With his fighting spirit on full display, Team KATUSHA ALPECIN’S Ilnur Zakarin pulled away from his rival Wilco Kelderman in the closing kilometers of the difficult Angliru and climbed onto the final podium of the 72nd Vuelta a España, accomplishing his goal for the Spanish tour.
“It is still hard to believe. This is a miracle. In the last 3k of the race, I knew I had to do something but there was no real plan. I really gave it everything I have in my body. I have never gone so deep. It was a little bit tricky as I was afraid I would burn myself out. Anyway, I gave my maximum and it worked. I am so happy,” said team leader Ilnur Zakarin.
“We were really scared in the first downhill as it was wet and Ilnur lost some time. On the second downhill he was in the front, and this was important. I asked him to keep his rhythm in the last 3K. He did so well. It’s his first podium in a Grand Tour and I hope not the last. It’s not our ultimate goal to be third in these races. We will try to do better,” said sports director Dmitry Konyshev.
Stage 20 at 117.5km began in Corvera de Asturias and ended atop the Alto de l’Angliru, considered to be the hardest climb in Spain.
“Kelderman came close at one moment but I never really looked behind as Contador was in front. With this situation I had to give it my all. In the end I had no idea where Kelderman was, but that did not matter as I was busy with Contador,” added Zakarin.
An early attack from Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) before the start of l’Angliru proved to be the decisive move on the day’s stage with the Spanish champion earning the victory by 17-seconds to Wout Poels and race leader Chris Froome, both of Team Sky. It was the first win of the season for Contador and more than likely the last of his career as he steps away from cycling to retire on Sunday. Zakarin was fourth on the stage at 35-seconds, building on his original 12-second deficit to Kelderman and securing his podium position on the general classification.
Froome makes it a Tour de France-Vuelta a España double by leading the final grand tour of the season at +2.15 (79:23:37) to Vincenzo Nibali of Bahrain Merida Pro Cycling. Zakarin’s third place comes at +2.51 with Contador in 4th at +3.11. Kelderman holds fifth at +3.15.
“Now a podium in a Grand Tour. I am very happy. I think in the next three years I can aim higher. Why not try for a win next year? This is a big result for the entire team. I dedicate this podium to my father and mother-in-law who recently died. I am sure they watched my success,” concluded Ilnur Zakarin.
The 21st stage on Sunday brings the race to a close. At 117.6km, the day begins in Arroyomolinos and ends with the traditional laps around the city of Madrid.
Photo credit © Tim De Waele