Report: Team Sky
Published: 5 September 2012
Sergio Henao claimed a hard-fought third place for Team Sky on a dramatic 17th stage of the Vuelta a Espana where the race was turned on its head.
Henao was one of only a handful of riders to survive after the peloton had splintered to shreds on the Collado de Ozalba, and the Colombian battled on for his highest Grand Tour finish by crossing the line just six seconds adrift of solo stage winner Alberto Contador.
Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) had begun the day 22 seconds down on overnight leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), but blew his rival away on the day's next climb - the second-category Collado La Hoz - and worked his way through the Henao group before jumping clear on his own to claim a potentially-decisive stage victory.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) was also distanced on the Collado La Hoz, but was paced back alongside Henao in the final 3km and pipped the 24-year-old to second place at the line. Rodriguez was a further 2min 32sec back in 10th place, with Chris Froome 32nd at 4min 58sec.
Those results meant that Contador leapt to the top of the overall standings and opened up a 1min 52sec advantage over Valverde, with Rodriguez now 2min 28sec adrift in third.
Froome's performance ensured he held on to fourth place overall, 9min 40sec back on the new race leader.
The action had been hotly-contested from the off with over 48 kilometres covered during the opening hour of racing.
When an 11-man move did eventually move clear after 80km, Danny Pate was present and he remained ahead with six others as they crested the Collado de Ozalba.
That group was swept up on the Collado La Hoz, with Henao well positioned in the vastly-reduced front group.
It was shortly after that Contador launched the attack which caught his closest rivals completely unaware, and then powered clear with former team-mate Paolo Tiralongo (Astana) as they approached the final drag up to Fuente Dé.
The duo were 1min 50sec clear of Rodriguez and Valverde as they began that last ascent, with Tiralongo peeling off inside the final 12km as Contador pressed on alone.
Only Valverde could mount a determined chase, and aided by team-mates Nairo Quintana and Benat Inxausti, he caught a three-man group containing Henao within 3km of the summit.
That quartet continued to reduce the arrears in the closing stages, but Contador held on for victory before Valverde denied Henao second place in a sprint at the line.
After the stage, Sports Director Nicolas Portal reflected on a dramatic day of action, and praised Henao for his battling performance against some of the best riders in the business.
He said: "It was an amazing stage to watch, even from the team car. They went full gas from the start and there were so many breakaway attempts during the first few hours. Rigoberto had a few tries and then Danny got himself in the one that stuck.
"The other guys were working really hard as well. Swifty and the others were going back for bottles, and that’s no mean feat when the peloton are hurtling along at over 40km/h.
"As for Sergio, he can be proud of his performance today. He’s had a number of top-three finishes this season and he’s getting closer to that first victory all the time. I’m sure he won’t have to wait much longer.
"It’s wasn’t the perfect situation with Froomey, but he’s defended his fourth place in the GC and not lost much time at on those guys who are just behind him, so we're happy with that."
General classification after stage 17:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 68:07:54
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:52
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:28
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:09:40
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:11:36
6 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:06
7 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:12:55
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp 0:13:06
9 Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:13:49
10 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:14:10