The 16km course was not one for the time trial purists at all as riders were sent straight up a vicious 5km climb before a tricky descent toward the finish, taking in another steep ramp of over 20% just before the line as well. It was no surprise when the climbers populated the top of the results sheet but Steve Cummings and Serge Pauwels both gave the hill a good bash for Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka. When Cummings crossed the line, he had the 3rd fastest time of the day but as the big general classification contenders came home, our Brit slowly got dislodged from his high placing. Eventually Cummings would end in 31st position, 2'07" behind Contador. Pauwels also did a solid ride, ending with a time just 3 seconds off of his teammate. In the overall general classification, Pauwels managed to climb up into the top 20 and would end this very difficult edition of the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco in 19th place for our African Team.
It was a good week for us. We were able to achieve a stage win which was our goal. We have to be very proud of that as this is probably the hardest 1-week race in the World Tour calendar. We also had Serge in the top 20 in the GC with all the big GC guys here, there was a lot of quality. The rest of the guys did well too, if it weren't for our 3 guys just missing the time cut yesterday we would have finished with all 8 guys. All in all, it was a good week. The guys came out of the week in good shape and healthy so now can look forward to the next races.
Alex Sans Vega - Sport Director
After yesterday's pleasant weather, the riders were exposed to another cold and wet day at the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco today. The start was fast and frantic with numerous riders trying to jump into the break of the day. The battle would go on for more than 70km as every time a group went clear, one or two teams who missed the move chased the group down again. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka were also really active and on two occasion we thought the break would go with one of our riders present. It wasn't to be, Johann van Zyl and Steve Cumming's escape attempts were both neutralised. Eventually 6 riders went clear, and they rode to a maximum lead of 2'30". Team Sky controlled the peloton as the race made its way toward a tough final 35km which included 3 category 2 climbs. With Team Sky setting their usual high pace on the positive slopes, it wasn't possible to attack and the gap to the break started to decrease quickly. The final cat 2 climb was the toughest, with gradients of over 20%. Serge Pauwels was our best placed rider, hanging tough while the likes of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) forced the pace with surging attacks. Over the top of the final climb, 3 of the original breakaway riders still had a 15" lead on the strung out main group. A general regrouping took place on the descent which saw the main group swell to a select group of 32 riders, Pauwels included. This chase group was able to pull back the 3 leaders with only 2km to go and then a fresh flurry of attacks followed. Sanchez got the jump on the rest and took the win by a few meters. Pauwels fought hard in the final and eventually came home 13 seconds down in 23rd place.
Today was a tough, tough stage. Like the other days, we wanted to be in the break but it was a super-fast day and raining from the start. For some reason Sky and a number of other teams didn't let any of the groups go. At one point there was 14 riders in the front with Cummings, but they also brought this back. The next attack of 6 riders went away but we were already so far into the stage that Sky kept riding fast to keep the gap small. In the steep climbs there was more attacks and the bunch got reduced on each climb. In the final it came together, Serge was in the mix with the best 35 riders. He lost a little bit of time on the final hill before the line but he did really well, it was a super tough day.
Alex Sans Vega - Sport Director
Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka could not have scripted the stage any better as Daniel Teklehaimanot got into the early break of the day with 4 other riders. The stage was 193km in length with 3 categorised climbs coming in the final 35km of the stage. Teklehaimanot rode well in the break but the peloton kept the escapees on a short leash and so just before the climbs started, Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) and Sam Oomen (Giant-Alpecin) jumped away from the break while the other 3 riders returned to the peloton. Our African Team were able to conserve energy in the peloton while Teklehaimanot spent the day in the break, and this set the team up nicely to take on the final climbs with the main group. A number of attacks flew from the peloton but Team Sky set a relentless pace on the front which meant nobody would get more than a minute's lead in the final 30km. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) would eventually bridge and then pass the two lone leaders just before the top of the final climb, but the gap to the now 40 rider peloton was only 25". Cummings and Serge Pauwels were both part of this select group and with Orica-Greenedge now setting the pace, our two African Team riders just bided their time. Navarro was caught in the final 4km and this played perfectly into the hands of Cummings. In typical fashion, our British star went from the rear of the main group and just powered off the front with an incredible seated attack as the race went under the 1km to go banner. The main group hesitated for a second and this gave Cummings the upper hand. Cannondale and Orica-Greenedge put everything into the final 700m but Cummings had done it again. With his arms in the air, the peloton sprinted home a few meters behind Cummings with teammate Pauwles also punching the air in jubilation as he watched Steve take a fine win.
What a brilliant feeling this is. These early season races are so hard and to get two wins now, one in Tirreno-Adriatico and another here at Pais Vasco, it feels quite good. Before we came to Pais Vasco though I said I wanted to win a stage, some people may have thought something different about that but I am happy to have done it. I'm really pleased that I get to stand on the podium once again for Qhubeka, it just makes it such a good day for us.
Steve Cummings - Rider
Today was one of those day's where everything works out. We wanted to be in the break because there was a 50% chance that the break would make it to the finish. Daniel Teklehaimanot was in, and that was perfect. The only problem was the Giant-Alpecin rider was 4 minutes behind on GC so the gap never got more than 5 minutes. So coming to the final, we wanted to try something. Steve got a great victory in typical and perfect Steve Cummings style. We are very happy with this result, the guys did a great job today.
Alex Sans Vega - Sport Director
It was a cold and wet day for the better part of today's 174km stage. It was a rolling course that greeted the riders from the start in Markina-Xemein but the final 2.8km of the stage was where the most severe gradients of the day awaited the riders. 4 riders went clear after 30km, but soon after it was just Stefan Denifl (IAM Cycling) and Angel Madrazo (Caja-Rural) that remained in the lead. As the duo rode ahead to a 5-minute advantage, Katusha, Tinkoff and Orica-Greenedge all took an interest in controlling the pace. Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka kept its cards close to its chest today as the rain came down. Everyone knew the showdown for the day would happen on the final climb and so it was about delivering Serge Pauwels and Igor Anton to the final climb for our African Team. With 10km to go the break was caught and it was a flat out race for the foot of the climb. Johann van Zyl did a great job to support Anton in the closing kilometers while Pauwels craftily maintained a good position too. With ramps of over 20%, the race exploded as soon as the climb began. After a few accelerations it was Landa and Kelderman who got a 10 second gap. Pauwels came to the front of the chase from 2km to go but the severity of the climb meant that a handful of seconds was enough for the leading two. Pauwels would be our highest placed finisher of the day. Our Belgian came home in 23rd position and 31 seconds down on the stage winner Landa, who also took over the overall race lead.
The finish was up a very steep goat path. Position at the bottom was crucial and the guys helped me out there and then I gave it my best shot. I am not explosive enough to do a super result on a steep climb like this but I was happy to be up there in the select group of riders for a long time.
Serge Pauwels - Rider
It was a hard stage, raining from the beginning and a lot of attacks from the start. We tried to be there with Mekseb Debesay and Daniel Teklehaimanot. After 30km, 4 guys got away, one was Louis Meintjes and he was too high on the GC so Astana chased quite hard. Eventually he dropped back and then the gap went out. Daniel, Johann and Mekseb worked to deliver the guys to the last climb. We thought we could make an attack but it was a very steep climb and the pace was really fast so it was not possible to make a move. Serge didn't lose much time and if you consider the quality of the field it wasn't a bad result but we must be part of the action tomorrow.
Alex Sans Vega - Sport Director