Alberto Contador crashed, IAM Cycling won a stage in their third Grand Tour of the year and Alejandro Valverde moved closer to the Vuelta a España lead
IAM Cycling complete the Grand Tour hattrick
It took them until their final season in the pro peloton to get their first Grand Tour stage win, but now they’ve got one in each of the three major stage races this year.
Now, Jonas Van Genechten has taken a stage at the Vuelta a España to ensure their season ends on a high. There’s never a bad time to win a Grand Tour stage, but when your team is folding and you’re on the lookout for a new employer a result like this can go a long way towards securing a ride for next year.
The finish was scrappy, several riders went down, and there weren’t any of the race’s main sprinters up the front, meaning Van Genechten could come almost unnoticed to the front of the race and over the line with time to spare.
Had they brought out these kind of performances in previous years their sponsors may have thought twice about ending their sponsorship, but there are plenty of riders on the team with big futures elsewhere.
Heartbreak for Clarke and Sanchez
It looked at one point at the end that the peloton would easily catch late breakaway riders Simon Clarke (Cannondale-Drapac) and Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), bringing the deficit quickly down to around 15 seconds.
But as the final three kilometres went on the pair kept their distance from the charging pack, taking a seven second under the flamme rouge. The gap was still there with 400m to go and we thought one of them might take the win.
But the peloton upped their pace that little bit more to suck them back in with 200m to go, with Sanchez eventually finishing 11th and Clarke 23rd.
BMC are forced to work, for once
Darwin Atapuma kept the race lead for another day, but this time BMC were actually forced to work quite hard for it.
When Astana pushed the pace at the head of the race with Sanchez and Dario Cataldo, BMC were forced to chase it down, with GC rival Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-Quick Step) also dragged along in the group.
The high pace threw a lot of riders off the back of the peloton, including Atapuma’s teammate Jempy Drucker, but eventually the peloton brought the race under control and the danger of Brambilla was averted.
Alejandro Valverde is now within touching distance of the red jersey, gaining 16 seconds plus a bonus for finishing third on the stage, so it’s only a matter of time before the lead changes hands.
Contador hits the deck
It’s not a proper Grand Tour without Alberto Contador being involved in a crash quite early in the race. He did it at the Giro d’Italia in 2015, and then again (twice) in the first few stages of the Tour de France this July.
And he hit the tarmac again on stage seven, with a Lotto-Soudal rider appearing to lose his line and shunt into the Spaniard on a left hand bend, sending him skidding across the tarmac.
He crossed the line battered and bruised, with a few rips to his jersey and shorts and reported that his left side unsurprisingly hurts.
Contador is a tough character, but these spills must take their toll on him physically and mentally and the prospect of a 20 per cent climb at the end of stage eight with a gammy wrist probably isn’t too appealing.
Riders are dropping like flies
With seven riders already abandoning the Vuelta through six stages, four more were added to the tally on stage seven.
We were spoiled during the Tour de France with so few abandons, but crashes and illness have taken their toll in this late season race.
Igor Anton looked well off the pace as he climbed off, Michal Kwiatkowski was suffering with back trouble and Niccolo Bonifazio also looked not to be enjoying the relentlessness of the first week.
Then there was Rein Taaramae, who was reportedly hit by a team car and forced to abandon.
We’re not even at the first rest day yet – that comes on Tuesday – and we’re already seeing some incredibly fatigued riders. While the Vuelta is a great challenge, maybe this year they’ve just made it too tough.