Julien Bernard joined the day's breakaway that formed late in the 165-kilometer stage 10 at the Vuelta a Espana Tuesday, and Alberto Contador survived a long, technical downhill to maintain his spot in the overall classification.
Although Bernard was unable to fight for the win, he was able to provide some late assistance for Alberto Contador in the final kilometers after third-placed Nicolas Roche (BMC) had slipped up the road.
"I am unsure how much time it took for the breakaway to form, but I know for sure it was really, really long. The first part of the race under the rain was terrible, and the peloton was stretched in a long line and split a lot of times," explained Bernard about the fast and treacherous start to the stage.
"Then when we finally arrived on a big highway, I saw the move go. I started a little late but I was able to catch the break, and then I had a puncture! It was not a nice moment for a puncture for sure, but Shimano (neutral service) did a great job, and I was able to chase back.
"After this, I tried to save as much energy as possible until the climb. My legs were not super good, but after such a fast start it was not easy to keep some energy. So then I climbed at a pace to keep something for Alberto behind, and went slow and did not take any risks on the downhill. When the favorites group caught me, I pulled full-gas until the finish."
While the battle for the stage win turned into a duel between Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) and José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar), the lone survivors from the 20-strong breakaway group, some four minutes behind the GC contenders had their hands full with a downhill attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
"Nibali's attack was quite predictable, so we knew we had to be careful in the downhill," said Contador. "Nibali tried, but I followed him quite well, and finally the group arrived together. I suppose he felt good but when he attacked we followed his wheel. It was a complicated descent because it had wet stretches and other dry ones, which is the most dangerous, but we were able to overcome it without problems."
The contenders foiled Nibali's move, catching back the Italian after he had opened a small gap, but then a shrewd Roche slipped away near the bottom.
"Nicolas rode very strongly on the descent and then on the flat, and gained a few seconds," answered Contador when asked if it was an oversight to let Roche go, then repeated: "No, he was riding very strongly."
Bernard buried himself to assist Orica-Scott in the chase and to try and prevent some dropped riders from catching back, while out front Trentin easily won the two-up sprint for his second victory of the race.
While the contenders were unable to pull back Roche, who gained 29 seconds in the GC battle and moved into a tie with Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), 36 seconds behind Chris Froome (Sky), Contador maintained a status quo in 13th (+3'32").
"Overall it was a hard day, and above all fast, we have done an average of 45 km/h and in the first two hours more than 50 km/h under the rainstorm," exclaimed Contador. "It seems untrue that we are in Murcia - there has been more water today than all summer. But we had a good day, and we got through without problems.
"Tomorrow there are very hard climbs, and after a day like today, with the rain and fast pace, the legs become hard and swollen. It is important to massage and recover and will see how we are tomorrow."