Q&A with Sport Director Neil Stephens on Pais Vasco Stage Five

Fri 11 Apr 2014

Michael Albasini flew the flag for ORICA-GreenEDGE in the early escape on the fifth stage of Vuelta al Pais Vasco. When the peloton overtook the remnants of the break and only two survivors remained up the road, Pieter Weening went on the attack. The Dutchman easily overtook the leading duo, quickly gaining a 10” gap over the reduced bunch on the final climb. Two kilometre later, just outside the final 10 kilometres, Weening had rejoined the front group.

He wasn’t finished yet. Weening hit out again with slightly more than one kilometre left to race. With an advantage over the bunch under the flamme rouge, Weening forged on in his solo bid for glory. This time, Movistar brought the race back together. Ben Swift (Team Sky) went on to win the small group sprint ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step).

Simon Yates was once again the top finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE in Basque Country. Slotting into 16th place, the neo-pro was one of 22 riders to finish on the same time as Swift. Following the penultimate day of racing, Yates jumps up one spot on the general classification. Fifteenth overall, the Brit sits 1’37 behind race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and maintains his hold on the top spot in the best young rider classification.

Sport Director Neil Stephens was full of praise for the way his squad animated the final road stage of the six day Basque tour. We asked questions. He answered. Read the transcript below.

Q: What was the team’s tactic today?

We wanted Michael or Pieter in the break today. They’re obviously both going really well, and they were both eager to go into the break. They both tried to get away today, but Michael was the one who managed it on two occasions. His first break didn’t last very long, but he eventually got into the move that stuck.

There was one guy in the break at four minutes on the general classification, and there was another guy who had the mountains classification jersey. Cannondale really put the pressure on to bring it back. By the time they did their bit, we were to the end of the stage, and Movistar really lit it up to try to benefit from the situation as well. 

Q: What was the thought behind Pieter’s attacks in the finale?

Pieter went on the attack after Michael was reabsorbed. He was great. He went on the attack twice. He was playing a dual role there. When he went on the attack, he was firstly looking to see if he could pull off a result. If that wasn’t possible, he had Simon behind him who could sit on the wheels of any chase that happened.

It was always going to be difficult for him to stay away, but the feeling this morning was definitely that we aren’t going to go down without a fight. Sure we’ve won a stage, and we’ll walk away happy – but if we could win two stages, even better.

Today we gave it one last big effort. In the time trial tomorrow, we only have a few guys that will go hard, so the rest could give it everything today.

Q: How did Christian Meier pull up today after his crash?

He’s a little bit sore, but he was going okay. You’ll see where he finished in the stage today, and that’s not a true reflection of how he is feeling. He actually waited up for Esteban [Chaves] today. Esteban is working hard to get through his second WorldTour race – one after the other – and he’s getting really tired,

Christian did the right thing today. Once he was at the back, he sat up and waited for Esteban. It’s a really important long term goal for us to get Esteban through this event, and Christian was looking after him to help us accomplish that.

Q: Did we have anyone going full gas in the individual time trial tomorrow?

 We have a couple guys getting ready for the Ardennes. Guys like Pieter Weening and Michael Albasini might not go full gas. They will go through the whole protocol as far as warming up and all the usual stuff around the time trial, but they’ll use the actual race as more of training effort.

The younger guys – the two Yates boys and Esteban – they’ll go through the whole process. Unfortunately, Esteban is quite exhausted but we want to try to get those three in the mentality of getting ready - recon properly, warm-up properly and all the rest.

The only one we really need to do a good result is Simon Yates, so he maintains his position in the lead of the best young rider’s classification. 

Q: Simon leads the best young rider’s classification but we haven’t seen him in the jersey. Why is that?

 There’s no jersey. It’s just a classification. There’s not always jerseys for every classification – think about the team’s classification. There’s not a jersey for that. There are only jerseys here for mountains, points and race leader.