For José Joaquín Rojas, it appeared the Movistar rider's quest for a breakthrough Grand Tour stage would end on Stage 10 of the Vuelta a España. The two-time Spanish champion has a handful of third place finishes at the Tour de France and after crashing out for the Vuelta last appear, redemption on home roads in Murcia was on the cards.
However, with Italian Matteo Trentin enjoying a purple patch of form, Rojas knew the QuickStep-Floors rider was his most dangerous rival from the remnants of the day's breakaway. Trentin and teammate Niki Terpstra worked to trim the lead group which was down to four in the closing kilometres of the Collado Bermejo climb. Joining Trentin and Rojas was Jacques Janse Van Rensburg (Dimension Data), Rafael Reis, and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA).
Knowing his best bet for the stage win was to drop Trentin on the descent and Trentin likewise knowing Rojas was his major rival for the win, the duo jumped clear to ensure a two-up sprint for the win. Leading out into the final kilometre, it was inevitable that Trentin would be taking the win and despite Rojas jumping first, it was the Italian taking the easy win by a one-second margin.
"It was clear that Trentin was the worst contender we could fight for a stage against; he's the best sprinter in this Vuelta," Rojas said. "Finding him through a Cat-1 climb, in the roads of Murcia, just next to your home... It's sad we didn't really have a chance today. As we've said many times during this race, we must not stop trying, and for the moment we've snatched two third places, this second... We must continue to think that tomorrow's stage will be the good one."
For Rojas, who was fifth at Amstel Gold Race, it was his best personal result since winning the Spanish nationals in 2016. Despite being confident due to his local knowledge, Rojas acknowledged that with Trentin in the front group, he was always going to be riding for second place.
"I had things planned in my mind, I knew what I had to do because I knew the terrain, but in the end, I could only try to sneak a way past Trentin into the descent, because he was so strong on the climbs, and coming into a sprint we knew we couldn't beat him," he said.
"However, we weren't looking at him in the first place as a real contender. Before the Collado Bermejo, I was talking to Pablo Lastras, who was driving the DS car next to the break, and we agreed that 'Luisle' [LL Sanchez] could be our biggest rival, since he knew the climb and was one of the best riders uphill into that group. Once we saw Trentin was staying there, our only opportunity was dropping him into the downhill, but we didn't succeed."
With Marc Soler finishing in sixth place for Movistar, the Spanish squad will continue its fight for stage wins having lost Carlos Betancur to injury in the first week and having the race without former winner Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana.
While stage 11 to Observatorio Astronómico de Calar Alto is unlikely to suit Rojas, the high mountain stage could be a day for Soler to claim his first Grand Tour stage. And first stage for Spain at the 2017 Vuelta.
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