In Cistierna, on Friday, the breakaway got the better of the peloton after a fight of nearly 190 kilometres. The unusualprofile of Vuelta a Espana’s seventh stage made for a thrilling final, but the sprinters left in the peloton could only fight for sixth place on the day. Still there, Jake Stewart took second within the pack behind the green jersey Sam Bennett, thus securing his second top-10 of the Vuelta with seventh place. Rudy Molard remains second overall ahead of a hardweekend.
On Friday, the Vuelta bunch left Cantabria, where Rudy Molard had to give away his red jersey yesterday, to head towards Castile and León. No less than 190 kilometres were to be covered and the stage profile, featuring a single, 1stcategory climb halfway through, suggested an open race. “We gambled on a sprint finish”, explained Philippe Mauduit. “Wealso told ourselves that it was part of the game if the breakaway would make it, and that you sometimes need to take risks. Therefore, we remained calm at the start of the stage to save as much as we could ahead of the tough weekend, but also and above all to recover from the efforts made since the start of this Vuelta. It was important for the guys to have a quieter day”. The breakaway was also established quite early on Friday since it only took ten minutes for Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstan), Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious), Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), Omer Goldstein (Israel Premier Tech), Harry Sweeny (Lotto Soudal) and Jimmy Janssens (Alpecin-Deceuninck) to create a gap onthe peloton. Some sprinters’ teams then tried to maintain a reasonable gap, thinking about the second part of the stage.
“It was important not to do too much“, Philippe Mauduit
The break’s lead reached a maximum of four minutes, which was almost still the gap at the start of the only but difficult climb of the day, the Puerto de San Glorio (19.5 km at 5.8%), 85 kilometres from the line. The peloton therefore increased the pace, and gradually got rid of some sprinters. “We did not know for sure if Jake could get over that climb”, addedPhilippe. “It all depended on the way they would ride it. We know that Jake is in great shape and that he can get over the hills well, but a twenty-kilometre climb is always special”. At the top, however, the Briton was still there alongside his teammates. “Among the sprinters, all were dropped apartfrom Pedersen”, detailed Philippe. “Jake did a great performance from this point of view, but then a few pure sprinters came back. There was no way for us to help them by making our climbers work while they’ll be able to do something in the next few days. It was not an easy stage. This stage will also leave its mark on the bodies, and it was important not to do too much on a day like this”. The peloton thus lacked “fresh” riders to pull in order to close the gap, which was still of 2’30 at the top of the climb, 65 kilometresfrom the line. A fine power struggle then took place, but the breakaway resisted remarkably well.
With a minute gap ten kilometres from the line, the leading riders were even able to look at each other in the final before contesting the win. Jesus Herrada got it, and the peloton showed up half a minute later. Led out by Miles Scotson, Jake Stewart took on Sam Bennett before crossing the line in seventh place. “Even if we didn’t pull, and even if the breakaway made it, it was important for Jake to go for the sprint,” claimed Philippe. “He can gain some additional experience, and it’s good for him”. The Briton secured a sixth top-10 in seven stages for Groupama-FDJ, which now expects a lot from the two difficult stages on the menu this weekend.