Stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana was yet another stage decided by the breakaway. Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) was the rider who would take the top step in Llucena as he crossed the line ahead of Leopold Konig (Team Sky) and Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo).
On another sweltering hot day, the Vuelta a Espana peloton had to deal with a tough 177km route today. 2 category 2 climbs and a category 3 climb during the stage would soften up the rider’s legs before a brutal category 1 climb brought the stage to a close. The first cat 2 climb started after only 12km of racing and so it meant Omar Fraile had a good opportunity to win back some points in the race for the King of the Mountains jersey.
Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka were committed to helping Fraile in his quest and our African Team riders were really active even before reaching the climb. Merhawi Kudus and Jaco Venter were both part of the very early moves, keeping things in check before the road ramped upwards. Fraile benefited from his team mates work and took all 5 points on top of the climb. This brought our Basque climber to within 3 points of Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) who leads the competition.
Over the climb the race was strung out but no definitive break had gone clear yet. Kristian Sbaragli was attentive, riding in the first few places though and his good positioning would be to his benefit as 28 riders managed to gap the rest of the peloton. A concentrated effort by the big lead group saw them open up a healthy gap on the peloton and with so many riders up front, it was always going to be difficult to bring them back.
As Elissonde was not in the break, this was a good situation for our African Team as Sbaragli was representing our colours at the head of affairs. Sbaragli made his presence known in the break as he took maximum points on the two other categorized climbs before reaching the final climb of the day. Sbaragli, as a sprinter first and foremost, has been known to show a good pair of climbing legs but the final cat 1 climb was always going to be too difficult for our Italian.
Nevertheless, Sabargli still put in an attack just before the really steep gradient began at 3km to go, showing his fighting spirit. He was caught by the main chasers a little way down the road and would end up settling for 18th on the stage. The rest of our African Team riders all made it home in good time and look forward to finishing this final week of the Vuelta off strongly.
Kristian Sbaragli – Rider
Today was one of the hard stages of the Vuelta. I found myself in the first group of 50 to 60 riders after the first climb with Omar. There were a few attacks and I followed some moves and made the final selection. The last 4km of the final climb had a really steep gradient and there were a lot of good climbers in the group. I tried my best but obviously I was not able to fight for victory or the podium but that’s okay. Hopefully tomorrow is a better stage for us.