• Frank Schleck crosses the finish line to win the 16th Stage of the 2015 Vuelta a España (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It was a return to the the glory years for Frank Schleck as he rode to a solo win on Stage 16 of the Vuelta a España and Joaquim Rodriguez battled his way into the race lead.
By
Cycling Central

8 Sep 2015 - 2:58 AM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2015 - 8:48 AM

Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) claimed one of his best career victories, dropping breakaway companion Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) with three kilometres to go. Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin) was third.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez turned the tables on Fabio Aru (Astana) to take the race lead by one second after the pair dug deep into their reserves late in the stage.

However, the race still remains wide open with Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) third at 1min 35sec ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) at 1min 51sec.

The general classification contenders will enjoy a much-needed rest day tomorrow before a crucial 38.7km time trial on Stage 17. Dumoulin is by far the best rider against the clock among the riders who can still win the Vuelta: he is expected to take the lead with a significant buffer going into the final few stages.

"It’s been so long for me without a win. The whole day was long and hard, but I was on a good day," said Schleck., taking his first Grand Tour stage victory in six years.

"I was tough to win this stage, but all the work, all the injuries – today was all worth it.”

How it happened

The Vuelta peloton tackled its third Asturias mountain stage on Stage 16, travelling 185km from Luarca to Ermita de Alba. The stage traversed seven climbs, including the mountain finish on the steep Ermita de Alba.

Ten riders made up the break of the day, which had amassed a lead of nearly 20 minutes on a relaxed peloton with 65km to race. As a result, the stage winner was always going to come from that group.

Ahead were several massive climbs for Schleck, Torres, Moser, Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep), George Bennett (Lotto NL-Jumbo), Pierre Rolland (Europcar), Larry Warbasse (IAM), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis) and Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida).

Back in the peloton, the tempo of the race increased across the Alto de la Cobertoria before hitting the Ermita de Alba. Tinkoff-Saxo did the work at the front to thin out the peloton.

The break split apart with 25km left with Schleck, Bennett, Torres and Verona riding at tempo 11 minutes back, Astana replaced Tinkoff-Saxo in setting the pace for the peloton. Further attrition in the break saw Schleck and Torres crest the Alto de la Cobertoria together, with Astana controlling the peloton's chase tempo. It was clear that the experienced Schleck had the upper hand in the relationship with Torres and there was never a moment when he looked like he would not win the stage. 

The steep slopes of the final climb proved almost too much for the general classification contenders as they battled themselves more than their opponents. Survival was the name of the game, with Rodriguez the only aggressor. Even he only attacked in the last 800 metres, dropping the other riders.

Aru was one of those dropped, but the Astana captain found some extra dettermination in the tank and battled back to finish just off the Katusha leader's wheel and avoid a more damaging loss.

However, ride of the day must go to Tom Dumoulin, who again limited his losses to within 30 seconds of Rodriguez and Aru - putting him in pole position to reclaim the red jersey on Wednesday's pan-flat time trial.

New race leader Rodriguez acknowledged that Dumoulin is still a major threat.

"I need to do a super chrono and I will give my maximum. That's why we are here. With Dumoulin at less than two minutes it will be hard, but not impossible," he said.