• Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) wins the seventh stage to La Alpujarra. (AFP)Source: AFP
The most serious climbing test to date at the Vuelta a España proved telling, as early breakaway rider Bert-Jan Lindeman (LottoNL-Jumbo) took out stage honours on the seventh stage to La Alpujarra.
Cycling Central

29 Aug 2015 - 4:27 AM  UPDATED 30 Aug 2015 - 2:31 AM

"I played the game. That's also cycling, and not only to be the strongest," Lindeman said.

"I felt I had a really good day and started to believe in my chances. Normally, Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) is the strongest uphill, so I was a little scared. But at some point he and I were dropped. I saw that he was really empty and then I closed the gap alone to Jérôme Cousin (Europcar) and Ilia Koshevoy (Lampre-Merida).

"Only at the very end did we know that the peloton would not come back and that we could win. Cousin crashed in the last kilometre, and Koshevoy then went full gas. I felt that I had power left, and in the last 200 meters, I could easily pass him."

In terms of the GC battle, Orica-GreenEDGE's Esteban Chaves finished in the first group of favourites, 36 seconds behind Lindeman and led home by Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) - though not before a searing attack from Fabio Aru (Astana), who managed to steal seven seconds on his erstwhile companions and move to eighth overall.

Notably, Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) were distanced in the final two kilometres, while Movistar duo Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana held firm, and now sit fifth and seventh overall, respectively.

"I'm really happy. Today was a final with a 40- or 50-minute climb, really really long, and the team again was fantastic," Chaves said.

"It's a big responsibility (to be in the red jersey), it's important you don't lose your head and you stay really focused. It's the first big uphill finish and now it is important to recover."

Said Majka: "The team worked very hard to position me perfectly at the bottom of the last climb. Movistar pulled hard at the front of the peloton on the climb and then Jesper Hansen also worked hard at the front of the GC group to set the pace. It was too late to bridge the gap with the breakaway but I finished with the main GC group.”

Chaves maintained his respective 10- and 33-second lead over Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) and Daniel Martin (Cannondale-Garmin), his ride Friday further proof the 25-year-old from Bogotá is a bona fide contender for a place on the final podium come September 13.

"(Aru) attacked, but I think it's not my responsibility to close all gaps," said the Colombian. "All of the other riders want to win, same as me, and finally Aru (gained) some seconds.

"He is an important rider, obviously, but I can't go after all riders because I don't have amazing amazing legs.

"It's important to save energy for the future. There is a lot of important stages coming, and I say again it's really important to stay really focused and concentrate."

Lindeman was one of a early break of five riders that went clear on the 191.1 kilometre leg from Jodar, along with Cousin (Europcar), Koshevoy (Lampre-Merida), Carlos Quintero (Colombia) and Txurruka (Caja Rural). Despite the efforts of Astana, Movistar and Katusha to contain them, the quintet's advantage soared to a maximum lead of 13'10 some 80km from the finish, although by the time they approached the final 18.7km stepped climb, located on the southern flank of the Sierra Nevada, the gap was just five and a half minutes.

When Cousin, one of three riders in the final two kilometres, overlapped the wheel of Koshevoy and crashed, it left Lindeman and the Belarusian neo-pro to battle for the stage victory, the Dutchman's move 200 metres from the line enough to seal his biggest career win.

"I've come a long way. I was not a professional anymore in 2014, but luckily I got a new opportunity at LottoNL-Jumbo," 26-year-old Lindeman said.

"And today I won this tough mountain stage. I've been working hard for this result. I was 10 days in Davos for a training camp with Martijn Keizer. That paid off now. I am grateful for the confidence this team has in me and now we will enjoy this victory together."