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Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) won stage 13 of the Vuelta a España with a blistering late attack on the final climb to the finish in Parque de Cabárceno.
Though the 189-kilometer stage seemed suited for a breakaway, the race came back together just before the steep final ramp. There, Navarro made his move after waiting for 187 kilometers, since the start in Belorado earlier on Friday.
The Cofidis rider quickly overhauled Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) who had made his own bid for glory a few hundred meters earlier.
Navarro drilled the pace and held off a charging group of GC favorites, who traded blows on the final climb. He rode alone to his first major win of the season.
“I had to have a very good position once the peloton grouped together for the last climb,” said Navarro. “From there I just tried to get the victory and it went very well. I feel I have achieved my objective and anything more that comes in the rest of the race will feel like a gift.”
Fourteen riders broke away in the first few kilometers of racing. That group was whittled down to 11 a few minutes later as the pace ramped up.
Included in the break were: Damiano Cunego (Lampre-Merida), Damien Gaudin (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Stef Clement (Belkin), Danilo Wyss (BMC), Luis León Sánchez (Caja Rural), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Paolo Longo Borghini (Cannondale), Vegard Breen (Lotto-Belisol), Jay Robert Thomson (MTN-Qhubeka), and Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing).
Back in the peloton, Europcar was driving the pace to catch the break, but it gave up the effort 33km into the stage. By that point, the break had a two-minute lead.
Though it seemed a favorable day for the escape, with mountain stages looming, Orica-GreenEdge kept the pace in the peloton. After 60km, the gap was only 2:40.
Three riders abandoned the Vuelta on stage 13: Murilo Fischer (FDJ.fr), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), and Brett Lancaster (Orica-GreenEdge).
On the second climb of the day the break started to lose time and eventually broke apart. Sagan was caught with 43.5km remaining, and the lead group diminished to five riders.
Lutsenko, Cunego, Wyss, Sanchez, and Gaudin remained off the front.
Orica-GreenEdge continued to drive the peloton.
Cofidis’ Luis Ángel Maté attacked on the Alto de Caracol, trying to bridge to the front group. He was joined by Maxime Mederel (Europcar).
At the top of the day’s final categorized climb, the break’s advantage was 2:03.
Maté and Mederel’s escape ended at the bottom of the Caracol descent.
Around 20km to go, there was a changing of the guard at the front of the field. FDJ.fr and Tinkoff-Saxo took over the chase. The gap was 1:18.
With 15 kilometers left, the break’s advantage was only 38 seconds. Cooperation among the breakaway riders soon disintegrated. Lutsenko made a desperate final attack.
With 7.3km left, Lutsenko’s solo move was brought back by the peloton.
The persistent chasing made for a hard day in the bunch. “It was a pretty hard stage today,” said Robert Gesink (Belkin). “We thought it would be a stage for a breakaway, but some teams wanted a sprint, so that made it hectic in the final. I went full-gas in the final.”
Navarro’s impeccable timing
Katusha, Orica-GreenEdge, and Cannondale all jostled for position in advance of the final, short climb to the finish.
With five kilometers to go, Tinkoff-Saxo was firmly in control at the front, driving the pace to ward off any errant attacks.
With 2.9km left, Cofidis’ Christophe Le Mével made the first move. Cannondale was quick to bring back the Frenchman.
Brambilla was next to go.
Navarro then made the winning move with two kilometers left. Producing a massive turn of speed, the Spaniard caught and passed Brambilla.
Soon, Navarro’s gap was substantial. Behind, the GC favorites started trading blows. First, Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) took a dig on the right side, 1.7km from the finish.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) patrolled the front, keeping the Irishman in check.
With 1.4km left, Chris Froome (Sky) made a move, but that was also fruitless.
With the violent attacks on the steep final pitch, only 19 riders remained in the front group.
Katusha’s Daniel Moreno made a final bid to bridge to the leader in the final kilometer. But by that time, Navarro was home free. He blasted through the final corners on a gradual downhill to the line, riding alone to win.
The GC standings remain unchanged, but that likely won’t be the case after Saturday’s 200.8km stage from Santander to Valle de Sabero. That day will include three categorized climbs and a summit finish.
“I am leading for another day, but the difference between the riders is very small,” said Contador. “The objective is to be in red again tomorrow. It will be a difficult day, not just for the final climb but the one before it. I am feeling good and I am very happy with how the leg is developing. I am not suffering any problems on the bike.”