Davide Villella successfully defended his lead in the Vuelta a España King of the Mountain classification on Wednesday. The Italian was part of a 17-rider breakaway that formed before the first of five categorized climbs on stage five and picked up maximum points on all but one climb.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) soloed to victory after attacking out of the breakaway. Villella was the last of the riders from the original escape to reach the summit finish in 12th place.
“I focused most of my energy on the mountain points,” said Villella. “Perhaps because of that I was not as brilliant in the final as I wanted and hoped.”
The effort to scoop up mountain points was effort well-spent. Villella started the stage with 12 points in the King of the Mountain classification, a two-point advantage over Alexandre Geniez (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal). By stage end, he had claimed an additional 18 points and opened up his lead to 19 points over Caja Rural’s Lluís Mas. It’s numerically impossible for Villella to lose the jersey on stage six.
Wednesday’s stage included three category two climbs and two category three climbs. Villella was among the nine early escapees by the time the race hit the Alto del Desierto de las Palmas at 16 kilometers. The group swelled to include 17 riders before the top, where Villella pocketed five points.
Mas provided the strongest challenge to Villella on each of the categorized climbs but proved no match for the King of the Mountain.
“It was easier than expected to get into the breakaway even if it was tough at first, but the peloton left enough room for a large escape,” said Villella. “All the climbs have been tough, and the heat has played a large role in energy levels.”
The break fractured on the descent following the Alto de la Serratella, the fourth climb, with 50 kilometers still to race. By then, Villella had not only secured his spot atop the KOM classification for another stage but extended his stint in the the blue-and-white-spotted jersey through Thursday’s stage six as well.
Behind Villella, action began to heat up in the peloton with Sky setting a fierce tempo until race leader Chris Froome (Sky) delivered two brutal blows that saw all but Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), Esteban Chaves (ORICA-SCOTT) and Cannondale-Drapac’s own Mike Woods come unglued. The four put 10-seconds into the likes of Adam Yates (ORICA-SCOTT), Fabio Aru (Astana), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and 20-seconds into Simon Yates (ORICA-SCOTT) and Warren Barguil (Sunweb).
The effort afforded Woods his first foray into the Vuelta’s general classification top ten. The Canadian will start stage six in tenth overall, 1:13 down on Froome.
“Everything is going as planned,” said sport director Juanma Garate. “I’m so proud of the attitude of this team.”
The Vuelta a España continues with a 204-kilometer stage between Vila-Real and Sagunt. The route includes five categorized climbs – four category three and one category two – with a maximum of 13 points available.
“I have 30 points now and the second one has 11 points,” said Villella. “I think tomorrow I will concentrate on restoring my energy and recovering.”
Feature image photo credit: © BrakeThrough Media