A dramatic Stage 17 at La Vuelta saw Philippe Gilbert sprint to victory and Nairo Quintana close the gap on red-jersey holder Primoz Roglic. Eurosport spoke to the trio, as well as Sam Bennett, after the crosswind chaos…
“It was crazy from the gun,” said Gilbert, whose Deceuninck-QuickStep team benefited from a huge split that occurred shortly after the start of the blustery 219.6km stage in central Spain, which also dented Roglic and his fellow top-five GC riders.
Gilbert led the move home more than an hour-and-a-quarter ahead of schedule, at an average speed reportedly above 50km/h, with the Belgian veteran claiming he reached 75km/h.
Highlights of stage that blew La Vuelta wide open
With seven riders in the move, Deceuninck-QuickStep pulled the strings as 37-year-old Gilbert picked up his second win of the race after out-lasting Ireland’s Bennett (Bora-Hansgrohe) in an uphill drag-race in Guadalajara.
Gilbert told Eurosport: “It’s a very special one. It’s one that will stay in our history because of the way that we rode, it was crazy from the gun. We went with a big group of 40 guys and had some guys out there in for the GC, like Quintana and James Knox for us.
“We rode crazy as a team. We gave heart to each other, it was really nice to see. We dropped some guys, it was really fast, at some point we were riding on the flat 75km/h. In 17 years I don’t think I’ve ever done that, it was really crazy.”
Philippe Gilbert - 'It was crazy from the gun'
When discussing his 11th Grand Tour stage win on Eurosport’s The Breakaway, Gilbert added: “First the tactic was to be out there from the start with James Knox. We were seven out of the eight guys. We took it quite hard and in the last 50km I decided to stay on the wheels to recover for the last effort.
“I figured to beat Bennett in a sprint like that, with climbs and corners, it was like three or four sprints in the last 2km – I was quite confident.”
While Knox rose to eighth in the GC standings, the big mover was Quintana, who pulled off a coup to move above Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde.
“I’m really happy to get through a great stage. It was a flat day with a lot of wind and we’ll give it everything all the way to Madrid,” Quintana said.
'It doesn't really get any better!' Delighted James Knox discusses his brilliant ride in Stage 17
“The team helped me and supported me all day long. Of course, they were at full gas at the front to get the position and try to break the peloton. We got away from our rivals – the strategy was great.
“We wanted to go fast in the climb and we didn’t want his [Roglic’s] team-mates to follow us, we’ve weakened them, thinking about Roglic who made a big difference.
“We’re still in the fight, we’re in good shape. Everyone suffered today, I suffered, so we’ll see. I was a little sick and hope to recover for the end.”
James Knox explains how the breakaway got away on dramatic Stage 17
Roglic may have seen his lead reduced, but the red-jersey holder – who still has a 2:24 advantage over Quintana – insists the day could have gone wose.
He told Eurosport: “I made mistakes today for sure. I shouldn’t have been where I was, but the team saved me. It was a really big effort and we are still in a really good position.
“Yeah [I could have managed it differently], but you make mistakes, the most important thing is that you learn from it. Like I said, maybe we lost badly today but it’s not the worst.”
The Breakaway - Gilbert joins studio after Deceuninck masterclass in breathless Stage 17
Meanwhile, Bennett admitted he had nothing left in the tank after he was outsprinted by Gilbert at the end.
“I couldn’t take them all on. I had to go really hard so they couldn’t keep at my wheel, and I just ran out of legs the last 300 metres. I didn’t have anything left,” Bennett said.
Exhausted Sam Bennett - 'I just ran out of legs, I had nothing left'
“I did enjoy it, but there came a point where I thought I was going to be dropped after 100k and my legs fell off.
“I just had to keep going. They came back around in the final, because Quintana’s team-mates weren’t going to ride away from him, so I just played that card and tried to recover, but it wasn’t enough today.”