It was expected that Stage 11 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana would prove decisive in determining which of the pre-race favourites was likely to emerge as winner of three week cycling race. The route was designed by peleton rider and local favourite Joaquim Rodriguez and involved negotiating five mountain passes on route from Andorra La Vella to the summit finish at Cortals D’Encamp. Tour de France victor and runner-up Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana remained in contention despite displaying mixed form while the Astana team were confident of decent performances from Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, both of whom missed the French tour. By the end of the day, it was the latter two riders who dominated proceedings as their challengers faltered for a variety of reasons.
Landa eventually won the stage with Aru occupying second position after launching an attack away from the leading peleton riders at the foot of the final climb. In sealing second position, Aru assumed the race leadership with Rodriguez and Tom Dumoulin becoming his nearest challengers for the coveted red jersey. Dutchman Dumoulin had been race leader prior to the stage, but he earned many plaudits for his efforts in trying to retain his standing on the most difficult day in this year’s Vuelta.
However, for Froome and Quintana, the day was one to forget. The Team Sky rider had appeared to regaining some form prior to Tuesday’s rest day, but a crash on the first ascent of Wednesday’s stage did not help the Tour de France winner with a knee injury evident as he was paced back to the peleton. Eventually, his body reacted to the crash as he began to lose contact with the leading riders on the Collada de la Gallina with his pained expression signalling that his eventual hopes for victory were dwindling rapidly.
Froome eventually finished the stage nearly nine minutes adrift of Landa but his courage in adversity was revealed later when announced that he had broken a bone in his foot among other injuries, with his withdrawal from the race confirmed.
In the case of Quintana, it was not a crash which hampered his efforts but illness. On previous days in the Vuelta he had appeared content to help his Spanish team-mate Alejandro Valverde but when eventually deciding to attack on the slopes of Cortals D’Encamp in pursuit of Aru, he flattered to deceive. When viewed pouring water over the back of his neck, it was an indication that the Colombian rider may not be enjoying the best of health and he suffered for that short-lived acceleration. Quintana later disclosed that he was suffering from a fever and had thought about abandoning the race on two occasions that day such was his fatigue. Yet he did not wish to disappoint his fellow team members.
Both Quintana and Froome displayed a real degree of tenacity in finishing the gruelling Stage 11 of the Vuelta but much of the interest has been removed from the race with Aru now clear favourite to win his first Grand Tour after achieving two podium positions in the Giro d’Italia. There may be still be an opportunity for Quintana to win a stage should he recover sufficiently, but Aru now appears the strongest rider with more difficult days ahead.
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