Vuelta a España 2016: Recap

“This morning in my head I was a winner, but I knew I had to cross the line and until you cross it you can’t say you are a champion” – Nairo Quintana, 2016 Vuelta a España winner.

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So, there we are. La Vuelta 2016 was a fierce fight to end, be it between Froome and Quintana for the red jersey, Chaves and Contador for the 3rd place or the ‘sprint teams’ for the end stage win. In the end, Quintana won his second Grand Tour by 1’23 over Froome, with Chaves and Orica BikeExchange producing one of the rides of their season to get their Columbian his deserved podium place, while also securing the final stage win with Magnus Cort Nielsen. Eight teams were yet to win a stage or a jersey by the time the riders rolled up to the starting line in Las Rozas, surprisingly including Astana, Giant Alpecin, Tinkoff and Lotto-Soudal.

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c: sports.yahoo.com

No doubts about it, this year’s Vuelta looked especially difficult. Many teams left out sprinters for extra climbers, meaning the likes of Degenkolb for Giant Alpecin and Bouhanni for Cofidis weren’t to be seen. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) profited from this to take two stages as well as having the chance to wear the Green Jersey (Points Classification) for 6 stages. Valverde fought hard to gain the jersey by Madrid, yet by stage 21 it was on the shoulders on Felline (Trek) – as the only jersey which could change holders by the end of the race. Yet Valverde didn’t contest the final sprint and Felline retained it, Quintana still held the red and white jerseys, Fraile won the polka dot jersey for the 2nd time in 2 years and BMC won the team classification. At La Vuelta, road books that didn’t quite match the profile were an issue, and the Vuelta was dubbed “insanely hard” by many riders, including Tyler Farrar (Dimension Data). Yet they persevered until the very end. Lined on the streets of Madrid were thousands of fans, the most prominent donned in Columbian shirts, there to cheer on their two men who had battled through to take two of three podium places. One of these men was Nairo Quintana.

No Doubt for Nairo

Quintana’s debut season with Movistar at the 2012 Vuelta was spent being a climbing domestique for teammate Valverde, and the pair have been somewhat ‘inseparable’ ever since – the ‘Quintana or Valverde’ battle has been especially prominent. So prominent in fact, both were implied to lead at the 2016 Vuelta, yet with a heavy focus on Quintana. They were also told to share leadership at the 2015 Tour. And the 2015 Vuelta. A dangerous move perhaps, demonstrated by the Froome/Wiggins era for Team Sky. Yet this wasn’t unnoticed by Valverde, who once took to a press conference to state “this is nothing like Froome and Wiggins, far from it.” Is the jury out on this one? While Valverde fell from GC contention after losing over 10 minutes on stage 14 (he slipped from 3rd overall to 19th), Quintana was already holding on to the red jersey, and he held it all the way to Madrid. Despite bad luck in previous GT’s (such as crosswinds) and sudden attacks from Froome (second on a sprint stage? Is there anything he can’t do?) had hampered his GC hopes, Quintana launched an attack for the stage win on stage 10 on the Lagos de Covadonga and didn’t look back – except for when he was looking for Chris Froome.

Success for the Boys in Blue

Orica GreenEDGE BikeExchange gained Vuelta success in 2012 with Simon Clarke winning the Mountains Classification. While they have no trouble winning the overall for races such as the Herald Sun Tour (2014, 2015), the Tour Down Under (2012, 2014, 2016) and have had numerous successes in team time trials, they were yet to impact in Grand Tours fighting for general classification. This all changed with the success of Adam Yates in the 2016 Tour de France – placing 4th overall and winning the White Jersey (Young Rider Classification) – and Esteban Chaves at the 2016 Giro and Vuelta – placing 2nd overall in the Giro and 3rd in La Vuelta. To quote Svein Tuft in the stage 20 BSP – it is an exciting time for Orica. They’re winning “sprint finishes, hilly sprint finishes, mountain finishes” and are now in a position to contend with Froome, Quintana, Nibali, Valverde and Contador. Esteban Chaves finished 3rd in GC, yet Orica found themselves with two men in the top 10 with Simon Yates finishing 6th as well. Not only are they now battling for podium places in Grand Tours, they’re still continuing to win stages in them too. La Vuelta was incredibly successful for OBE, with Simon Yates winning stage 6, Jens Keukeleire winning stage 12 and Magnus Cort Nielsen winning stages 18 and 21 – the most sought after sprint stage win this GT. Where will Orica-BikeExchange go from here? It’s looking pretty definite the only way is up.

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Froome’s Fighting Force

Chris Froome won his 3rd Tour de France after his sudden attack on the descent of the Col de Peyresourde, sprint stage attack with Sagan and Bodnar (Tinkoff) and teammate Thomas as well as his time trial win put him 4’05 in front of second placed Bardet. As well as winning the Critérium du Dauphiné, he went on to participate in a crash filled Olympic road race and took the bronze medal in the Olympic time trial, before finishing 2nd in La Vuelta by just over a minute. Froome stated the “ambush at Formigal” was the stage he lost the Vuelta, and with the considerable amount of time Froome gained back on Quintana after his time trial, it really makes you wonder how close the final podium could’ve been. After tasting so much success in just one year, many could be frustrated with the fact they finished second in the last Grand Tour of the year, especially after essentially losing it in one stage. Yet not Froome – who “of course – would have preferred to have been on the top step in Madrid, but that’s racing. I gave it my best and I’ve got to be happy with that.”  Froome can undoubtedly be proud of his success this year, and the sportsmanlike behaviour he’s held the entire way though, most notably applauding Quintana who crossed the line just in front of him on stage 20 to secure his Vuelta win. It is obvious the both of them uphold the highest respect for each other, and it’s great to see in cycling. Long may it continue.

“He is the greatest rival there is at the moment. He made me suffer at the Tour and here I have won.” – Nairo Quintana on Chris Froome.

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c: velonews.competitor.com

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c: teamsky.com

IAM’S Grand Tour Swan Song

IAM Cycling are determined to go out on a high. After the news dropped in May that IAM Cycling team owner Thétaz couldn’t find a co-sponsor for the team, they hit back to end the rest of their season with impressive wins. Kluge won their first ever GT stage at the Giro, Devenyns won the overall at the Tour of Belgium (as well as stage 2), Pantano not only won a stage at the Tour de Suisse but went on to be a threat at the Tour de France, making the break numerous times and winning stage 15, Matthias Brändle won both the Austrian Road Race and Time Trial Championships, Devenyns again won an overall – this time at the Tour de Wallonie (as well as winning stage 5) and Naesen won at the GP Ouest-France. While at their last Grand Tour of the season, IAM were keen to continue their success. Their efforts in breakaways did not go unnoticed and they also won stage 7 with Genechten and stage 16 with Mathias Frank while Pellaud wore the first ‘red number’ of the Vuelta with the combativity award. Tinkoff are also folding at the end of the season, and riders from both teams made sure to perform at the La Vuelta for a contract at a different team next season.

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While ‘Grand Tour season’ is officially over, that doesn’t mean all road cycling season is. Mid-September marks the European Championships, followed by the Eneco Tour and Milano-Torino that same month. October is the month for Il Lombardia, the road World Championships and the Abu Dhabi Tour to name but a few.

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Stage 5: Viveiro > Lugo

“My ribs and collarbone hurt a lot. I crashed heavily into that pole. It’s terrible that I have to leave this race because of an object that shouldn’t have been there. I’m going home immediately tomorrow. This was, after the Giro d’Italia, my second big target and I’m really fed up about the way I’m leaving this Vuelta.”Steven Kruijswijk, Team LottoNL-Jumbo

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The finale to Stage 5 of La Vuelta reflected the 2015 Pais Vasco, and just like Peter Stetina (then BMC) had unnecessarily crashed after unmarked poles in the road had taken him down, today saw Steven Kruijswijk forced to abandon after hitting a pole in the road. Gianni Meersman (Etixx) was able to avoid another crash in the final kilometres to take the stage win.

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Kruijswijk wasn’t the first abandon of the day – Caja Rural rider Bonet had dislocated his hip after yesterday’s stage, riding to his team bus. When today’s stage had officially got underway, Machado (Katusha) and Morice (Direct Energie) had established a lead of over 4 minutes to the peloton. They were a strong breakaway with no threat to the GC yet could challenge for a stage win – however with only a 2-man power supply for 171km, this was unlikely. Machado is a determined, aggressive rider, most notably on stage 10 of the 2014 Tour de France after he crashed badly on a descent and required stitches. However with 3 mountains left to climb, he ordered his team to give him his bike back and he finished the stage, carrying on his Tour de France for NetApp-Endura.

[I had to carry on and finish the stage for the pride of my family. The team deserved it as well, so I had to do that.] – Machado after the 2014 stage.

Morice is an equally determined rider, with Direct Energie stating he has “won almost everything”. A velodrome champion in Team Pursuit and Omnium, they stated he was the “ideal breakaway partner.” Why? “Because he has a big engine.”

BMC spent a lot of the stage riding at the front of the peloton, working for red jersey leader Atapuma. Atapuma had recently suffered Grand Tour defeat for a stage win at the Giro after being beaten just meters to the line after his breakaway, by Chaves and Kruijswijk. Atapuma came close to winning a stage yesterday, beaten to the line by Calmejane, yet he has now managed to retain the leader’s jersey for two consecutive days. Despite Sánchez being BMC’s leader, Atapuma is determined to hold on to the Vuelta lead for as long as he can.

[“Samuel is the leader, of course, but the team wanted me to get in the breakaway too.” ] – Atapuma.

By the time the breakaway found themselves with just 75km to go, Machado pushed on ahead of Morice and took the intermediate sprint points before the single categorised climb of the day – Category 3 Alto de Álvare. He reached the top alone still and took the KOTM points, while 5 minutes later De Gendt took 2 points ahead of Fraile (DDD) who took the remaining one. De Gendt carried on and tried to distance the peloton towards Machado but was brought back with ease by Etixx, Trek and Giant. The surge of life from the teams at the front meant the gap to Machado decreased fast, with only a minute between them into the final 20km.

The sprinter teams dropped back to allow Movistar, Sky and Tinkoff to pick up the pace and after over 150km in the break Machado was caught. Despite being just under 15km from stage success, he had ridden himself towards the combativity award. Adam Hansen (Lotto-Soudal) took his turn on the front of the peloton in his 16th consecutive Grand Tour. Starting at the 2011 Vuelta a España, he beat Marino Lejarreta’s 10 consecutive GT record despite never intending to get this far. The teeth gritting, beer-on-mountain drinking, occasional stage winning Australian has managed to avoid any nasty crashes in Grand Tours, despite his dislocated shoulder in the 2012 Tour de France.

As the stage neared its end, legs got painful as the road got thinner. Kruijswijk was seen on the floor while just a few meters later another crash took out numerous riders. Clarke (Cannondale) and Gilbert (BMC) attempted a last ditch attempt and they were caught in the last kilometre. Once again Meersman opened his sprint early, beating Felline (Trek) and Reza (FDJ) to the line.

 

Stage 4: Betanzos > San Andre de Teixido

Persistence: (noun) the fact of continuing in spite of difficulty or opposition.

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Stage 4 of the Vuelta had been over 4 years in the making for Direct Energie. The Professional Continental team had gone 1497 days without a Grand Tour win, and yet they persisted to deliver it in style with Lilian Calmejane.

“I knew that on the Vuelta, unexpected things can happen. Now it’s something that happens to me that I wasn’t ready for.”

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Two breaks attempted to get clear early in the stage, one with 9 men and the later with 18. Neither of these stuck as Movistar were determined to shut large moves down. The peloton were all together by the time they reached the first of two Category 3 climbs of the day – Alto da Serra Capela. The majority of riders scaled it with ease while more breaks attempted to distance, including Fernandez who was brought back quickly. 50km passed before an established breakaway managed to gain almost 2 minutes on the peloton.

They were Domont (AG2R La Mondiale), Zeits (Astana), Atapuma (BMC), Benedetti (Bora Argon 18), Thwaites (Bora Argon 18), Madrazo (Caja Rural), Roson (Caja Rural), King (Cannondale-Drapac), Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac), Rossetto (Cofidis), Haas (Dimension Data), Kudus (Dimension Data), Calmejane (Direct Energie), Stybar (Etixx-QuickStep), Arndt (Giant Alpecin), Haga (Giant-Alpecin), Warbasse (IAM Cycling), Wyss (IAM Cycling), Battaglin (LottoNL-Jumbo), De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Grmay (Lampre Merida).

They managed to increase their lead on a red jersey wearing Fernandez-led peloton as they climbed the second Cat 3 climb of Alto Monte Caxado. The relaxed pace through the feed zone meant this quickly rose to almost 5 minutes. Thomas De Gendt is a danger man, already winning stages in both the Giro and Tour de France, with just the Vuelta left to complete the trio. He’s also won numerous mountain classifications – Tour of Britain, Paris-Nice and Volta a Catalunya – and combativity awards. It was later announced he’d won the combativity award for today too, as well as taking maximum KOTM points for the first two climbs. Riders such as Calmejane, King and Rolland will take breakaway chances on days like these, giving them more of a chance for a stage win for their team rather than having to fight with GC contenders. Warbasse and Wyss are yet to have announced a new team for 2017 – meaning their future in the peloton is in doubt if they aren’t seen to be successful.

With 10km to go, more teams were gathered at the front of the peloton to limit the time loss to the breakaway, who were now starting the final climb of Alto Mirador De Veixia. Quintana was behind Sky and Orica, in order to avoid being caught out by sudden breaks. Quintana hasn’t had much luck with this in the past, being caught out in crosswinds during the second stage of the 2015 Tour de France and again during Froome’s attack on stage 8 of the 2016 Tour de France. He’s also competing for leadership with Valverde, his 36 year old teammate.

Calmejane managed to distance the break on the climb while Rolland tried to follow him. Yet he couldn’t quite bridge and the Direct Energie rider just managed to zip up his jersey, showing off his sponsor before celebrating their first GT win in 1479 days.

Stage 3: Marin > Mirador de Ézaro

Aggression: (adjective) ready or likely to attack or confront.

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It’s a rare sight in cycling, but it happens. A rider mistakenly celebrating in the belief they won the stage, when in fact there was another cyclist ahead. Simon Clarke at the Giro d’Italia 2015 is a recent example, with both Simon and today’s second finisher Ruben Fernandez managing to style out the celebration post-race claiming they were celebrating taking the leader’s jersey. (Well, they could have been?)  With Simon he was “keeping the pink jersey in the Orica team”, while Fernandez took the red Vuelta jersey and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) took the stage win.

Cycling: 71st Tour of Spain 2016 / Stage 3

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The finish on the Category 3 Mirador de Ézaro climb was short (1.8km) yet steep with an average gradient of around 14% while some parts reach 30%. In 2012, Rodriguez won on this climb ahead of Contador and Valverde while in 2013, the climb was featured during stage 4 of La Vuelta, with Daniel Moreno (Katusha) taking the win ahead of Cancellara and Matthews. An attack during the Mirador de Ézaro would certainly take the red jersey. The first attack of the stage came from a group of 7 riders. This was devised of Selig (Bora-Argon 18), Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) Cousin (Cofidis) Serry (Etixx-Quick Step), Geniez (FDJ), Pellaud (IAM Cycling) and Smukulis (Katusha) and with 150km to go had developed a lead of 1m50s. Pellaud was the highest placed rider in GC, 62nd place and 1m13s back. By 90km to go, the gap had been controlled by Sky and Tinkoff at 4 minutes. Tinkoff would be right to keep close to Sky and the front of the peloton, as any more lost time would be damaging to Contador’s GC hopes.

Just before the Alto de Lestaio ascent, Bevin (Cannondale) and Bonifiazio (Trek) crashed, yet were able to continue. Barguil (Giant) is one man who abandoned just prior to the crash with sinusitis. Ahead, Cousin (Cofidis) and Pellaud (IAM) attacked while Serry (Etixx) and Geniez (FDJ) chased and caught them. This kind of move away from the ‘big sponsored teams’ is ideal for the sponsors of somewhat smaller teams who need to gain airtime before the GC battle in the mountains. Pellaud distanced and took the KOTM points, equal at the top of the standings. The King of the Mountains jersey in the Vuelta is white with blue polka dots, sometimes referenced to as the ‘polka dot jersey’. Contenders can usually relate to GC hopefuls, yet consistent breakaway riders are also able challenge the overall KOTM win due to the lack of GC focus. Last year saw Fraile (Caja Rural) and the year prior saw Froome take the jersey, while this year they face contention from De Gendt (Lotto), Chaves (Orica) and Atapuma (BMC) to name a few.

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Pellaud continued to power ahead of the 6-man break for an hour, until he was finally caught by Serry and Geniez after Team Sky upped the pace with Movistar on their wheels, 3m40s back. Pellaud had raced himself into the combativity award today, (also known as the most aggressive award) and hopefully into the eyes of other teams. IAM Cycling failed to find a co-sponsor for 2017 and will fold at the end of the season, with their 28 riders having to compete with Tinkoff’s 26 riders who have also been looking for new teams. Yet Pellaud refused to give up and fought back to Serry and Geniez on the Alto das Paxareiras descent with 11km to go. A new team is not an issue for Geniez, who has signed a two year contract with AG2R.

An unfortunate note for this next section of road: It had been made of concrete and roughened to give vehicles extra grip according to Cycling News. Which was unfortunate, as it was here Lopez (Astana) crashed, bleeding profusely from his lip. It was later revealed he had broken 3 teeth and an exposed nerve, and had lost over 13 minutes in GC.

Red jersey wearer Kwiatkowski led the peloton to the foot of the final climb while ahead Pellaud was dropped and Serry followed him. Geniez struggled ahead to take the stage win for FDJ while behind some in the peloton struggled to hold on. The peloton had split and Contador was behind Froome – who finished 4th. Quintana and Valverde had allowed Fernandez to chase for 2nd, giving him the red jersey.

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The biggest disappointment of the day was possibly held by Contador – who finished 54s behind the leader and 28s behind Froome, Chaves and Valverde.

 

Stage 1: Balneario Laias > Castrelo de Miño and Stage 2: Ourense > Baiona

The Vuelta a España (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈbwelta a esˈpaɲa]; English: Tour of Spain) is an annual multi-stage bicycle race primarily held in Spain, while also occasionally making passes through nearby countries.

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The Vuelta a España is the 3rd Grand Tour – and final Grand Tour – of the year. Two years ago, Contador (Tinkoff) had recuperated enough from a broken tibia in the 2014 Tour de France to take the win just ahead of Chris Froome (Sky) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Froome had also been injured in the 2014 Tour and was forced to abandon, showing that despite hampering injuries the Vuelta is still a hotly contested GT regardless of being off the back of the Tour de France. The 2015 Vuelta was won by Fabio Aru (Astana) in front of Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff). This year will be Tinkoff’s last chance to improve their 3rd place into 1st before disbanding while Katusha have no Rodríguez. Froome is attempting the Tour-Vuelta double, undeterred by the Olympics road race and Olympics TT bronze medal win in-between.

The opening stage was a 27.8km team time trial completed by 22 teams. Bora-Argon 18 were first off the starting line to kick off the 2016 Vuelta, with Direct Energie and Lotto Soudal following. Towards the end were Movistar, Team Sky then finally Tinkoff – setting off in 4 minute intervals.

Challenging for the win were favourites Orica-BikeExchange, BMC and Team Sky. Orica won 2 TTT’s in 2012, the TTT in the Tour de France in 2013, the Giro d’Italia TTT in 2014 and again in 2015. BMC won 2 TTT’s in 2014, including the World Championships, and retained their title in 2015. Team Sky won 1 TTT in 2010, 2 in 2013 including in the Giro d’Italia, 1 in 2014 and 1 in 2015. They would also go on to win the TTT in the opening stage of this year’s Vuelta in a time of 30m37s, beating Movistar by 0.4s and Orica by 6s. BMC were 7s behind, while Tinkoff had lost almost a minute.

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The closeness of Movistar and Sky meant Froome and Quintana were level in the standings, while Contador was 52 seconds behind – not the ideal start he would have wanted.

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Stage 2: Ourense > Baiona

The earliest breakaway for today’s stage came from Pichon (FDJ) and Benedetti (Bora-Argon18). With 160.8km to cover, and neither FDJ or Bora challenging for the overall lead, they developed a break of 45 seconds from the peloton. Nauleau (Direct Energie) bridged to them and they established a 4m20s lead, before with 120km to go Trek and Giant-Alpecin worked towards the front of the peloton to bring it down to 2minutes. Giant-Alpecin’s leader is Warren Barguil, who recovered from their training crash in January to place 23rd at this year’s Tour de France. Trek’s sprinter is Bonifazio, who won the sprint for stage 3 during the Tour de Pologne. Sky then came to the head of the peloton, protecting leader Froome despite Kennaugh being in red – the Manxman crossed the line first during the TTT yesterday while Froome crossed 5th. Froome’s Vuelta call up was somewhat surprising due to his Tour win and Olympic bronze, yet unsurprising due to his determination. The mountains will be the test for him, dominant in them during the Tour, could he be distanced here?

Towards the top of the Cat 3 Alto de Fontefria climb, Nauleau attempted to distance in order to claim King of the Mountains points, yet Benedetti beat him to the line. No stranger to mountain success, Benedetti placed 1st in the mountains classification for Tirreno-Adriatico. Pichon later took the mountain points for the Alto de Fontefria after leaving the previous battle between Nauleau and Benedetti. These points meant he would wear the polka dot jersey during stage 3 of the Vuelta.

Gilbert (BMC) with 39km attacked from a stalling peloton, no-one wanting to take up the chase to catch the trio ahead. He injected power into the break by taking longer turns on the front while Trek then ensured to counter with pace from the peloton, not wanting to let an opportunity go for Bonifazio. Gilbert won the sprint for 3 bonus seconds, taking his deficit on GC down to 4 seconds. If they could hang on until the end and he took the stage, he would collect 10 more bonus seconds and the red jersey.

7km to go and Team Sky were at the front yet again, wanting Kennaugh and Froome protected. Sprint finishes can be as dramatic as they are fast, and keeping towards the front avoids any wheel catching or elbowing during bunching of teams. Behind them were Giant-Alpecin with sprinter Arndt as well as Orica for Cort and Trek for Bonifazio. With 2.5km to go a Katusha rider was seen to have crashed, yet fortunately managed to avoid taking down anyone else. Etixx hit the front finally with 500m to go, and Meersman launched his sprint. He held off second placed Schwarzmann (Bora) and third placed Cort (OBE) to take the stage win, while Kwiatkowski (Sky) finished fourth and took the red jersey from teammate Kennaugh. Kwiatkowski is also the first Polish rider to hold the red jersey at La Vuelta, ahead of fellow countryman Huzarsi (Bora) by 57 seconds.

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21-08-2016 Vuelta A Espana; Tappa 02 Ourense - Baiona; 2016, Team Sky; Kwiatkowski, Michal; Baiona;