Victory in Vuelta a Espana a massive first for De La Cruz
Young Spaniard takes race lead from the day's breakaway
A sudden acceleration 600 metres from the finish line in the Alto de Naranco has proved more than enough to power Spain's David De La Cruz into the Vuelta a Espana's limelight, as the Etixx-Quick Step rider secured the first victory of his career in his country's biggest stage race - and the overall race lead to boot.
The 27-year-old Catalan, not known for his climbing talents, will almost certainly lose the lead on Monday's ascent to the Lagos de Covadonga. But for now, he has taken Spain's first win in the Vuelta in 2016, and will spend at least one day atop the general classification, so come what may on Monday his Vuelta already constitutes a huge success.
Running 15th overall at 2:46 on overnight leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) before Sunday's result, De La Cruz was by far the best rider on GC in the 12-man move that was fighting for the stage win.
Having seen a flurry of late attacks from the break fail to work out, De La Cruz then went away with one rider, Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling), a move which could have seen the two carve up the spoils - the stage for the Belgian and the lead for De La Cruz - far more easily than had the entire break reached the line together.
In the event, Devenyns' loss of power in the closing kilometre when De La Cruz jumped away saw the Spaniard claim the stage win and overall lead to boot.
De La Cruz explained that his objectives changed during the stage. "I wanted to get in the break for the leader's jersey, but then seeing the margin we had, it was very tricky.
"It needed to be up to eight minutes, knowing that there would be a loss of maybe two on the final climb as the bunch accelerated and allowing for us to lose time anyway."
"So I started to doubt I could get the lead, but ended up going for both."
De La Cruz's victory, curiously enough, comes three years after another Catalan from the outskirts of Barcelona, the recently retired Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) won on the same ascent of Naranco, the last time the Vuelta tackled the steadily rising second category climb outside the city of Oviedo. De La Cruz is from Barcelona's dormitory city of Sabadell, whilst Rodriguez hails from the nearby town of Parets del Valles.
"It's really beautiful to follow in his wheel tracks, even though he's inimitable, the best rider Catalonia has ever known" - a claim fans of 1950s Catalan star Miguel Poblet may dispute, given Poblet is one of just three riders ever to win stages in all three Grand Tours in the same year, as well as 20 Giro stages and two Milan-San Remos - "and one of the greatest ever in Spain."
A former athlete who switched to amateur cycling to stay fit whilst injured, De La Cruz also has a history of a good kind with Naranco. The 27-year-old finished fifth there in 2012 in the Vuelta a Asturias, the biggest professional race in the region, and came second overall behind Beñat Intxausti, then racing with Movistar.
"I think more than knowing the climb, having good memories of what happened back in 2012 helped me today," De La Cruz said. "It was a really important result back there, because it moved me onto the podium in Asturias and that helped my career."
Combined with top 10 results in the Tour of Portugal and Vuelta a Madrid that year, De La Cruz moved onto Endura in 2013, before joining Etixx-Quick Step, after two lacklustre seasons, in 2015. He has already recently re-signed with his team for another year.
For Etixx-Quick Step, the Spaniard's move into the red jersey of leader means they control no fewer than three different classifications at this point in the game - the points with Gianni Meersman, and the overall and combined classification with De La Cruz.
In a resoundingly successful Vuelta for the Belgian team, Sunday's victory is also the third win for Etixx-Quick Step in nine stages. Finally they also have Gianluca Brambilla - who turned in a very similar kind of performance in the Giro d'Italia this May to De La Cruz' ride on Sunday, taking a stage win and holding onto the lead in the first week thanks to a breakaway move - in ninth overall.
The only question is whether De La Cruz can now hold onto the overall lead, but the Spaniard recognised that whilst he plans to go down with all guns blazing on Covadonga, it will be very difficult for him to stay in the top spot overall.
"It will not be straightforward, but I'm going to do my best," De La Cruz said. "If there were a couple of sprint stages, then I'd be more optimistic. But I won't go down without a fight."
As for how this changes his future, the 27-year-old said he was keeping his feet on the ground. "I'll keep on working for my teammates, doing what I've done. It doesn't change anything, except I might have a few more followers on Twitter."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.