Valerio Conti (Lampre-Merida) has claimed an impressive solo victory in one of the toughest stages of the Vuelta a España, ripping out of a 12-man breakaway on a hilly final circuit to take his first WorldTour win at the age of 23.
Conti's winning attack on an unclassified climb came after he had already almost singlehandedly torn the break in half, yelling at the television motorbike to get out of the way as he repeatedly upped the pace ahead.
However, it was a lone charge, some 19 kilometres from the line, that allowed Conti to claim the stage outright, as he quickly gained around 40 seconds on a group of five chasers: Michael Gogl (Tinkoff), Vegard Stake Laengen (IAM Cycling), Danilo Wyss (BMC), and Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) - who would at least gain the King of the Mountains stage - and Yves Lampaert (Etixx-QuickStep).
Conti's past suggested considerable talent in the making, after beating a certain Ilnur Zakarin (then in Rusvelo) in a three man move in the 2014 GP Bruno Beghelli Classic and working very hard for his teammate Diego Ulissi in the hilly stages of this year's Giro d'Italia.
Until Friday's stage 13, Conti was best known in the Vuelta for wearing race number 1 in the 2014 race after former teammate and 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner was a last minute withdrawal. But when the Lampre-Merida team car drew up to Conti's side with five kilometres to go to the finish in Urdax on Friday, meaning his advantage was now over 60 seconds, it was clear that barring a sudden disaster, he was now going to shine in his own right.
"It was not a very hard finish, but the race has been really difficult up to now and we all noticed that on such a long stage like this one," the rider from Rome said afterwards.
"I've been trying to get into breaks every day since the Vuelta began, and when it hasn't worked out I've been helping the team. The GC's never been an objective."
After three stages when the early break has been sucked in before the finish, on this occasion, Conti said, "We knew that this breakaway would get to the finish because it was such a massive gap. It was the right move to try to win."
"I'd started off feeling a bit rough when the break started, but finally when the move reached the finish, my legs were better and I gave it absolutely everything I could on the hardest part of the finishing circuit."
"It was the perfect day for me and the perfect break. I can even say that I am the happiest man in the world today."
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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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