Crossing the line on the summit finish for stage 16 at the Vuelta a Espana, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) expressed he was content to have maintained third place on GC and put time into those challenging for his podium position. While Fränk Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) was riding solo to victory, behind the battle between the GC contenders was playing out with Majka playing a starring role.
"I'm satisfied, I have to be, because I was up there among the first," Majka said at the finish. "But it was difficult to follow Rodriguez when it's this steep. The last 500 metres were not easy, but I tried my best and gave it everything I had."
Monday's stage ended a mountainous middle week of the race that had begun with what many called hardest grand tour stage of all time and ended with the 5,000 metres of climbing on stage 16. As a specialist on the short, steep climbs, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) surged ahead on the viciously steep slopes of the Alto Ermita de Alba, which reached 30 percent at points, to cross the line first from the GC group and move into the overall lead ahead of Fabio Aru (Astana).
"Everybody had a lot of respect for the final climb today and with good reason – it was incredibly steep. The first part of the stage was very slow and the breakaway got 20 minutes and ended up finishing ahead," said sport director Tristan Hoffman. "So we decided to set a hard tempo over the climbs before the finale and also on Ermita de Alba, as we wanted to drop Dumoulin. However, he was very strong today… I think that many GC contenders wanted to gain more time than they did today."
The peloton will enjoy a second rest day on Tuesday, hoping to recover prior to the decisive 38.9km individual time trial in Burgos on Wednesday that is sure to shake up the general classification. The last time Majka rode a time trial of a similar distance was at the Tour de Suisse, where he finished ninth, but he is unsure of what to expect on the Burgos roads.
"Tomorrow is the rest day and we have to prepare for the TT. I haven't done an individual time trial in two months, but I have to go full gas for my team. Forty flat kilometres against the clock - it's going to be very tough and surely we will see some changes in the GC."