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Vuelta a Espana 2017: Stage 15


The peloton is rolling through the neutralised zone ahead of what many reckon to be the most difficult stage of the Vuelta a Espana. Don't just take our word for it: Nicolas Roche has raced and trained at Sierra Nevada many times over the years, and knows a thing or two about the terrain on today's stage, as Alasdair Fotheringham discovered.

There are three categorised climbs crammed into just 129 kilometres of racing. Midway through the stage, the riders reach the category 1 Alto de Hazallanas (16.3km at 5.5%). After a long descent, they climb again at the category1 Alto del Purche (8.5km at 8%). Much like the Lauteret-Galibier combination at the Tour de France, there is no respite between the final two ascents. The Purche leads directly into the final haul to Sierra Nevada, up the Alto Hoya de la Mora, which drags on for 19.3km at an average gradient of 5.6%, and reaches an altitude of 2510 metres.

A reminder of the general classification as the peloton reaches kilometre zero:

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The riders in the break are Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors), Stephane Rossetto, Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Nelson Oliveira (Movistar), Luis Mas Bonet (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo), Tom Van Asbroeck (Cannondale-Drapac) and Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal). Armee is the highest placed on GC, some 45:47 down on Froome.

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It is 35 degrees in the valley this afternoon, but the temperature will be a more manageable 20 degrees at the finish at Sierra Nevada this afternoon, where there is also reportedly a stiff breeze.

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The peloton hits the same point and duly fragments. Diego Rosa (Sky) is among the riders dropped as the gradient stiffens to 18%.

Peter Stetina (Trek-Segafredo), Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) open a small gap over the peloton on the steepest section of the climb.

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Up front, meanwhile, Sander Armee (Lotto Soudal) claws his way up to Stephane Rossetto (Cofidis) at the head of the race. This duo has 1:50 on the peloton, while the remnants of the break are scattered in the no man's land that separates them. The television cameras seem to have lost sight of Stetina, Bardet and Yates, though it is possible they have simply been brought back into the peloton.

Froome has dropped back into the main body of the red jersey group, which comprises around 35 riders. The Briton has Wout Poels and Mikel Nieve alongside him.

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Nicolas Roche (BMC) has been dropped from the peloton on the Alto de Hazallanas. Rui Costa (UAE-Emirates) and Antonio Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) are among those struggling at the rear, but they are just about in contact.

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Sander Armee leads alone over Alto de Hazallanas. He has 1:25 in hand on Bardet, Yates, Kruijswijk and Oliveira and 3:10 on the red jersey group.

Armee faces into the long 20-kilometre drop to the day's final, two-part climb to Sierra Nevada. Rossetto seems to have fallen away completely, and the Bardet group is the second group on the road.

Team Sky return to the front of the reduced peloton as it crests the summit of Alto de Hazallanas, some 3:15 down on Armee.

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Up ahead, the front group fragments as Adam Yates and Bardet forge away from Kruijswijk and Armee is dropped.

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David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors) has been flitting off the back of the red jersey group for most of the climb, and the Spaniard now seems to have been definitively jettisoned.

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Bardet leads Contador and Lopez through the same point, 1:09 down on Yates.

A delegation from Sky lead the red jersey group over the Alto del Purche, 1:40 down on Yates. Froome is the only GC man with strength in numbers around him in this group.

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Froome has three Sky riders for company in this red jersey group. Nibali is lined up just behind them, with Fabio Aru on his wheel. Wilco Kelderman, Michael Woods and Tejay van Garderen are all still in this group.

Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), meanwhile, has slipped away from the red jersey group on the lower slopes of the climb and opened a small gap.

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There are perhaps 25 riders still in this red jersey group, and Nibali, Kelderman, Chaves et al have thus far given no indication of an attempt at attacking Froome's lead. There is, however, some considerable distance still to go to the finish.

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Mikel Nieve sets the pace for Sky, as Froome speaks into his radio behind. Wout Poels is the only other Sky rider with Froome in this group.

Nibali has a gap of about 50 metres over the Nieve-led Froome group, but he could probably do with some company considering how shallow the gradient is here.

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Nibali relents and is caught by the red jersey group. It was a curious place to attack and in the absence of any companions, it was perhaps always likely to be a futile endeavour.

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Lopez's forcing proves too much for Kruisjwijk, who loses a bike length and is dropped. Bardet has to swoop around the Dutchman to stay in contact with Contador and Lopez.

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Bardet lasts about 200 metres before he too is distanced. Lopez is in lone pursuit of Yates and is 49 seconds down on the Briton.

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Miguel Angel Lopez timed his effort just a fraction too late yesterday and had to settle for second place at La Pandera. He has given himself a far better chance of catching the earlier escapee this afternoon...

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Poels' forcing is shedding riders from the rear of this group. Froome sits in second wheel, with Nibali lined up just behind the red jersey. 

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Zakarin peeled off a brace of attacks like this on the Giro, and he might snatch some seconds from his podium rivals here...

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Zakarin has opened a useful gap over the red jersey group. Contador, meanwhile, is dropped just before they reach the final kilometre.

The red jersey group is reduced still further as Poels turns the screw. Nibali, Chaves, Kelderman and Woods are the only men who can stick with Froome and Poels.

Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) wins stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana at Sierra Nevada.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) takes second on the stage, 36 seconds down.

Kelderman takes third ahead of Chris Froome and Esteban Chaves, 45 seconds down on Lopez. Nibali lost a few seconds on Froome in that final kick to the line.

Aru also conceded ground in the final kilometre. Contador crosses the line 1:26 down on the stage.

Chris Froome (Sky) will retain the red jersey and slightly extend his overall lead ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).


General classification after stage 15:

Froome extends his advantage to 1:01 over Nibali, whose attack on the final climb came to nothing. Lopez's stage victory has moved him up to 6th overall and into the hunt for a place on the podium in Madrid. For the time being, Zakarin moves up to third overall thanks to his canny attack in the finale here, but Kelderman limited the damage by picking up the four bonus seconds for taking third on the stage.

Miguel Angel Lopez speaks as he waits to mount the podium: "It's been a magnificent day. Today we decided to attack with Contador. When Contador went, I went with him, but I had some doubts because it was a pretty long and demanding climb. With a final at above 2,000 metres it was really hard. So I had my doubts – but I found myself with the necessary strength and here we are."

Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) came in 4:37 down. He looked to be headed for stage victory only to be caught by Lopez. Although he was able to hang tough for 100 metres or so, he was unable to match the Colombian's vicious pace. "I tried my best so I can’t be disappointed with that," Yates says. "I slowed down a little bit because I knew he was going to come past me at speed but to be honest, I was pedalling squares in the last 6k and that’s all there is to it. I gave it my best. Maybe I attacked a bit early. It didn’t work out today, but it’s going to work out in the future."

Thanks for following our live coverage on Cyclingnews this afternoon. A full report, pictures and results are available here, and we'll have all the news and reaction from Sierra Nevada in due course.


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