Switching to a super steep climb the day after an individual time trial isn’t an easy thing to do, but Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Ilnur Zakarin was up to the challenge on Wednesday’s stage 17 to Los Machucos, a new climb to the race with sections up to 25-26%. The Russian team captain put together an excellent day of racing, crossing the line in fifth place and taking back some of the time lost to Wilco Kelderman in yesterday’s race against the clock. Zakarin remains in 4th overall, but reduced his deficit by more than half and closed the gap to within 12-seconds with four stages still to go.
“It was a good race for me today. In the middle of the stage I did not have such a good feeling but it went better toward the end. I could show again some things. There was however one moment in that final climb that I did not know how to keep going as my front wheel lifted up because it was so steep. I needed some time to get used to these circumstances, but then it went ‘smooth’ again. I am happy for taking back some time on Kelderman. We have some mountain stages left where I can try to attack and take back some more time,” said team captain Ilnur Zakarin.
Despite a gritty chase for a stage win in his last professional race, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) could not catch Stefan Denifl who took the victory (4:48:52/37.491 km/h) for Aqua Blue Sport by 28-seconds on the 180.5k stage. Behind Contador, all on the same time of +1.04, were Miguel Ángel López (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida and Zakarin.
"It was difficult to control the race at the end because this was a new climb and there was not information. I asked Ilnur to try if he felt good so he could gain time back to Kelderman. He did a good job. He has 12-seconds still to gain and there is time. There are four days left in this race, so we will continue until the end. Zakarin is good in all ways now. Twelve-seconds on the Angliru on Saturday is nothing - we will try," said sports director Dmitry Konyshev.
Race leader Chris Froome of Team Sky remains in the red jersey, but Nibali closed the gap by 42-seconds when he was unable to respond to attacks on the final pitch to Los Machucos. Kelderman is third at 2:13 and Zakarin is fourth at 2:25.
Thursday’s stage 18 in the 72nd Vuelta a España begins in Suances and ends in Santo Toribio de Liébana at 169k. The profile features 4 rated-climbs.
Photo credit © Tim De Waele