Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) came within a whisker of the biggest victory of his nine-year career on Thursday at the Vuelta a Espana when he went on the attack in what was arguably the race's toughest stage to date - only to be defeated in the closing kilometres.
Having caught and passed Omar Fraile (Dimension Data) in the summit of an unclassified climb 20 kilometres from the finish, Frank became the last man standing from an early break on a stage described by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) as so tough "that it was one for the GC contenders."
Frank opened up a gap to around a minute with nine kilometres to go, and still had 40 seconds six kilometres from the line. But then, even as he managed to hold off the peloton on a last unclassified climb, he was quickly passed by Simon Yates within three kilometres from the line. And after such a strong performance through the day, suddenly as Yates disappeared up the road, it was game over for the Swiss allrounder, even though he still took a solid seventh on the line in Luintra.
The 29-year-old was visibly disappointed at the finish. After turning pro with Gerolsteiner back in 2008 then racing with BMC and now IAM Cycling, he has a top five finish in the Tour de Suisse, back-to-back stage wins in the Tour of Austria, and was eighth in the Tour de France, but a Vuelta stage would have been a major step up.
Frank answered blankly and simply, "Yes, that's how it is" when one reporter said to him, "You had the win in your grasp and then Yates came past your shoulder," and, "Sure", when asked if he was disappointed.
"When I heard Orica were driving really hard behind on that second category, I knew it would be very hard to get to the finish, but I was still determined to try," Frank said. "I wanted to give it one last shot, but maybe from not too far out, because they [Orica-Bike Exchange and Movistar Team] were going all out."
"I tried to give it all, but then Yates came past, that's how it is. I had good legs and that’s the positive thing," he said before repeating, as if to remind himself, "That's the good thing."
In their final season, IAM are shining as never before, and Frank - set to join AG2R La Mondiale for two years from 2017 - explained, "I think we could finally show the potential of this team. We have a strong team with good guys. We had a win in the Giro, a stage in the Tour and we want to get at least one here."
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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