Chaos, Crashes and Climbers Rule Vuelta Stage Three

Mon 26 Aug 2013

The third stage of the Vuelta a España seemed well-suited to the strengths of ORICA-GreenEDGE who believed both Simon Gerrans and Michael Matthews could contend for victory atop the category three Mirador de Lobeira. Gerrans never had his chance, crashing out of contention in a pile-up just inside the final hour of racing. Ready to ride for Matthews, the Australian outfit came to fore at the pointy end of the race only to be outfoxed by the overall contenders.

Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek) soloed to victory ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who bested Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in the field sprint. Matthews was the best finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE at 41” in 50th place.

“We changed tactics to ride for Bling [Matthews] after Gerro’s crash,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “It didn’t matter much in the end. The real climbers took over at 1.5km and that’s how things finished up for us.”

“The boys worked well together today,” Stephens continued. “Fortunately, it doesn’t seem as if Gerro is hurt too bad. He has ice on several parts of his body as I speak in an effort to get back into shape. Michael Matthews is going well, and he gives us a second option on the stages we’d choose to target for Gerro. We didn’t attain our objective today, but we worked really well. We’ll live to fight another day, and hopefully tomorrow is one of them.” 

The quiet start to the day belied the chaos that awaited the peloton in the final 60km of racing. The day’s breakaway took only minutes to get up the road. Although Vicente Reynes (Lotto Belisol), Fabricio Ferrari (Caja Rural), Pablo Urtasun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Cyril Bessy (Cofidis) and Luca Dodi (Lampre Merida) worked well together, the peloton kept the quintet on a short leash, never allowing them more than a five minute advantage.

“It started off alright today,” said Sam Bewley, who is racing his first Grand Tour. “It was much the same as yesterday at the beginning. The break went straight away, and it was pretty non-stress in the bunch. We were just going through the usual race proceedings. It wasn’t until the last 50km that things got really stressful.”

Coastal winds, small villages, roadworks and narrow roads contributed to raised anxiety in the bunch. Astana and Omega Pharma-Quick-Step increased the pace, and unintentionally brought the break back to within one minute 70km from the finish. As they slowed the tempo slightly, a crash at the back of bunch further flamed the nerves.

As the peloton headed for the coast, the race favourites and those with an interest in the stage win began to move to the front. More riders than room on the road through a tight left hand turn caused a second significant pile-up. Gerrans was one of approximately ten riders to make contact with the ground.

“Gerro had to change bikes after his crash,” said Stephens. “I asked them team to wait for him, but he said he wasn’t feeling great – and he told them to keep going without him.”

“We heard Stevo telling us to wait for him so that we’d help Gerro get back,” added Bewley. “Straightaway, Gerro said no. He told us to carry on with Bling because he worried it would be too tough to make it back to the bunch in time. That’s when we knew were riding for Bling.”

Although left to his own devices to regain contact with the peloton, Gerrans nearly rejoined the bunch. A third crash in the field derailed his attempt.

“Gerro almost made it back,” noted Stephens. “He was nearly on at 35km, but the race came to a narrow bridge, and there was a crash over the bridge right in front of him. He had to come to a dead stop and unclip to avoid crashing again. When that happened, it was all over for him.”

Following Gerrans crash, the peloton broke until several groups. The lead group swept up the breakaway at 37km and Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek) took to the front in attempt to inject order into the wind-blown field. When a Caja Rural rider crashed over the bridge, Cancellara called for the peloton to slow down and calm down to prevent further incidents. In part due to Cancellara’s efforts, much of the peloton was able to come back together before the finish.

ORICA-GreenEDGE pushed the pace in the build-up the final short, steep summit. Juan Antonia Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) was the first to attack. Ivan Santaromita (BMC) countered Flecha’s move and easily overtook him. It looked as if Santaromita had the stage win in sight until Horner jumped away from the field. The American powered past the Italian road champion, winning the stage and moving into the race lead.

“It was unfortunate to lose Gerro the way we did,” said Bewley. “We tried to set things up for Bling today, but it turned out not to be our day.”

“For sure, we’ll give it another crack tomorrow,” Bewley added. “It’s another good chance for Gerro and Bling. There’s a steep climb in the middle of the stage, but if we can get most of our guys over it, we have a good chance. The finish definitely suits us.”