Q&A with Sport Director Matt Wilson on La Vuelta Stages 18-20

Sat 14 Sep 2013

Stages 18-20 of the Vuelta a España proved high on drama and excitement in the final days of mountainous racing. Three back-to-back summit finishes produced three different stage winners.

Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) won stage 18 from the early breakaway. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) looked to his team to control stage 19 before he accelerated away from the group of general classification riders to claim the stage win. Kenny Elissonde was the lone survivor from the stage 20 breakaway, holding off a fast-closing Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek) to solo to victory atop the Angliru.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) seemed to have a solid grasp on the red leader’s jersey on Thursday morning. By Saturday afternoon, Chris Horner had all but won the overall classification. Horner chipped away at Nibali’s advantage on Wednesday and Thursday before overtaking the Italian by 3” on Friday. Although Nibali made every attempt to regain the jersey on Saturday, Horner extended his lead over the Italian on the penultimate day of racing.  

Simon Clarke, Leigh Howard and Christian Meier represented ORICA-GreenEDGE in escape groups with Clarke going up the road on stage 18 and Howard and Meier featuring in a large breakaway the following day. Clarke fought valiantly for a stage result while Howard and Meier realised early on their break had no chance of surviving to the finish.

Sport Director Matt Wilson reviews the team’s involvement in stages 18-20 below and looks ahead to the final day of racing into Madrid.

Q: How did the team approach these last three stages?

For most of the team, it was a matter of survival. It was “How can I get through this?” At this stage in a Grand Tour, everything is harder than it is at the beginning. Our goal was to support our guys in getting to the final stage in the best condition to give Bling [Michael Matthews] a shot at the stage win in Madrid.

Clarkey was the exception there. He was chasing a result. His goal was to get into a move that would stay away to the finish. He was able to do that on Thursday but unfortunately didn’t have the legs to finish it off.

Q: We had three riders in two different breakaways over the last three days. What did Simon, Leigh and Christian say about their time spent up the road?

Clarkey was in a move that produced the stage winner, and he fought hard to be amongst the action at the end. It took quite awhile for his breakaway to go, which is quite common on these stages when the break has a real chance to stay away. Initially the move included seven or eight riders. Guys steadily started going across to the leaders, and Clarkey was the last one to make it. He said the group worked well together, especially when their advantage continued to grow. They knew they had a shot at the win.

Clarkey took his chances with a few attacks. His moves and the counter-attacks broke apart the break on the second to last climb. He found himself distanced from the leaders, but he chased really hard to get back on the descent between the second to last climb and the summit finish. Clarkey went very deep there, and he struggled to recover on the last climb. When the guys started attacking again, he fell off the pace.

Leigh and Christian were in an even larger breakaway on Friday. The stage started fast, and the break went away quickly. It became clear early that the overall contenders wanted to fight for the stage win, and the break had trouble getting organised because there were so many riders with different objectives. Our guys fell off the pace after the first 100km or so, but it wasn’t a concern for us. The break was never going to go the distance and any results we could achieve on these stages would have been a bonus rather than anything we expected.

Q: The battle for the overall has been exciting over these last three days. Is this something you’re able to enjoy even when our riders aren’t amongst the action?

For sure. It’s been fantastic to see Horner doing what he’s doing at his age. It’s awesome to watch. I’ve been cheering for him from the car. Nibali was such a fighter today. He threw some great punches of his own. It made for an exciting battle. It’s great to see a Grand Tour being decided on the final climb on the second to last stage.

Q: Looking at the final stage, how do you rate Michael’s chances?

Winning any stage at any Grand Tour is hard. I’m confident if we can put Bling in a good position, he can win. He’s the fastest guy in the race. Putting him the right position is the part that’s a bit more tricky. It’s hard to guarantee that we can control and get him where he needs to be with only four other guys to support him. We’ll absolutely give it a shot, and we have some good riders for the job that needs to be done.

Editor’s note: Apologies for the delays with race reports and social media updates in the last 48 hours. Your digital content coordinator was dealing with the fall-out from flash floods in her hometown.