Movistar Team resumed operations today at the Vuelta a España secure in the knowledge that its team of young mavericks is up to the challenge of Grand Tour racing.
After a grueling opening week in the last of the season’s Grand Tours, Endura’s partners in the UCI WorldTour can reflect upon two podium finishes, a combativity prize, and a host of aggressive performances from its youthful selection.
The loss of Carlos Betancur, who left the race after a crash on stage six that left him with a fractured ankle and facial injuries, was unquestionably a blow, but Eusebio Unzue’s squad responded immediately with a third place on stage seven for JJ Rojas - a fine example of leadership from one of the few experienced riders in Movistar Team’s Vuelta squad.
The team began its assault on this 72nd edition of the Spanish national tour with a show of defiance in the face of adversity. Grand Tour debutant Jorge Arcas crashed within the first two kilometres of the opening stage team time-trial, but the team fought bravely to finish eighth, conceding just 26 seconds to stage winners BMC Racing. More importantly, Arcas climbed back on his bike and finished the stage, despite a damaged wrist.
Stage two was a flat, quiet affair, but as the road rose steeply as the race passed into mountainous Andorra, Antonio Pedrero, another Grand Tour debutant, broke clear of the peloton to join the remaining members of an early breakaway.
Stage five saw the wildly talented Marc Soler leave his first impression on a Grand Tour. The 23-year-old Catalan joined an early break of 17 riders, and crossed the line third, nearly 158km later. Soler outlasted many of the strongest riders in the race, and by doing so proved that he would not be overawed by the occasion of his Grand Tour debut.
The aforementioned Rojas rode with the big guns on stage six, finishing 26” behind stage winner Tomaz Marcynski (Lotto Soudal) in a group containing race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky). A day later, the veteran Spaniard narrowly missed out on stage victory, crossing the line with runner-up Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe) after Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates) escaped for the win.
Nelson Oliveira carried the fight for Movistar Team on stage eight, spending almost an entire day at the sharp end of any early breakaway. The four-time Portuguese time-trial champion proved his strongman credentials and finished the stage fifth, vaulting eleven places on the GC in the process, moving from 22nd overall to eleventh.
A day later, Soler reprised his effort from stage five, and was the last member of an early breakaway caught by the favourites - an effort that earned him the day’s combativity award. Meanwhile, Richard Carapaz, the fourth Grand Tour debutant in Movistar Team’s youthful line-up, attacked the favourites on the final climb of the day. The 24-year-old Ecuadorian caught and passed former Tour de France runner up Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), serving notice of his talent on a momentarily stunned group of favourites.
With the racing resuming today in Caravaca de la Cruz, expect Movistar Team’s young guns to be ready to fire again. The race has entered the home territory of co-leader Alejandro Valverde, who joined the team on a rest day ride: his first public outing since breaking a knee cap on the opening stage of the Tour de France in July.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig sealed victory in the 2017 UCI Women’s WorldTour youth classifciation at the GP De Plouay. The 21-year-old Dane has been the season’s revelation, and capped a year of strong performances by wrapping up victory in the season-long competition for the coveted blue jersey with two races to spare.
Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio was the first Cervélo Bigla rider home in France, finishing eleventh in a bunch sprint contested by the pre-race favourites, behind winner Lizzie Deignan (Boels Dolmans) and runner-up Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon-SRAM).
The South African raced with her trademark aggression, driving a breakaway that contained both Deignan and Ferrand-Prevot, as well as WWT leader Anna van der Bregen (Boels Dolman) and Wiggle-High5’s Elisa Longo Borgini, the Italian road and time-trial champion.
It was another race in which Cervélo Bigla were seemingly everywhere. Gabriele Pilote-Forlin led the peloton on the first ascent of the race, and by lap three Swiss champion Nicole Hanselmann was leading the peloton in her distinctive Swiss champion’s kit, controlling matters for Moolman-Pasio.
The team will return to Women’s WorldTour action at the Madrid Challenge on September 10th , a circuit race in the Spanish capital that will coincide with the final stage of La Vuelta.
Nils Frommhold continued his preparations for the Ironman World Championships on Kona by finishing third in the Ironman 70.3 race in Zell am See at the weekend.
The German star, a former Challenge Roth winner, produced a fine performance in the Austrian resort, even if he was a little disappointed by the result.
“Walked the line today but maybe crossed the limit a little bit too much,” he posted on Instagram. “Third place in Zell am See today makes me hungry for a more solid day in two week at Ironman 70.3 Ruegen.”
Frommhold offered his congratulations to winner Boris Stein and runner-up Andi Giglmayr. He began the day with a strong swim, emerging from the water just seven seconds ahead of Giglmayr, but nearly two minutes up on Stein.
Stein was far from beaten however, and after producing the fastest bike split of the day, reduced Frommhold’s lead to just 31 seconds. Worse was to come for Frommhold, who was passed by both Stein and Giglmayr on the run.
The Endura star will hope for an upturn in fortunes in Ruegen. His third place at Zell am See proves he is in good condition. A honing of his strategy may deliver victory in what is likely to be his final race before the world championships on Kona in October.