Team BikeExchange wrapped up a challenging Vuelta a España on Sunday as the three-week Grand Tour concluded with a time trial in Santiago de Compostela.
The squad come away from Spain without that elusive stage win, but head home with five top-five finishes and a total of 10 top-10 finishes after a series of close calls and bad luck.
The action kicked off with a short prologue in Burgos as Australian Michael Matthews powered to ninth place, before backing it up with a tight third place in the sprint finish to the opening road stage. A top-five followed on stage five, with the 30-year-old then getting in the mix on the uphill finish to stage six as he showed his versatility against the pure climbers in the peloton.
The squad continued to plug away as they attempted to deliver Matthews to a stage win, with another third place on stage 12 after an impressive team effort to reel in the breakaway against the odds. Slovenian Luka Mezgec then took his chance in a frantic finish to stage 13, taking fourth in a messy sprint finale.
Sazka Tour stage winner Nick Schultz infiltrated the break of the day on stage 10 and the 26-year-old went on to battle to his best Grand Tour result as he crossed the line in seventh place at the end of a tough day.
The racing then headed into the high mountains with the team putting riders in several breakaways across a number of days. A brave ride by Andrey Zeits saw him grab another seventh place for the squad on a brutal stage 14, after going on the attack on the final climb of the day.
Lucas Hamilton, Mikel Nieve, Damien Howson and Rob Stannard all headed up the road in the various stages that followed as the team went hunting for a win. But with a number of general classification teams also searching for victories, the breakaways were regularly hauled back.
Stage 19 presented the final opportunity for Matthews, but despite a valiant chase by the entire team, the escapees managed to hold off the charging bunch to contest the victory. Schultz then made the break on the final tricky road stage as he climbed to 15th, with the GC contenders once again sweeping up the early attackers.
The three-weeks concluded with a 33.8km time trial in Santiago de Compostela that saw Primoz Roglic take the stage victory and seal the overall, while Matthews put in a solid ride to end as the team’s top finisher on the day.
“The whole team put in lots of work to nab that stage win, we fought every single day for it, whether it was for the breakaway or a sprint for me. We fell short, unfortunately, but it wasn’t through a lack of trying that’s for sure.
We gave it everything every single day, I don’t think there was a stage at this Vuelta that we didn’t have a plan to try and win the stage. We arrived at the final stage with everyone on their hands knees through giving it their all every single day.
We we’re in a few breakaways, we attempted a few sprints, we were always around the mark, but never got top of that podium unfortunately, which was the goal when coming here.”
Julian Dean (Sports Director):
“There were expectations for Mikel Nieve to ride GC, but he had a crash early, we were hunting stages with Michael Matthews. We had a few top-10s here and there but we didn’t get the stage win that we were really hunting.
In retrospect, knowing how the race has panned out now, you might think about your rider selection and a different way of doing things. I think there were a couple of guys here that we knew were not on top of their game coming in and we kind of expected them to get better and be good at the end of this race and the race was just too hard for that to happen.
I think what you see in this era of cycling, you can’t use a race like the Vuelta a Espana to prepare, if you want to be competitive you have to come here fit and ready to go.”
Photo Courtesy of Getty Sport.