Dutch rider Bauke Mollema of Belkin Pro Cycling won the 17th stage of the Vuelta a Espana in Burgos, Spain, on Wednesday as Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali of Astana retained the overall race leader’s red jersey.
Mollema, 26, attacked at the end of the 189km ride from Calahorra to take the stage win ahead of Sky Pro Cycling’s Norwegian rider Edvald Boasson Hagen and Argentina’s Maximiliano Richeze of Lampre-Merida, who were second and third respectively.
The Dutchman’s move completely took what was left of the peloton by surprise, including the leading riders in the general classification, to recover some pride from a race in which he had been left trailing in the overall standings.
“I knew that this was my only chance to win a stage,” Mollema told Spanish television at the end of a stage that had been earmarked as one for the sprinters.
“I came to the Vuelta with ambitions to do well in the general classification, my team had designated me for that role, but it hasn’t been possible and so we decided to go for stage wins instead,” added Mollema, who became something of a cult hero in his native Netherlands on his way to finishing sixth at this year’s Tour de France.
Nibali and his principle rivals — US veteran Chris Horner of RadioShack Leopard Trek and Spanish duo Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Joaquim “Purito” Rodriguez of Katusha — reached the finish just behind Mollema and were given the same time as the stage winner.
However, several riders lost time after cracks appeared in the peloton when Ireland’s Nicolas Roche and his Saxo-Tinkoff team attacked in crosswinds with just under 30km to go.
France’s Thibaut Pinot and Italy’s Domenico Pozzovivo were among the riders worst affected, with both losing 1 minute, 31 seconds to Nibali.
“It was a stage in which we needed to be wary from beginning to end. On paper it looked easy, but we saw what happened to two riders with high hopes in Pozzovivo and Pinot,” Valverde said at the finish.
While Pozzovivo and Pinot sit more than five and six minutes behind Nibali respectively, Roche climbed back into the top five in the overall standings, 3 minutes, 43 seconds behind the overall leader.
Horner sits second 28 seconds back, with Valverde third at 1 minute, 14 seconds and Rodriguez fourth at 2 minutes, 29 seconds.
This year’s Vuelta concludes in Madrid on Sunday, but before that, the peloton had to prepare for a first-category finish yesterday on the Pena Cabarga, where Purito won in 2010.
Then today, there is a finish atop the unclassified Alto de l’Angliru, at an altitude of 1,557m.
“I like this climb,” said Nibali, winner of this year’s Giro d’Italia and the 2010 Vuelta, of the Pena Cabarga. “I know it well from 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I remember that Purito was very good. We will see. It is a great finish.”