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Victory at Tour de l’Ain gives Storer vital confidence for Vuelta a España win

BALCON DE ALICANTE SPAIN AUGUST 20 Michael Storer of Australia and Team DSM competes in the breakaway during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 7 a 152km stage from Ganda to Balcn de Alicante 995m lavuelta LaVuelta21 on August 20 2021 in Balcn de Alicante Spain Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo MorenoGetty Images
Michael Storer (Team DSM) (Image credit: Getty Images)

A big boost to his self-confidence gained through his first-ever pro wins at the Tour de l’Ain last month helped Michael Storer (Team DSM) claim an even bigger prize on stage 7 at the Vuelta a España on Friday.

In late July, Storer took the overall victory in the mountainous stage race in France, ranked 2.1, after claiming the win on the last day at Lélex-Mont Jura. “Maybe to some people this is a small race but for me it was an emotional win,” the 24-year-old said at the time.

Then in the Vuelta a España, after DSM had placed five riders in the 29-man move of the day including himself and France’s Romain Bardet, when Storer chased down a late attack by EF Education-Nippo’s Lawson Craddock, he found himself battling for another, much more high-profile, triumph.

Briefly clear himself with 15 kilometres to go, the key moment came after Storer reeled in Spanish challenger Carlos Verona (Movistar) and subsequently broke away three kilometres from the summit of the dauntingly steep Balcon de Alicante climb.

Although his gap on Verona never widened beyond 20 to 30 seconds, the Australian climber handled the final, severely challenging ramps of up to 18 per cent without ever really faltering. Then after a welcome final downhill 300-metre stretch to the finish, his first WorldTour victory was in the bag.

“In the second half of the climb I had the feeling that maybe I was the strongest guy,” Storer said later. “When Carlos Verona attacked it was very difficult and then I tested him, I went past him and he didn’t respond.

“But the last three kilometres were brutally hard and you can see that as the time gap didn’t go out at all.”

Storer described the last part of the stage, with himself, Sivakov, Andreas Kron (Lotto Soudal) and Verona all factors in the game as “super complicated and super tactical. It wasn’t just about who was strongest, you have to follow the right wheels as well,” he said.

“You can’t plan the last five or eight kilometres of a race like that you have to do it off feeling.

“But I played it good in the end and I was getting a lot of encouragement from the team car, too. I had  to really hold strong, though, and I probably only enjoyed the last metre before I crossed the line, it was that difficult.”

With more riders than any other team in the breakaway, Storer denied he and his teammates would have been in trouble with his sports director had a DSM rider not won. Rather they knew their strength in numbers increased their chances of victory.

But his own form, he said, was what enabled him to get the best crack at the win at the end of the day.

“I also went to the Giro with good condition, but not perfect preparation. I’d been sick in the six weeks before it. This time I had a perfect run of training before the Vuelta and I think that made a difference today.” That, and his recent success at the Tour de l’Ain, too.

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.