Volta Catalunya Stage Three: Grooming Overall Contenders

Wed 26 Mar 2014

Adam Yates was the top finisher for ORICA-GreenEDGE on stage three of Volta a Catalunya. The Brit climbed to 17th place, 27” behind stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). While the result may not stand out on paper, it’s an important part of Yates’ progression as an eventual overall contender.

Esteban Chaves enjoyed protected status on stage three as well. The Colombian’s progression was rudely interrupted last February by a season-ending crash. Back in the professional peloton 11 months later, Chaves made his debut with ORICA-GreenEDGE at Mallorca, finished fourth overall at Tour of Langkawi and lined up highly motivated to showcase his climbing ability in Catalunya. Chaves stayed with the front group on the final climb until the flamme rouge, crossing the line in 52nd place at 1’31.

“Our original plan for today centered around Simon Clarke,” said Sport Director Neil Stephens. “We had to do a rethink that when Clarkely pulled out of the yesterday with a sore knee. We switched things around and determined the main objective of the day was to continue our involvement in preparing Adam and Esteban for their longer-term general classification ambitions – not here at Catalunya but somewhere down the line. Today was one small step in their path of becoming overall contenders.”

“As a team, we need to learn how best to support a general classification rider,” continued Stephens. “Adam and Esteban are learning, too. They need to learn how to ride for the overall – and one piece of that is learning how to best use their teammates. That was the focus for the day. We started the day with realistic goals. We weren’t aiming for a specific result. We were aiming for a specific process.”

“In the meeting with the boys this morning, I spelt it out for them very clearly,” Stephens added. “I said that we can’t control if we run top ten or top 20 or top 50. What we can control is the work we do and how we do it. Guys like Brett Lancaster, Damien Howson and Christian Meier had specific boxes to check in supporting Adam and Esteban – the usual tasks like getting bottles and rain capes and helpings out with position.”

The early action was formulaic with a six rider break forming quickly after the start was given in Banyoles. The Tinkoff-Saxo led peloton allowed the breakaway a 9’30 advantage in the first hour of racing before beginning the tedious work of slowly but steadily reeling them back to the bunch. Movistar, Katusha and Team Sky lent riders to the chase efforts.

“We raced conservatively today,” noted Stephens. “When the break went up the road, we didn’t have any motivation to chase. Our first goal was making sure that our riders got over the first climb – which they did pretty well.”

“When we hit the next climb, Leigh Howard had some sort of stomach issue,” Stephens added. “It made for a really tough day for him. He finished the stage, but he wasn’t feeling great.”

“Without Leigh, it was up to Damien, Brett and Sam [Bewley] to the position Christian, Adam and Esteban well going into the Creueta,” said Stephens. “Damien actually had a really good day. He was able to get over the climb and support the riders down the other side, too. We were really happy to see that.”

By the time the peloton hit the hors categorie ascent of the Creueta, the break’s advantage had been more than halved. The gap fell quickly from there, and they were overtaken by an eager bunch on the run-in to La Molina, the ski resort summit finish. Movistar assumed control of the pace on the lower slopes of the category one climb. A series of small accelerations helped reduce the size of the front group. Entering the final kilometre, 40 riders trudged toward the line.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) was the first of the overall contenders to make a move. Rodriguez easily responded to the acceleration, taking Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) with him. Rodriguez allowed Froome to continue his work on the front before launching a decisive move of his own, slipping away from the others to cross the line alone.

Contador was second to the summit, five seconds behind Rodriguez. Quintana rounded out the top three at nine seconds. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) managed to edge out Froome ahead of the line.

“In the end, Esteban made it to the last kilometre in the front,” said Stephens. “When the attacks began, he got shelled. Adam maintained contact nearly to the end and said he thought he ran somewhere around 15th place.”

“Everybody did his job today,” Stephens added. “They all put in what they could so that Esteban and Adam could do their best in the finish.  I’m happy with what I saw from the team.”