Vuelta a España: Hesjedal wins stage 14 on La Camperona

Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) won the 14th stage of the Vuelta a España atop La Camperona, passing Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff-Saxo) with less than 200 metres to go to snatch the win. Third place went to Imanol Erviti (Movistar). All three were part of a breakaway group that had formed early in the stage, with two battles fought out on the road: for the stage and for the overall classification.

Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) held onto the race overall lead but was surprised by a strong attack by Team Sky’s Chris Froome. The British rider appeared struggle early on the steep part of the climb to La Camperona after his teammates lead the peloton. However he came out of nowhere to join the select group of climbers and then quickly passed Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). It was enough to move him up to third place behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who lost precious seconds.

Valverde was unable to hold on to Froome, Contador an the others on the steepest part of the final two kilometres of the climb when the gradient touched 15%. He lost 22 seconds to Contador and is now at 42 seconds. Froome is third at 1:13, with Rodriguez fourth at 1:29. Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) failed to perform to expectations and dropped from third to fifth, at 2:07.

Froome was tenth on the stage but the first rider not in the breakaway of the day to cross the finish line, 2:36 after Hesjedal. The attack had started out as a large one, with 23 riders in it and had built up a lead of seven and a half minutes. The peloton appeared to keen to chase the attack down at one point, with Omega Pharma-QuickStep doing a lot of the work. However they ran out of steam and the break managed to open a gap again and stay away to fight for the stage victory.

Hesjedal timed his effort perfectly. He edged clear from the small lead group with two kilometres to go, with Zaugg giving chase. The Swiss rider then pulled ahead and it looked for a while as if he would make it alone to the finish. But Hesjedal kept his own rhythm, closing on and then passing an exhausted Zaugg with less than 200 meters to go. Hesjedal tried to celebrate his win but his fatigue and the steep gradient meant he almost fell over when he raised his arms in the air.

The lanky Canadian has recently hit the headlines after unfounded suspicions about a possible motor in his bike. His victory was a perfect reply. It was also his first victory since winning the 2012 Giro d'Italia and admitting to briefly doping during his early career as a mountain biker. It was a day of strong emotions.

How it happened

There was fear and loathing at the start in Santander on Saturday morning, as the peloton looked to the finish atop La Camperona, a new climb to the Vuelta, with a closing average gradient of 15% and a maximum of 24%.

Johan Tschopp of IAM Cycling did not take to the start, and later his teammate Dominik Klemme also abandoned the race. A little more than halfway through the day Peter Sagan (Cannondale) abandoned, with his focus now being on the upcoming World Championships.

The stage started out relatively flat, with the Cat. 3 Collada de la Hoz popping up at km 75. It took surprisingly long for the day’s break group to form, but when it did, after the first intermediate sprint, it turned out to be large and star-studded. Przemyslaw Niemiec and Jose Serpa (Lampre-Merida), Robert Wagner (Belkin), Luis Leon Sanchez and David Arroyo (Caja Rural), Guillame Laverlet (Cofidis), Romain Sicard and Yannick Martinez (Europcar), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Koen de Kort (Giant-Shimano), Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha), Bart de Clerq and Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Louis Meintjes, Jacques Janse van Rensburg and Jacobus Ventner (MTN-Qhubeka), Tom Boonen and Carlos Verona (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Luke Rowe (Sky), Sergio Paulhino and Oliver Zaugg (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Fabio Felline (Trek) were the 23 who finally got away and built up a lead of seven and a half minutes.

Sanchez had his eye on the mountain jersey, and took the first points at the Collada de la Hoz. More points were on tap at the next climb, the Cat. 1 Puerto de San Glorio. It was a long climb at nearly 21 km, but not terribly steep. Sanchez and teammate Arroyo jumped from the large group and made their way up alone, with Sanchez getting the jersey to pay him and Arroyo for their hard work.

They never had much of a lead though, and appeared to have taken on too much, perhaps too early. Sanchez looked to be suffering as they approached the summit, and the chasing group, now much reduced, caught them with about 1 km to go. Sanchez found the energy to jump again and take the 10 points at the summit. The group of 14 headed down the short descent together, with the peloton not quite five minutes back.

It was a short descent, as the rest of the stage was atop a ridge until the closing climb. As the Omega Pharma-QuickStep chase ran out of steam, the gap went up, and it looked as if the peloton had misjudged things on the day. However, none of those in the lead group was a GC threat, so the top riders could forget the stage win and concentrate on taking time from one another. Contador soon sent his men to the front of the peloton to keep control of the situation.

The 15% climb to the finish

The breakaway had a lead of 5:45 as they started up the dreaded final climb, said to be one of the steepest in Vuelta history. Behind them, Team Sky lead the chasing peloton, perhaps a signal that Chris Froome was going to try something again. Adam Hansen did his usual yeoman’s duty, pulling the group up most of the early part of the climb. The “real” climbing started with some three kilometres to go and Meintjes moved to the lead on the 15% section, the group already reduced to seven riders.

Riders were scared to attack too early and the seven stayed together until Hesjedal made his move with two kilometres to go, followed by Zaugg, who soon passed the Canadian and moved easily on ahead. Valverde was the first to attack out of the peloton, with Contador, Moreno and Rodriguez giving chase and catching him. Froome was noticeably absent from the action as Moreno dropped back but Aru moved up.

Up ahead, Contador’s teammate Zaugg was making his slow way up the more than 20% gradient, but Hesjedal refused to give up and get the Swiss rider in sight. Behind Contador followed the action of his teammate, jumping from the elite group. Rodriguez was the first one to fight his way up to the race leader, with Aru soon joining them. Valverde could only watch from behind. Then suddenly Froome appeared at the head of the Contador group, with only second-placed Uran missing amongst the overall contenders.

Hesjedal kept Zaugg in his sights the entire way, and with less than 200 meters to go, upped his speed and dug deep one last time to easily pas the Swiss rider. In fact, he had enough time to zip up his jersey and look back before crossing the finish line a fews seconds ahed of the Tinkoff-Saxo rider.

Froome not only appeared out of nowhere but just kept on moving up, attacking as the double-digit gradient eased. Aru led the chase for Contador, as they passed riders who had dropped from the earlier lead group. But Aru was not able to keep up the pace, and Rodriguez moved ahead of Contador in pursuit of Froome. He finished only one second behind the Briton, with Contador seven seconds back, Valverde losing thirty seconds, and Uran falling off the podium.

It was only the first of three days in the mountains of northern Spain and the Asturias but it has already left its mark. Sunday's stage is to the top of the Lagos de Covadonga, with rain forecast for the day. It will no doubt be another thrilling day of racing.  


Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin Sharp5:18:10
2Oliver Zaugg (Swi) Tinkoff-Saxo0:00:10
3Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team0:00:30
4Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team Katusha0:00:39
5Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN - Qhubeka0:00:42
6Bart De Clercq (Bel) Lotto Belisol0:00:52
7Romain Sicard (Fra) Team Europcar0:01:44
8David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA0:02:02
9Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team0:02:15
10Christopher Froome (GBr) Team Sky0:02:36
11Joaquím Rodríguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha0:02:37
12Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo0:02:43
13Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:02:45
14Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team0:03:05
15Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin Sharp0:03:21
16Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto Belisol0:03:30
17Damiano Caruso (Ita) Cannondale0:03:37
18Rigoberto Urán (Col) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team0:03:42
19Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions CreditsRow 18 - Cell 2
20Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Team KatushaRow 19 - Cell 2
21Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Giant-Shimano0:03:49
22Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha0:04:00
23Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Astana Pro TeamRow 22 - Cell 2
24Robert Gesink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team0:04:02
25Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky0:04:07
26Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team0:04:08
27Sergio Pardilla Bellon (Spa) MTN - Qhubeka0:04:16
28Samuel Sánchez Gonzalez (Spa) BMC Racing Team0:04:17
29Johan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica GreenEdge0:04:27
30Dominik Nerz (Ger) BMC Racing Team0:04:31
31Winner Anacona Gomez (Col) Lampre-Merida0:04:42
32Jérôme Coppel (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:04:44
33Maxime Monfort (Bel) Lotto BelisolRow 32 - Cell 2
34Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo0:04:49
35Maxime Medrel (Fra) Team Europcar0:05:07
36Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:05:09
37Gorka Izagirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 36 - Cell 2
38Luis León Sánchez Gil (Spa) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA0:05:19
39Andre Fernando S Martins Cardoso (Por) Garmin Sharp0:05:43
40Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:06:15
41José Herrada Lopez (Spa) Movistar Team0:07:03
42Wout Poels (Ned) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step Cycling Team0:07:09
43Philip Deignan (Irl) Team Sky0:07:12
44Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo0:07:30
45Kanstantsin Siutsou (Blr) Team Sky0:07:39
46Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida0:07:59
47Alberto Losada Alguacil (Spa) Team Katusha0:08:14
48Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) Astana Pro Team0:08:40
49Andrey Amador Bikkazakova (Crc) Movistar TeamRow 48 - Cell 2
50Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 49 - Cell 2
51Tobias Ludvigsson (Swe) Team Giant-ShimanoRow 50 - Cell 2
52Nathan Brown (USA) Garmin Sharp0:08:45
53Laurens ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team0:09:04
54Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) MTN - QhubekaRow 53 - Cell 2
55Dario Cataldo (Ita) Team Sky0:09:11
56Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team Katusha0:09:13
57Yannick Martinez (Fra) Team Europcar0:09:46
58Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin Sharp0:10:03
59Guillaume Levarlet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits0:10:28
60Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing0:10:31
61Amets Txurruka (Spa) Caja Ru