Today's Vuelta a Espana analysis: Dumoulin staying strong; Crashes again; a youthful Vuelta; one last day of climbing; and a cruel end for Courteille
Dumoulin shows no sign of fading
Tom Dumoulin‘s breakthrough Grand Tour performance continued unabated on stage 19 of the Vuelta a España, as the Dutchman took advantage of the cobbled climb towards the finish to gain more seconds on rival Fabio Aru (Astana) on a day where most were expecting the two to finish together.
Having previously looked the weaker team compared to Aru’s Astana, Giant-Alpecin wound up the pace into the final climb for Dumoulin to launch him off the front. Aru was left to do the chasing on his own as his team-mates dropped back, and he lost a handful of seconds. With the general classification so close, literally every second does count. Aru looked less than happy at the finish.
Dumoulin’s energy appears to show no sign of abating. The bigger-set time trial specialist has surprised both his rivals, and possibly himself, with his performance on the mountains. He faces one last climbing test on Saturday, when all he has to do is stay in touch with Aru to maintain his six-second advantage into Sunday’s processional, final stage.
Crashes still playing a part in shaping the race
Crashing is part and parcel of Grand Tour racing, as a nervous peloton winds its way through unfamiliar roads at top speed. The start list of the Vuelta itself was bolstered after several riders crashed out of the Tour de France in July and re-focussed their season for the Spanish race, including Dumoulin and Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing).
With overall contenders Chris Froome (Sky) and Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) both withdrawing from the Vuelta due to injury, the top 10 has already been dictated by stacks.
As Grand Tours progress, major crashes tend to become less commonplace in the third week. However, today a crash threatened to shape the overall as race leader Dumoulin and second-placed Aru were both brought down in a sizeable incident.
Both riders escaped serious injury, although Aru appeared to come off worse, making a couple of visits to the race medic’s car. It’s possible that the crash took the edge off the Italian’s performance on the final climb as he was distanced by Dumoulin, losing valuable seconds.
Gougeard adds his name to list of young riders impressing in the Vuelta
This year’s Vuelta a Espana has been a showcase for the next generation of cycling talent. Today’s stage winner, Alexis Gougeard of Ag2r, is a 22-year-old second-year professional. When he attacked from the break to take a solo victory, he became the latest young rider to make a name for themselves in the race.
Remarkably, Gougeard isn’t the youngest stage winner – that accolade goes to 21-year-old Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge), who sprinted to win stage five. Like Gougeard, it was the Australian’s first Grand Tour stage victory. Riders aged 25 or under have accounted for 11 of the 19 stages so far (discounting the opening team time trial).
The General Classification has a youthful look about it too, with half of the top 10 aged 25 or younger. Race leader Dumoulin is 24 years old, second-placed Aru 25, fifth-placed Nairo Quintana 25, seventh-placed Esteban Chaves 25, and 10th-placed Louis Meintjes is 23. Between them, Chaves, Aru and Dumoulin have worn the red leader’s jersey on all but two of the race’s stages.
It’s a stark contrast to the 2013 Vuelta, where 41-year-old Chris Horner became the oldest Grand Tour overall winner in history.
One last dose of climbing pain
With nine of its 21 stages featuring a climb to the finish, this year’s Vuelta has been a leg-breaking edition. Two stages have featured over 5000 metres of climbing: 11 and 16. Many riders will be happy when tomorrow’s penultimate stage is completed: it’s a 175.8km trawl from San Lorenzo de El Escorial to Cercedilla which includes four first category ascents, the last of the race.
We say four ascents, but it’s actually two climbs ridden twice, once in each direction, which gives the stage profile an usual look of symmetry. There’s no uphill finish, but the final ascent and descent of Puerto de Cotos is close enough to the finish to favour a daring late attack.
Will Aru take his last chance to try and overthrow Dumoulin? Of course he will, but the real question is whether any move will work.
Cycling can be a cruel sport
Twenty-six-year-old Frenchman Arnaud Courteille will be cursing his luck this evening, having crashed within the final 10 kilometres of today’s stage. The FDJ pro was subsequently forced to withdraw from the race.
Yesterday, Courteille was in the day’s large escape group, enjoying his piece of the limelight. Today, his race ended. To have come this far into a Grand Tour and be forced to retire through a crash must be a hard thing to take.