From the French side of the Spanish border all the way down to deepest southwestern Spain, Matteo Trentin and his Quick-Step Floors teammates have continued to rack up the victories. On a baking hot afternoon in Tomares, the Vuelta a España's most westerly point this year, Trentin triumphantly punched the air for the third time in the race.
Yves Lampaert opened up Quick-Step Floors' account in the Vuelta a España when the bunch split apart in Gruissan, France on stage 2, becoming Belgium's first leader of the Vuelta for seven years, and Julian Alaphilippe took a brilliantly calculated victory at Xorret de Cati a week later.
But it was Trentin who claimed the team's first victory on Spanish soil in a bunch sprint in stage 5 in Tarragona. The 28-year-old then doubled his score by outpowering Jose Joaquim Rojas (Movistar) on the Murcia man's home soil in Alhama. Then in Tomares in Andalusia, three days further on, Trentin has made that a hat trick as he comfortably out-powered Gianni Moscon (Team Sky) on a tricky uphill finish. Or as Trentin himself defined Tomares, "a finish for puncheurs."
Of his three wins, Trentin said that Friday's win, coming on a highly technical finale and with that fiddly final uphill kick, "was the hardest because the finish was really hard. But there was also the one with Rojas because I had to go in the breakaway that day, and going in the breakaway was the first little victory of the day."
"The easiest could have been Tarragona, just because the course was easier, mainly downhill from Andorra. Today was not downhill at all, there was 2,000 meters of [vertical] climbing and the finish was hard."
However, he reasoned, "Winning is never easy and it's never easy with this field, either. They say there are no sprinters here but no stages for sprinters either. Today was not for sprinters at all, it was a stage for puncheurs and I'm really happy to get the win today."
Trentin paid tribute to his squad, saying they had put "Tim Declercq on the front to pull straight away from kilometre one," and pointing out how hard Quick-Step Floors had to work to close down a move with two breakaway specialists as tough to crack as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC Racing Team).
On top of that, in the final kilometres, Quick-Step had to handle moves by Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal), Søren Kragh Andersen (Team Sunweb) and stage 5 winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) on the relentlessly undulating climbs through the outskirts of Seville, the Andalucian capital, and in the suburbs of nearby Tomares. But despite the splits and the technical nature of the finale, the Belgian squad delivered their man in the perfect position to capture his third stage.
Not everything went perfectly for Quick-Step Floors, with David De La Cruz slipping a spot on GC to fifth after he was caught out by a split in the bunch. Equally, and somewhat surprisingly given he is the only multiple stage winner in the Vuelta a España this year so far, Trentin's hold on the green jersey of points leader continues to look a little fragile.
Trentin has an advantage of 103 points to Chris Froome's total of 84. With 25 points on offer for a victory, though, a single stage win for Froome would put the Sky rider back on top of the ranking, and as Trentin pointed out, the upcoming stages are hardly favorable for him.
"Nothing is impossible," the Italian said, "But it's going to be super hard to defend the green jersey all the way to Madrid.
"There are only mountain stages and a time trial remaining from here to Madrid, a lot of points on offer, and to be honest there is maybe one stage on the way where I can maybe go in the breakaway."
"That's my only opportunity I can have before Madrid. So I will take it on day by day and if I can bring it home I'm going to be really happy."
With such a huge haul of stage wins for himself and for Quick-Step Floors from one side of Spain to the other, the 2017 Vuelta is already a massive triumph for Trentin and the Belgian team.
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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