It would appear that Davide Villella has a different definition of ‘rest and recover’ than most people.
The Italian put in a massive effort on Wednesday’s Vuelta a España stage five to extend his lead in the King of the Mountain classification. He was rewarded with another day in the blue-and-white spotted KOM leader’s jersey and a lead in the classification so large that it was numerically impossible that he would not keep the jersey following stage six. Villella said he planned to rest and recover on Thursday’s 204 kilometer day between Vila-Real and Sagunt.
Instead Villella jumped into the breakaway – his third in four days. The escape took more than an hour to solidify and eventually swelled to include a maximum of 37 riders.
“Getting in the break was really hard,” said Toms Skujins, one of three Cannondale-Drapac riders to represent up the road. “I got into a good move with Trentin (QuickStep-Floors) when he went but had to sit up because Villella was also coming across, and we wanted to help him get into the move to pick up more points.
“I waited for him, and when he reached me, we bridged to the front group with some hard efforts but we got there,” Skujins added. “Tom Scully was also there, which made it perfect for us because we had three.”
Thursday’s stage six included three category three climbs and one second category climb. Villella was the first over the first two climbs, picking up three points atop each, and second to reach the summit of the third climb, where he added two points to his tally.
“I was motivated today because the stage had so many categorized climbs,” said Villella. “I struggled to get into the initial breakaway, but thanks to the help of Skujins and Scully, I was there and I was able to take some more points.”
With an additional eight points pocketed, Villella fell off the pace on the fourth climb, 60-odd kilometers from the finish. He ended the stage with 38 mountain points, 26 more than Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates), who sits in second place in the KOM classification with 12 points.
“After three days in the escape, the legs were not their best, so I decided to save energy for the next few stages,” said Villella. “It’s important to remember it’s only the first week.”
While Villella’s work was done for the day, Skujins fought hard to cling tight to the leading group for as long as possible. When Skujins eventually lost contact on Puerto del Barbi, the last of the categorized climbs, he set his sights on supporting Mike Woods.
“I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to hang on the final climb,” said Skujins. “Once I got dropped, I paced it on the steep parts, and that definitely was not easy. The body is sore in all kinds of places.
“At first Froome (Sky) passed me, and then Woodsy’s group came up, probably a kilometer from the top, and I had to dig deep to survive over there with them,” Skujins explained. “Just before the downhill, I dropped back to get bottles for me and him, but unfortunately, while doing that I was behind de la Cruz (QuickStep-Floors), who just let the wheel go on the downhill and we got gapped. I never managed to give those bottles to Woodsy, but at least I used them fully. It was a hot day, and I was suffering a lot from the heat.”
Woods reached the finish line in Sagunt with an 18-rider group that included Froome, Fabio Aru (Astana), Esteban Chaves (ORICA-SCOTT), Adam Yates (ORICA-SCOTT), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Nicholas Roche (BMC). It was another strong showing for the Canadian, who cracked the Vuelta a España general classification top ten on Wednesday and moved up to ninth overall on Thursday.
“My big goal here is to try to win a stage or help the team win a stage,” said Woods. “Any aspirations for the general classification are secondary to that. I’m taking this race day-by-day. I still haven’t achieved my goals yet, but I think I’m on track for it. I’m feeling good, and I’m getting better every day, but we’re still in the early days of the race, and a lot can change.
“The team is playing a massive role in my success, especially on the hillier stages,” added Woods. “I have felt like Whitney Houston in the Bodyguard this past week. Also the staff has been great here, and [sport director] Juanma [Garate] is like a human GPS. I know very little about the area, and the intel Juanma gives us over the radio and in the pre-race meetings has been crucial to my success. With Villella in the KOM jersey and Tom [Van Asbroeck] sprinting so well, the vibe on the bus has been hugely positive.”
The Vuelta continues on Friday with another transitional stage – this one covering 207 kilometers between Llíra and Cuenca. The route rises from the gun with eight kilometers of uncategorized uphill roads in the build-up to the first of three category three climbs on the stage seven menu. With a maximum of nine points available towards the King of the Mountain classification, Villella will receive his fifth polka dot jersey on Friday as long as he finishes stage seven.
Feature image photo credit: © BrakeThrough Media