Welcome to our Rest Day Review, a look back at the highlights of the first week. Remember all those jokes about getting sent to the salt mines for misdemeanours?
Those World Tour riders must have been real bad to get this gig; a 13.4 kilometre team time trial around the salt lagoons of Torrevieja with the first kilometre surrounded by thousands of tons of the stuff, small bags, big bags and a range of small white hills.
Tour TTT tamers, Jumbo Visma were favourites but stacked up on a tight corner made ‘aero bike-trap’ by water which allegedly leaked from a kiddies’ paddling pool.
To add insult to injury, the parked up Jumbo team car baulked those other TTT maestros, reigning world champions, Deceuninck QuiickStep who lost to Astana by a scant two seconds.
UAE also tasted well-salted tar when they came down too.
If we resort to Eurosport commentator, ‘Rob Hatch Speak’ for a moment, that put Colombia’s “Sooperr Maahnn” Lopez in the jersey of leadership.
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From Benidorm to Calpe with the organisers dubbing it a ‘sprinters’ stage; the 20 kilometre Confides climb, maybe?
It was long but not savagely steep and came early in the day – they could breast that.
But the steep ramps of the 3.1 kilometre Puig climb in the last hour?
As they say in Belgium; ‘nae, nae, nae!’
It was so much of a ‘sprinters’ stage that it was a group of GC riders who contested the finale with a cheeky, late escape giving former Vuelta winner, Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Spain) the win and Nico Roche (Sunweb & Ireland) the red jersey, stealing it by a handful of seconds from Lopez.
The Astana riders breathed a sigh of relief and wished Sunweb ‘good luck’ as Roche tugged on the tunic, which fortunately had long sleeves and covered those tattoos.
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From Ibi to Alicante and with a couple of ascents; but nothing as severe as the Puig and with the last kilometres off the Puerto de Tibi predominantly downhill, giving plenty of opportunity to get back on if ‘the man with the hammer’ got you on the climb.
Unless your name was Fernando Gaviria that is, in which case you fell victim to Bora and Deceuninck’s nitro-fuelled blast to the line to distance him, where Irish Champion Sam Bennett (Bora hansgrohe) confirmed he’s one of the fastest men on the planet, taking his 12th win of the year, lengths clear.
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With a finale profile not dissimilar to Stage Three, the fourth stage from Cullera to El Puig saw Bennett get his timing wrong, he was travelling visibly faster than Deceuninck flyer, Fabio Jakobsen but the line came up too quickly and the Netherlands Champion won in a photo finish.
Jakobsen hugged team mate, Argentine Champion, Max Richeze after his win, the South American having delivered a dynamite lead out for the still only 22 years-old Dutch National Champion.
Tour podium finisher and Stage One crash victim, Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo Visma & The Netherlands) went home today – if Alberto Contador and Chris Froome can’t do the Tour/Vuelta double then you’d be right to enquire, who on earth can?
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‘Observatorio,’ there was a clue right there about this stage, generally these establishments are on top of a mountain – and this one was no exception, atop the first cat. 1950 metre Alto de Javalambre.
L’Eliana was where the 177 K stage with ‘breakaway’ written all over it kicked off and as expected the cream came to the top behind the escapees, with Lopez regaining red with what looked like disarming ease and Roglič, Quintana, Valverde, Uran, Majk and Pogacar all names from my race preview well there.
Roche didn’t collapse, rather he slid a little.
And good to see ‘smiler’ Chaves in the mix.
If there were no GC surprises in the overall standings, the stage winner’s name raised eyebrows – Spain’s Angel Madrazo of pro conti Burgos BH.
He’s gallantly grabbed then defended the white maillot with the blue spots of mountains leadership through the last three stages but excelled himself today by taking the stage win in this, his fourth Vuelta.
The man from Santander has been a pro for a decade, joining Caisse d’Epargne in 2009 – and riding Paris-Roubaix for them then going on to Movistar and riding his first Vuelta in 2011 [DNF].
There are no major results during his time with the team just some solid finishes, like 3e in the GP Indurain and he was king of the mountains in the 2013 Tour of Britain.
Movistar let him go and for 2014 the name on the jersey was Caja Rural with whom he scored is career hi-lite, prior today, that is, winning the tough Basque race Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika, a race in which he’s placed several times.
He rode two Vueltas with Caja Rural, finishing one.
He joined pro conti Delko Marseille for 2017 and 2018 before joining Burgos-BH for 2019; it’ll be interesting to see if he’s picked up by a World Tour team again…
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I always think it’s the sign of a good race if the jersey keeps changing hands and Stage Six from Mora De Rubielos to Ares Del Maestrat and another summit finish saw Dylan Teuns [Bahrain Merida & Belgium] with the coveted garment draped over his hotel bedroom chair; whilst Cofidis grabbed a rare and very welcome Grand Tour stage win through Jesus Herrada.
Less happy were EF men, Rigoberto Uran [Colombia] and Hugh Carthy [GB], former red jersey Nico Roche [Sunweb & Ireland] and CCC leader Victor de la Parte [Spain] who all crashed out.
As EF discovered today and as Ineos did in the Tour, a team riding together might look cool for the cameras and be good if a leader punctures, but one down, all down…
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Onda to Mas De La Costa and the third consecutive summit finish – as my physics teacher used to say; ‘is that really necessary, Hood?’ – perhaps the organisers should check out the Primavera, Ronde and Roubaix – the best races on the planet and not a mountain in sight.
And another change of leadership with the red jersey returning to Astana’s mild mannered ‘Clark Kent’ Lopez – the South Americans are having more and more of an influence on the Grand Tours with the Giro falling to Carapaz, the Tour to Bernal and Lopez looking very much like he can win this race.
Albeit a certain former ski jumper from Slovenia might have a word to say about that.
Valverde’s stage win?
There are few superlatives left for this rider; it’s now 2019 – but it was 2001 when he won the Spanish u23 Road race Championships, 2002 when he rode his first Vuelta and 2003 saw him win his first Worlds medal – silver in Hamilton, Ontario behind Igor Astaloa.
Today was his 13th Vuelta stage win in his 13th Vuelta – a remarkable man.
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What’s going on? No summit finish?
The organisation is slipping!
Will there ever again be a Grand Tour which a Freddie Maertens or Francesco Moser could win?
Doubtful, as the organisers search for ever more outlandish jousts with gravity.
My curmudgeonly companero, Viktor contends that it’s ‘road’ racing and should therefore be on roads which are normal route ways not goat tracks or accesses to remote satellite dishes or observatories.
He has a point.
After the heat of the opening week perhaps the peloton needed to be cooled down?
The ceaseless rain certainly fulfilled that duty and it was big German Nikias Arndt adding to Sunweb’s already good Vuelta – after Roche’s three days in roja – by taking the sprint from the breakaway group.
Arndt is a former multiple German track champion and whilst he doesn’t win often, he wins well – this is his first UCI win since the Cadel Evans Ocean Race in 2017 and the previous season he took a stage in the Giro.
Cofidis’ good run continued with former Vuelta king of the mountains, France’s Nicolas Edet grabbing the red jersey.
If he still has it tomorrow after Andorra then he’ll be doing well…
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We said Edet would be doing well to hold on to the jersey – he didn’t.
And we did agree in our Vuelta pre-race prognostications that Bahrain’s 20 year-old Slovenian sensation, Tadej Pogacar was one to watch – today, in his first Grand Tour he won a highly technical and rain lashed Andorran mountain stage, distancing some of the world’s best riders.
Evenepoel, Van Der Poel, Van Aert, Pogacar – a marvellous generation for us to look forward to locking horns in future.
Quintana continues to surprise and takes roja but there are still two weeks to race and as former Liquigas and Sky pro and now Ineos DS always used to tell us; ‘a Grand Tour is won in the third week’ and it’s very difficult to see anyone who rode the Tour for a top placing having enough gas left in the tank for that tough last week.
Movistar have three in the first five but that means little to an outfit who’s capacity to mess up team tactics is second only to that of Astana.
Meanwhile, Roglič sits quietly in second spot, just six seconds off the lead with Tuesday’s time trial – one for the ‘chronomen’ – to come…