Santiago Buitrago of Bahrain Victorious finished third on stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana in a sprint finish yesterday.
As la Vuelta leaves the Pyrenees behind, stage 15 was a slightly kinder terrain compared to the previous two days and didn’t offer the same shake-up in the GC, but it did offer plenty of excitement in the breakaway.
It took the breakaway several attempts to form with a high pace set on the first half of the 158 km route from Pamplona to Lekunberri in the heart of the Basque Country. The main breakaway featured Antonio Tiberi, Mikel Landa, and Buitrago from Bahrain Victorious and also included yesterday’s stage winner, Remco Evenepol (Soudal Quickstep). So for the rest of the breakaway members, the name of the game was to beat Evenepol, with several attacks coming to drop the Belgian rider and stage favourite.
The successful attack on the breakaway was made about 20km to go, on the foot of the last climb (1st category), and the talented young Colombian Buitrago was joined by Lennard Kamna (Bora Hansgrohe) and Rui Costa (Intermarchie – Circus – Wanty). They worked to maintain a lead on the rest of the breakaway, and Santiago was trying to escape Costa, knowing he’d have an advantage in the final sprint. In the last few kilometres, they played cat and mouse, saving energy for the sprint to the finish. Costa won, with Lennard Kamna coming in second and Santiago third.
Behind the podium winners, all the favourites stayed together, meaning Mikel Landar remained seventh in GC, while Santiago stayed 13th but managed to bridge time back to the top ten, cutting his deficit from five to two minutes.
Bahrain Victorious sports director Neil Stephens reflects on Buitrago’s podium: “Right now I’m a little bit disappointed. That is the immediate feeling after the finish of the stage. We fought so hard for a stage win today, so when we didn’t get it, it was a disappointment. But when you look at how the day rolled out, it was so active, so many guys going off the front and on the back, so many guys were suffering, so Santiago saw that moment, went on an attack with his teammates, which wasn’t the plan this morning, but he made a breakaway with some fantastic bike riders, he knew that Remco would be hard to defeat on the climb, so he went ahead of the game, tactically brilliant.
“The only thing wrong was he went with former World Champion – Rui Costa. From there on, it was really going to be hard to beat him. He made several efforts on the climb, he got a few meters in a few moments, and he played everything right until the finish. At the end of the day, we were beaten by a better rider on a good day, and there is not much you can say about that. It’s a short-term disappointment, but I’m so proud of the effort the boys put in today.”
Buitrago said: “Today was a really hard race, especially after the last two mountain stages in the Pyrenees. It’s hard to recover. At the start, it was hectic, with many riders trying to go to breakaway, and after 2 hours, finally, the breakaway was made. But in the final, Rui Costa was stronger in the sprint. As for me, today I’m happy because in the climbs my legs were really good, so I hope they’ll be good for the next week as well.”
Today is a well-deserved rest day before entering the last week of racing, including four stages with high mountains where the GC battle will continue to unfold.