The mountains delivered on their promises on stage 3 of the Volta a Catalunya, where attacks in the final kilometre saw Alberto Contador take second place on the stage and move into second on GC. Contador pursued the wheel of Dan Martin when his rivals were unable to, coming in two seconds after the stage winner. With more mountains to come, there’s everything still to race for with only seconds separating the top contenders.
The town of Girona was the start of yesterday’s stage, which saw the race enter the big mountains. The 172.1km course crossed three first category climbs, before ascending a final first category climb to the finish. This was the stage the GC contenders had been waiting for, and was the first of two high-mountain stages where the real time gaps would be made.
While there were breaks from the start, the bigger teams knew that the decisive climbs would come later in the stage. In spite of this, Pieter Weening of Roompot-Oranje Peloton staged a daring solo breakaway, with his gap bridged only 9km from the finish, just as the snow of La Molina was becoming visible. A second break was caught at the 5km mark, as the favourites started to show their faces at the front, and which saw Contador keeping pace.
Looking back on the stage from the finish, Directeur Sportif Sean Yates, summarised how things panned out. “It was the first mountain stage today, with nice weather and a good test. The early break went and the lead quickly grew to 10 minutes, then behind, Sky took control and rode the whole day. There was a counter attack later on but it was a controlled stage behind until the final kilometres. All the action really came under the one kilometre banner at which point it was every man for himself – Alberto went toe to toe, and came up just short of the win.”
As the last kilometre loomed, the final attacks came and while his rivals weren’t able to follow, Contador managed to finish the stage two seconds behind Martin in second place. The Spanish rider goes into stage 4 six seconds off the top of the GC with gaps forming below him.
Of the day’s outcome, Contador was pleased with the result. “At the end, unfortunately, stage victory wasn’t possible. However, I’m happy even if my form wasn’t very good today and I wasn’t riding comfortably. Still, I was present in the attacks, I was alert in the finale and I was able to take second.”
“Of course the win would have been better than second,” added Sean Yates “but the fact that we don’t have the jersey means that we don’t have to take control tomorrow. Alberto said he didn’t feel particularly great, and only came round when the real racing kicked off. But the time gaps at the finish show how hard it was today.”
Stage 4 tomorrow is set to be a decisive one. After the thrilling climax of today’s stage, the seconds separating the top of the GC classifications, and the imposing peaks of the top category Port de Canto and Port Aine dominating the 172.2km stage profile, anything can still happen. Sean Yates looked ahead to tomorrow’s racing. “There’s now a six second gap, and the GC will come down to tomorrow, being the last summit stage after which final days only offer up some time bonuses. All in all it was a good result for Alberto. The guys did a good job during the stage, and it was a case of following the pace as long as possible in the wheels. We’re happy with the performance, and tomorrow will be tougher which should be to our benefit – so all is still to play for.”
Having come to the Volta a Catalunya suffering from a cold, Contador was concentrating on his recovery before stage 4. “What is important now is to see how I recover ahead of tomorrow. I came here with a cold from Paris-Nice and in that sense it’s positive. The worst of it is behind me, otherwise I couldn’t have achieved this result. Tomorrow’s stage, in principle, is more suited to my characteristics and we’ll try to perform better. Daniel Martin is a strong rider and knows what it is to win on tomorrow’s climb since he took the GC there in 2013. It isn’t a surprise either, that he won today, and right now he’s the one best placed for the GC. Nevertheless, I think that we can’t draw many conclusions from the climb today. We rode in a group, the wind was blowing strong and the climb, with the exception of the first three kilometres, was quite tolerable. Still, I think Martin has the best chances for the GC right now.”