There can be few finer ways to win your first Grand Tour stage than by climbing to a solo victory at the summit of the Lagos de Covadonga – and Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) looked suitably pleased with a victory wrung from a determined effort at a high cadence.
The 26-year-old Spaniard simply rode away from his breakaway companions, who had worked solidly to gain a lead of 15 minutes on a peloton seemingly content to rest after the exertions of stage 14.
Piedra’s victory could be significant for his Pro Continental Caja Rural team, who gained entry to the race on a wild card basis.
But the more significant action for the race took place behind the winner, and those whom the peloton had allowed to escape, among them second placed Ruben Perez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and AG2R-La Mondiale’s Lloyd Mondory, who finished third.
Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Tinkoff) unleashed a seemingly endless string of attacks on the climb to the finish, but each time the race leader, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), was able to respond.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) rode seemingly through gritted teeth to survive Contador’s onslaughts and drag himself back to the wheels of the race leader and his assailant, eventually outsprinting the illustrious duo to finish 9:25 minutes after Piedra.
Chris Froome (Team Sky) suffered another difficult day, but may have benefitted from the cat and mouse game conducted by Contador and Rodriguez, without which his losses could have been greater. He finished 35 seconds down on the trio that lead him on GC.
Now 2:16 minutes down on Rodriguez and 25 seconds behind third place Valverde, he was asked by Spanish television after the stage if he had abandoned hopes of overall victory.
His reply that he would continue to do his best on each day suggests he is not entirely without hope, and Team Sky, in the shape of national road race champion, Ian Stannard, who delivered him to the foot of the final climb, and the Columbian pairing of Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao, who paced him up it, remain a force.
Monday’s 183.5km stage from Valgrande to Pajares Cuitunigru ends at 1,850 metres in another first category summit finish. Contador will surely try again to reduce Rodriguez’ slender 22 second advantage, but the form of the Barcelona native suggests that the Madrileño will need to be at his very best to do so.
Vuelta a Espana – stage 15
1) Antonio Piedra (SPA) – Caja Rural – 5.01.23
2) Ruben Perez (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +2.02
3) Lloyd Mondory (FRA) – AG2R-La Mondiale
4) David De La Fuente (SPA) – Caja Rural
5) Pablo Lastras (SPA) – Movistar +2.07
6) Simon Geschke (GER) – Argos-Shimano +2.12
7) Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL) – Astana +2.25
8) Andrey Kashechkin (KAZ) – Astana +3.35
9) Vicente Reynes (SPA) – Lotto Belisol +3.49
10) Sergey Lagutin (UZB) – Vacansoleil-DCM + 6.50
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +58.17.21
2) Alberto Contador (SPA) – Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank +22”
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar – 1.41”
4) Christopher Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2.16
5) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +4.51
6) Robert Gesink (NED) – Rabobank +5.42
7) Andrew Talansky (USA) – Garmin-Sharp +6.48
8) Laurens Ten Dam (NED) – Rabobank +7.17
9) Nicolas Roche (IRL) – AG2R-La Mondiale +7.21
10) Igor Anton (SPA) – Euskaltel-Euskadi +7.39