Kristian Sbaragli showed his fighting spirit today at the Vuelta a Espana 8th stage by taking 5th place on an extremely tough stage. The victory went to Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) with Pello Bilbao (Caja-Rural) 2nd and Kevin Reza (FDJ) 3rd.
The stage saw 6 rider’s escape from the peloton early on but with a maximum advantage of just over 4 minutes, it was inevitable that they would be caught. Just before the catch was made though, there was a huge crash in the peloton that took down numerous riders. Louis Meintjes was caught behind this crash, which rang alarm bells in our MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung camp.
The peloton had split in two after the crash and it was thanks to the monumental effort of the MTN-Qhubeka p/b Samsung boys that Louis made it back to the front group just before the race hit the cat 3 climb that would be raced twice.
There were a few attacks the first time over the summit and 3 riders got away but they weren’t really able to open up a meaningful gap. After a quick local lap we hit the climb for the 2nd time and the likes of Valverde and Rodriguez really pushed the pace, putting all the sprinters into difficulty.
Over the top it was all splintered at the front of the race but both Louis and Kristian were hanging tough in the front. After the descent there was a regrouping of the lead 50 riders with just 9km to go. Numerous attacks then flew off the front but Louis would be the consummate professional and helped to follow everything in order to set Kristian up for the sprint. In the end, Kristian hit the front with 200m to go but heartbreakingly, our Italian was passed meters before the line to come home in 5th place.
After the crash claimed a number of key riders, Louis moved up to 14th position on the general classification.
Kristian Sbaragli – Rider
It was a really hard stage and we weren’t sure if I was able to make it over the climb the 2nd time. I had to give it everything just to stay in the first 30 positions on the climb. I was really happy with my performance on the climb. Unluckily for Sagan he crashed in the final so there was no longer any sprinters left and I was thinking I must be one of the fastest riders in the group. I thought maybe I started the sprint too early but if you look at it, for a normal sprint it wasn’t too early. It was just a bit early for such a tough day like today. About 2 seconds before the finish I sat up because I was on my limit and they passed me with just 30 meters to go and that was the worst part of the day. When you feel the victory and then they pass you on the line it is not a good feeling. I am not going to give up, there are maybe still 2 or 3 chances before Madrid so I hope to take advantage them.
Jean-Pierre Heynderickx – Sport Director
It was hectic in the final but the team did a very good ride today. Like we said in our meeting, it could possibly be a really good chance for Kristian if he can make it over the climb in a small group. The group was smaller than we anticipated so that was very good by Kristian to be there. Entering the local laps there was a big crash and Louis was involved. Everybody waited for him to pace him back just before the climb so that was a perfect job too. Kristian also did a very good sprint but they just came passed with about 20 meters to go. It was so, so close today. We have never been so close to a victory at the Vuelta before.