The Vuelta riders seemed to be looking forward to the second rest day on Sunday afternoon. In any case, stage 15 proved once again extremely fast between Pamplona and Lekunberri, and the day’s breakaway only formed halfway through the race. After fighting hard, Rudy Molard managed to join it but the experienced rider from Groupama-FDJ couldn’t compete for the stage win in the final. Rui Costa took victory, Sepp Kuss kept the red jersey, and Lenny Martinez remained in the top-20 overall (19th) while a very welcome rest day looms on Monday.
There were “only” 160 kilometres left to cover in order to get the second week of the Vuelta Espana done, but the day was set to be eventful to say the least. Due to a hilly profile, many wanted to join the breakaway on Sunday, and just like in the recent stages, the fight proved hard from the very beginning. “It wasn’t easy at all today,” said Benoît Vaugrenard. “We expected a very fast start, but it was even faster than we thought. We did nearly 80 kilometres before the breakaway was made. Evenepoel was again wild, and he kind of caused the chaos, because when he wasn’t in front, he brought everyone back. Romain tried, Michael too. All our riders gave it a go, they fought well but it wasn’t easy today to enter the break. You needed to be very, very strong just to be in front.” The peloton was therefore complete when tackling the first categorized climb of the day, and it broke into several pieces right away. Rudy Molard managed to join a first group with Remco Evenepoel and Jonas Vingegaard in particular, while Michael Storer was alongside the Vuelta favorites. The two groups got back together on a flatter portion, then the right move formed through several moves. Rudy Molard followed the last attacks and was able to join a group of fifteen men.
“Rudy sets an example”, Benoît Vaugrenard
Starting the second half of the race, the French puncher found himself with Remco Evenepoel, Santiago Buitrago, Lennard Kämna, Rui Costa, Andreas Kron or Einer Rubio. The peloton, on the other hand, gave them little space. The breakaway therefore approached the first of the two climbs of the Puerto de Zuarrarrate (6km at 5%), forty kilometres from the finish, with a margin of just three minutes. Rudy Molard hung on for a few minutes but was then forced to let his break companions go. “He gave so much to be in the breakaway that once in front, he was cooked”, explained Benoît. “He came against stronger opponents, but it was good for him to be in front. We should underline his courage after his crash three days ago. He sets an example for the youngsters.” The 33-year-old rider was later caught by the bunch and eventually reached the line almost five minutes after the winner, Rui Costa. Lenny Martinez lost around seven minutes and one spot in the general classification (19th). All the Groupama-FDJ riders completed this fifteenth stage and will now benefit from a hopefully restorative rest day. “The past week was hard for Lenny, but we will learn a lot from it”, added Benoît. “He lost time, but I don’t see it as a defeat, but rather as a constructive experience for the future. We will continue and fight to get a stage win because breakaways will again make it in the last week”.