On a day which finished on a short climb ramping up to 30%, the Belgian stayed at the front for more than 170 kilometers.
The always smiling Pieter Serry, one of the most hard-working and invaluable domestiques in the peloton, put in a fantastic effort on what was the first challenging stage of the Spanish Grand Tour, which set off from Marin, a small town in Galicia, home of the Naval Academy. Riding surrounded by superb sceneries, the pack didn't have time for sightseeing, being more concerned about the last climb of the day, Mirador de Ezaro (1800 meters, 13% average gradient), which was waiting patiently at the finish to spread suffering and chaos in the peloton, just as it did four years ago, when it was discovered.
Serry, who is in his fourth consecutive World Tour season, was among the seven men to snap the elastic and get a gap as soon as the 176-km-long stage started. Nearly 3000 meters of climbing were lying ahead of the escapees, who began believing in their chances of going all the way once they hit the penultimate classified ascent of the day, Alto das Paxareiras. The hilly terrain took its toll on the breakaway, while the peloton was thinning out by the meter under the impetus of Movistar and Team Sky, who were determined to reabsorb the leaders and fight for the win and the bonus seconds.
Five kilometers away from Mirador de Ezaro, Pieter Serry, Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Simon Pellaud (IAM Cycling) still held around two minutes over the chasers, but their advantage began to melt on the punishing climb, which had segments of even 30%. First to wave the flag was Pellaud, as Pieter and his French breakaway companion surged ahead on the climb dubbed by many as one of the toughest in cycling.
Then, with 1500 meters left, Geniez attacked one more time on the 16% gradient and powered to victory. Despite his remarkable and valiant ride, Serry was reeled in inside the closing kilometer by the fast charging bunch, from which several riders accelerated. Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) rolled over the line in second position, and took the red jersey, while his teammate Alejandro Valverde rounded out the podium.
At the finish, 28-year-old Pieter Serry – who was rewarded by the race organizers with the Fair-Play award – was gutted to miss out on a first Grand Tour victory, but vowed to continue fighting in the next stages: "It was a day of intense suffering, made even tougher by the hot temperatures. We had a gap of around two minutes at the start of Mirador de Ezaro, but it was too steep for me and I couldn't hang in there anymore. Geniez was stronger, it's not a shame to admit that. I am satisfied with my form and I hope to do better in the following stages."
Birthday boy Gianluca Brambilla, who turned 29 on Monday, came at the finish with a group which included three-time Vuelta a España winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff). Tenth on stage 3, the Italian rests in the same place in the general classification, about 1:30 behind the overall leader: "Thanks to the help of Maxime Bouet, who did a great job to bring me at the front, I tackled the last climb in a good position. Movistar set a really high pace right from the first meters of the ascent, but I managed to stay with the best. The climb was difficult, especially the section one paved with cement. I used a 36x28 today, but it was extremely hard to push. I gave 110% and I am satisfied with my result, but at the same time a bit sad for Pieter, who came really close to victory."
Photo credit: ©Tim De Waele