First of the weekend’s two top finishes on the Vuelta a Espana, the Sierra de La Pandera hosted a nice show this Saturday on stage 14. After a tough fight at the start, Bruno Armirail managed to enter the day’s breakaway and therefore tackle the final climb with a gap over the peloton. This was not enough, however, to stay away from the favorites and conclude his day at the front with a result. Thibaut Pinot followed the red jersey group for a while before reaching the line in 24th position.

What a difference a day makes. Unlike Friday, the breakaway towards the Sierra de La Pandera on Saturday was extremely coveted. While it only took a few hundred metres on stage 13 for the breakaway to establish itself, almost two hours proved necessary at the start of Montoro. “It was 70 kilometres of fight, with breakaways that couldn’t take more than ten seconds”, said Philippe Mauduit. “Obviously, we had to be in front, preferably with Seb or Thibaut. Unfortunately, things went otherwise. There were so many attacks and counterattacks that it became a gamble at some point. The guys took turns following each attack. In the moves just before the right breakaway, there was Thibaut then Sébastien. It comes down to details, and you have to be a little lucky in these circumstances”. In the end, it was Bruno Armirail who managed to enter the good group. “The fight was hard, and it lasted for a really long time”, confirmed the French time trial champion. “There was a rider from the team in almost every move. At first, I was not too active as I was trapped in a second bunch. When it came back, I was able to go in two or three moves and help my teammates. Eventually, I felt a moment when everyone was getting tired, and I went for it. It’s a shame because I was the only one from the team up front”.

“I give my best”, Bruno Armirail

When the bunch finally decided to let it go, halfway through the race, Bruno Armirail found himself in the lead with Marco Brenner (Team DSM), Raul Garcia Pierna (Kern Pharma), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan), Clément Champoussin (AG2R Citroën), Luis Leon Sanchez (Bahrain Victorious), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Filippo Conca (Lotto Soudal), Kenny Elissonde and Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo). The pack still kept some pressure on the leading men, who had to work together effectively to approach the penultimate climb, the Puerto de Los Villares (10km to 5.5km), with a 3’30 lead. In these last twenty kilometres, the rider from Groupama-FDJ tried to follow the first attacks but was forced to let a handful of men go before the bottom of the final climb, the Sierra de La Pandera (8.6 km at 7.5%). “Since the start, I haven’t had great legs,” said Bruno. “It’s a bit difficult, but I deal with it, and I give my best. I tried to save myself as much as possible, but when the best climbers attacked, I couldn’t keep up. It was going really fast. The heat also made it very tiring. I would have liked to get a better result, but in the end, only Carapaz made it for just eight seconds, so I don’t think I can have any regrets”.

The Ecuadorian, already a winner on this Vuelta, was indeed the only member of the breakaway to stay away from the favorites who put on a fight. “Bruno came against stronger riders”, explained ​​​​Philippe. “Against these riders, we would have needed pure climbers. It’s always good to have one guy in a breakaway of ten, but today the level up front was really high and it was a bit difficult for Bruno. That said, he could also have come across a slightly less strong competition up front and have a better shot. That’s the law of the sport.” The Frenchman was finally caught by the red jersey group, where there was still Thibaut Pinot, with five kilometres to go. The climber from Melisey was therefore the first rider of the team to reach the summit, in twenty-fourth position. On Sunday, the long ascent of the Sierra Nevada (19.4 km at 7.9%), at 2500 meters of altitude, will come as a key moment of the Vuelta. “It’s the same kind of stage”, added Philippe. “It will be difficult again to take the breakaway, but we will have to try to give ourselves a chance to fight for the stage victory”.We are looking at tomorrow and the other stages, hoping to have climbers in the breakaway, and even teammates with them”, concluded Bruno.

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