The 3rd stage of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya took riders into the mountains for the first time this week and it was Dan Martin (Etixx-Quickstep) who reigned triumphant at the finish in La Molina. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) was 2nd on the day with Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) placing 3rd.
For Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka the stage began with Omar Fraile unable to take the start. Fraile had been ill in the weeks leading up to the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya and after the first two stages it was evident that Fraile needed a few more days of recovery despite finishing both stages. Nevertheless, things were soon looking upward for our African Team again as Johann van Zyl jumped into the 7 rider break of the day.
Our South African breakaway specialist and his 6 companions quickly built up a large 12-minute lead over the peloton, before Team Sky started chasing with some real urgency. With 4 category 1 climbs on the menu today, it was going to be a tough day with the big names of World Tour stage racing expected to feature in the finale. With 35km and two ascents of the Alt de La Molina to go, the break was neutralised by Team Sky.
On the penultimate climb, Pieter Weening (Roompot) tried his luck with a solo escape but he only made it as far as the lower slopes of the final climb. Louis Vervaeke (Lotto-Soudal) then also went into the lead momentarily. The showdown between the big names would eventually materialise though as the attacking began with 2km to go. At this point, Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka had Merhawi Kudus among the action with our young Eritrean trying to follow the attacks of Wout Poels (Team Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
In the end it was Martin who came over the top of Quintana’s attack to take a good victory. Kudus rode strongly to round out the top 20, a good result for the young man against nearly all of the best climbers in the world. Some less positive news from out on the course was that Adrien Niyonshuti had to abandon the race mid-stage today. Niyonshuti picked up a cold last night and today he was coughing quite a bit while also battling to breath. It was a difficult decision for our Rwandan star but he eventually stopped and will now focus on his recovery.
Merhawi Kudus – Rider
It was a good stage and quite difficult with a lot of climbing and it was also quite cold. I was feeling comfortable for most of the day and it was good that we had Johann in the break. On the last climb we had some headwind so it was not possible to attack the pace that was being set. I just tried to follow the wheels and finish with the best result possible. There are some good guys here so I am happy for today but will try for more tomorrow.
Alex Sans Vega – Sport Director
It was the first mountain stage today and so many riders had a lot of expectations, with each team trying to work out how the final would go with so many big names here. In the last part of the race it was very windy and that made the race more conservative from the big guys. From our side, we wanted to be represented in the break and we were with Johann. For the final we had Igor Anton, Merhawi Kudus and Kanstantsin Siustsou to see how long they could follow the big names and to see if there would be any options for us on the final climb. With the wind there were very few attacks and only Merhawi was able to follow the favourites. He did very well and we are happy with his result. Tomorrow suits him pretty well so once again we will try to be part of the action.