Survival Mode for ORICA-GreenEDGE in the Pyrenees

Sat 7 Sep 2013

Daniele Ratto (Cannondale) emerged from a five rider breakaway to win the opening Pyrenean stage of the Vuelta a España. Ratto slipped away with Philippe Gilbert (BMC), Steve Chainel (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Belkin teammates Luis Leon Sanchez and Graeme Brown. Within the opening hour of racing, the quartet had built up their advantage to 8’20 as they approached the HC-ranked Port de Envalira.

Katusha set a ferocious tempo at the head of the bunch on the slopes of the Envalira, shedding more than three-quarters of the field by the time they had reached the summit. A group of nine riders attacked out of the reduced peloton in an attempt to bridge across the lead group. Their efforts proved futile.

Sanchez crashed on the descent between the first two categorised climbs and was forced to withdraw from the race. The descent was far more kind to Ratto who was able to distance Gilbert, Chainel and Brown as he twisted and turned his way down the mountain.

Ratto maintained his lead over his former breakmates over the categorised climbs and technical descents that followed. Gilbert, Chainel and Brown eventually called off the chase and rejoined the bunch.

Rain and cold made for a miserable day in the saddle for most of the peloton. Several riders abandoned stage 14 with hypothermia. The leading group fell apart on the final climb as the weather and kilometres climbed began to take their toll.

Ratto soloed to victory nearly four minutes ahead Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Chris Horner (RadioShack-Leopard-Trek). Simon Clarke was the team’s top finisher on the stage, crossing the summit finish line in 43rd place, 15’16 behind Ratto.

“From a racing perspective, we don’t have much to talk about in terms of our day,” said Sport Director Matt Wilson. “Clarkey was going pretty well. He was in the bunch for most of the stage. For everyone else, it was just a death march.”

“It starting raining in the first hour, and it never stopped,” Wilson added.  “Temperatures fell to below 10°C. It was super cold. The guys were dropping back for jackets and food, but they were so cold they could barely reach into their pockets to eat.”

Wilson imagines the next two stages will serve up similar obstacles for his team. The climbs, summit finishes and potential for bad weather continues through Monday.

“We’re expecting more of the same tomorrow,” Wilson said. “On paper, it’s a harder day. There’s more climbing and it’s much longer. Hopefully the weather won’t be as bad, but it’s going to be another very hard day tomorrow rain or shine.”

“There were never any expectations on the team for these mountain stages,” he continued. “This is where the pure climbers and general contenders will take their chances. The third week has two or three opportunities for us, and we’re saving our efforts for the days where we have a chance to chase a result.”