A week to the day after Gianpaolo Caruso (Bahrain Victorious) claimed a long-distance solo victory in the Vuelta a España deep in southern Andalucia, another top climbing specialists, Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates) made an even longer successful lone attack in the mountains of Avila.
While Caruso launched his lone move to Velefique 68 kilometres from the line, Majka sheered away from co-breakaway artist Fabio Aru (Qhuebeka-NextHash) with 87 kilometres to go from the finish town of El Barraco.
A full two hours later, the 31-year-old came home alone, pointing his arms repeatedly skywards as he celebrated his first victory in four years. Curiously enough, his previous win was also a stage of the Vuelta at La Pandera, a summit finish near last week’s stage finish of Valdepeñas de Jaén, when Majka fended off a powerful, late counter-attack by Miguel Ángel López.
This time Majka’s gap was much bigger and his fourth Grand Tour stage victory carried much more emotional significance.
“Back then it was a nice win, also from a break, but today was very important for me,” said Majka. “I wanted to win for my father, who died recently.”
Majka has recently completed the Tour de France, where he did sterling work for team leader Tadej Pogačar in the Pyrenees despite a bad crash late in the second week. At the Vuelta, with Pogačar racing elsewhere, Majka and the UAE team were trying for stage wins and to shine in their own right.
“I didn’t come to do the Vuelta GC, rather we have opportunities to go for breaks so I took today’s chance” Majka, third in the Vuelta in 2015, told reporters.
“I had very good legs and knew that I had to finish alone because I’m not fast on the finishes. Also I knew I had to drop Aru because I wanted to go at my own pace, rather than have to work with somebody else.
“I was scared that [chaser Steven] Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) might catch me, but I always kept going at my own speed, I felt pretty confident.”
And with an advantage of over a minute at the top of both the second to last climb, the first-category Mijares, and again on the third-category San Juan de la Nava, Majka could take a memorably long-distance victory.
“When I got to the final climb with that advantage, I knew that I could win,” Majka said afterwards, “and I actually eased back a little on the descent into the finish, because I knew I didn’t need to take too many risks. And it worked out fine.
“Sometimes you have good legs and it doesn’t work out but I tried today from the start to the end. I wasn’t going to wait for anybody today. I wanted to win for my father, for my two kids and for my great team, UAE.”
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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