IT took blood and guts for Jay Vine to keep the spotlight on the riders from Down Under at the Vuelta, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
TEAM UAE Emirates veteran Rafal Majka defied the high temperatures and even higher mountains to ride solo for more than 80 km to take an emotional victory in stage 15 of Vuelta a Espana.
The Polish rider rode away from the 25 strong breakaway group on a 14 km cat 2 climb and never looked back, grabbing his first victory in four years, and dedicating it to his father who passed away recently. Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) finished second at 1:27 after a 60 km pursuit of the Pole, with Aussie Chris Hamilton (Team DSM) a very classy third at 2:19 .Embed from Getty Images
The Australians have certainly made their presence felt in this Vuelta with Hamilton’s DSM teammate Michael Storer climbing to two great victories, Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) two third places in his quest for his first win this year and Jay Vine who has leapt to cult like status after joining the pro peloton this year after winning a stationary bike competition.
Vine climbed into even more notoriety with a Lazarus like return on stage 14. He crashed into his own team car while receiving a drink bidon at high speed. His race seemed over, hitting the bitumen at 70 kph, but he made it back to the fracturing breakaway and, with blood streaming from his elbow and leg and clothing in tatters, proceeded to thread his way through the break and put in the most amazing performance of his very short professional career. Together with experienced Spaniard Jesus Herrada (Cofidus) he chased sole leader Romain Bardet but the French superstar was too strong and he soloed to his first win in two years. Herrada may have outsprinted Vine for second, but the plucky Queenslander was definitely the rider of the day.
Surprisingly the overall contenders let the break go again and, for the second day in a row, there was little action amongst the GC favourites.
We head into the final rest day with Norwegian Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) still in the red leader’s jersey 54 seconds clear of Frenchman Guillaume Martin (Cofidis). The pair jumped to the top of the leader board after the large breakaway on stage 10 and were expected to both drop out of contention once the real mountains came into play. But that hasn’t been the case as the main players in the battle for the red jersey have not shown their hands yet.
That is sure to change on the brutal slopes of stages 17 and 18. I can’t see any way that Eiking or Martin can stay in contention.
The powerful Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers teams must come up with a strategy to put race favourite Primoz Roglic under more pressure or the Slovenian is going to walk away with his third Vuelta on the trot.
But Ineos are now lacking some firepower with the withdrawal of Olympic Champion Richard Carapaz and his Ecuadorian compatriot Jhonatan Narvaez so it really is up to the Movistar pair of Enric Mas and Miguel Lopez to put the hammer down and hopefully Aussie Jack Haig can benefit from this.
Haig is sitting comfortably in sixth spot and has looked strong whenever the pressure has been applied. He is a genuine chance to make it on to the podium by Sunday.
The 16th stage from Laredo to Santa Cruz is the final chance for the sprinters. With only one small cat 3 climb halfway into the 180 km trek, it looks to be the last chance for Matthews to grab that elusive victory.