net the Colombian the stage win as he was reeled in by race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Chaves' advantage rose to 15 seconds at one point, and apart from Quintana and Froome he was the only top overall contender to make a serious move on the climb. But Chaves, fifth in last year's Vuelta and a double stage winner, gently brushed off suggestions that his double-digit lead might have been a good enough gap to hold on for the win.
"Today there were no big differences, 15 seconds, it wasn't a big gap, it's as far as that bus over there," Chaves said, pointing at the next team vehicle in the line in a grimy industrial estate that was waiting for its riders to descend from the nearby Peña Cabarga ascent and head off for the hotel.
Chaves said that when Quintana passed him on the Peña Cabarga, "I didn't think much, all you feel is pain. You can only start thinking five or ten minutes after the line."
When Chaves finally crossed the line, he was eighth on the stage, 19 seconds back. Overall he remains in fourth, 2:34 down. His overall ambitions remain very much intact, but his ambition to take a stage win was palpable in his answers after Wednesday's defeat.
"If you finish seventh or eighth on GC it's good, but if you finish tenth and win a stage it's better. It's important to keep trying, keep believing as Mathew Hayman keeps telling me," Chaves said.
"The [first part of the] stage was really hard, we went at a very uncomfortable speed. It's crazy, four guys from Saxo [Tinkoff] caught 22 [in the break] so good legs for Saxo (sic) today. Finally I felt had good legs, so at the middle of the climb I tried."
Foillowing his blistering but unsuccessful attack at Peña Cabarga, Chaves argued that the climbs that suit him the best are the ones that are much longer, like those that await the Vuelta in the Pyrenees on stages 14 and 15, "the 40 or 50 minute climbs, one after another." But the Giro d'Italia runner-up also recognised that at the moment, Froome and Quintana were proving very difficult rivals to handle.
"Froome and Quintana are one step up from the others, but not too much," Chaves said. "I hope in the third week they will come down. You never know."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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