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Astana Conquers the Hardest Stage Ever

September 03, 2015

Wednesday September 2

Andorra la Vella / Cortals d´Encamp

1st – Mikel Landa, Astana Pro Team

2nd – Fabio Aru, Astana Pro Team

3rd – Ian Boswell, Team Sky

General Classification – Fabio Aru, Astana Pro Team

Points Classification - Esteban Chaves, Orica-GreenEDGE

Best Climber – Omar Fraile, Caja Rural Seguros RGA

Combined Jersey - Tom Dumoulin, Giant - Alpecin

Most Combative Rider - Mikel Landa, Astana Pro Team

Team Competition - Team Sky

On paper, Stage 11 of the 2015 Vuelta a Espana promised to be brutal, and it did not disappoint. Indeed, the day looks to have taken a couple of very big scalps, with GC contenders Nairo Quintana of Team Movistar and Chris Froome of Team Sky appearing to be out of the Vuelta running. In contrast Astana Pro Team showed their strength, finishing the stage in first and second, and Fabio Aru collecting the red jersey.

Although stage 11 was relatively short at 138km, it nonetheless covered six summits totalling almost 5,000m of climbing. Chris Froome suffered a crash very early, going down after hitting a barrier just over 5km into the stage. Although Froome would rejoin the peloton shortly after, his race was all but over. Following the stage he was sent to hospital for X-rays on his foot.

The day started with a 19 man breakaway group containing the polka dot jersey wearer Omar Fraile of Caja Rural Seguros RGA and Mikel Landa of Astana Pro Team. The breakaway group raced aggressively, splitting up every time the road pointed skywards. Back in the main group Astana Pro Team were doing all the damage, setting a relentless tempo for their team leader Aru.

On the foothills of the final climb of the day, the breakaway group had a two minute advantage over the peloton. Landa, who had earmarked this stage when it was first announced, attacked his breakaway companions and was never to be seen again. He would go on to win the stage by almost 90 seconds and perhaps signal his intentions to lead a team of his own at a grand tour.

Back in the peloton, the attacks began on the final descent, Joaquim Rodriguez of Team Katusha and Alejandro Valverde of Team Movistar the main protagonists. Onto the final climb, and Aru looked to emulate the earlier feats of his team mate by attacking immediately. Rodriguez was the only GC contender who could go with him as Quintana struggled to hold the pace.

The decisive move came with 5km to go - Aru attacked with all guns blazing and would ride into second place on the stage and first overall. After helping design the torturous stage, Rodriguez finished just over 30 seconds behind Aru on the stage, moving him into second place overall.

After the stage Fabio Aru said, "the team was incredible today. This morning we agreed that Landa would go for the stage and he managed to get into the right break and went on to win what was a really difficult stage. It was a real demonstration of strength and I'm really happy to be in the leader's jersey."

Despite Landa's impressive victory, the ride of the day may well have gone to Tom Dumoulin of Giant - Alpecin, who fought on bravely and only lost the red jersey by 30 seconds. The other story of the first week Esteban Chaves of Orica-GreenEDGE, also showed his fighting spirit, finishing alongside Dumoulin and staying in the top five overall.

The top nine in the General Classification are only separated by three minutes despite the punishing profile of stage 11. With ten stages to go, anything could and probably will happen so stayed tuned for more.

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Thanks Graham Watson for yet another great pic!