Spaniard Mikel Landa soloed to victory in stage 11 as Astana team-mate Fabio Aru moved into the leader’s red jersey on a day Chris Froome’s hope of a rare Tour de France and Vuelta a España double unravelled in Andorra, writes Felix Lowe.
A crash on the first of six climbs on the gruelling 138km stage in the Pyrenees – dubbed hardest in recent Grand Tour history – put Team Sky’s Froome on the back foot from the outset.
Double Tour winner Froome fought back but was dropped on the fourth climb of the day before finishing more than eight minutes down on the man tipped to be riding alongside him at Sky next season.
Twenty-five-year-old Landa – the stand-out survivor from an initial break of 18 riders – came home 1:22 ahead of team-mate Aru, who moved into the red jersey after Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) rolled home almost three minutes down.
Despite the disappointment of seeing Froome drop to 15th in the overall standings (7:30 down on Aru), Team Sky were buoyed with an excellent third place in Cortels d’Encamp for American youngster Ian Boswell, who featured in the day’s main break alongside Landa before finishing 18 seconds down on Aru.
“It’s not an ideal day but it was great to see Bos [Ian Boswell] up there getting third,” said Welshman Geraint Thomas, who rode with Froome after his leader was distanced on the HC climb of the Collada de la Gallina.
“He [Froome] is a fighter and didn’t want to give up. He will still want to go for stage wins but obviously it’s a disappointment.”
Katusha’s Spanish duo Dani Moreno and Joaquim Rodriguez took fourth and fifth on the stage ahead of chasing pair Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Mikel Nieve (Team Sky).
Overnight race leader Dumoulin finished alongside the man he usurped, the double stage winner Esteban Chaves of Orica-GreenEdge, 2:59 down – three seconds ahead of the third Astana rider to make the top ten, Italy’s Diego Rosa.
Aru, runner-up in May’s Giro behind the absent Spaniard Alberto Contador, now holds a 27-second lead over Rodriguez in the general classification, with Dumoulin dropping to third place three seconds back.
“I’ve got a great team and this morning we decided that Mikel [Landa] would be part of the break,” Aru told Eurosport after receiving his red jersey on the podium.
“We executed the plan perfectly and our tactics were flawless. All the domestiques – [Luis Leon] Sanchez, [Alessandro] Vanotti and [Diego] Rosa – were incredible. We’re an extraordinarily united team and I’m very happy to be in the red jersey.”
A tough day for Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana saw the Movistar duo come home 3:04 and 4:19 down respectively on Landa.
Quintana, runner-up to Froome in July’s Tour, is now more than three minutes down on GC while veteran Spaniard is 1:52 down in sixth place, behind Poland’s Majka and Colombian Chaves.
Besides Froome’s fall and Astana’s excellence, the major talking point of the day was yet another incident involving a race motorbike.
Portuguese veteran Sergio Paulinho – a Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate of Peter Sagan, who himself withdrew from the Vuelta following his own collision with a motorbike – needed 17 stitches in a deep leg wound after being knocked down by a TV bike shortly after the start in Andorra La Vella.
After Paulinho’s withdrawal was confirmed, Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkoff threatened to pull his team from the Vuelta if the problem was not addressed immediately by the race organisers and the UCI.