Froome proves his commitment, Dumoulin enhances his reputation, and who will fill the gap left by Peter Sagan?
After Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) defied his rivals — and physics — to haul his big frame to the overall lead on stage nine, here are the big topics from a brutal day’s racing.
Froome looks near his best again
After being dropped on a similarly steep uphill finish two days ago, doubts were raised over whether Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) had the form to compete for the GC at the Vuelta this time round.
But those doubts were quickly dispelled as he roared up the final climb today, beating everyone bar stage winner Dumoulin. He stayed calm when the attacks starting coming in from other GC riders, taking the climb at his own pace and claiming back much of the time he had lost to his rivals on stage seven.
Froome appears to have grown into the race, and he suddenly looks in good shape to take on the serious mountain top finishes of next week.
Chaves finally cracks…
Throughout this first week we’ve wondered when the young Colombian star would finally show signs of weakness, and that day finally came as he failed to respond to Dumoulin’s bid for the overall lead.
Perhaps it’s too early to right him off from winning it back again — he did after all prise the jersey back off Dumoulin having lost it for a day earlier in the week — but the next mountain stage that awaits on stage 11 is far more difficult than anything he’s had to contend with thus far.
…but Dumoulin looks stronger than ever
While Chaves was faltering, the big Dutchman was busy out-riding all the lightweight, pure climbers for whom this finish looked perfectly suited.
Dumoulin’s climbing has been a revelation this race, and by climbing so well on such a steep finish, the GC favourites will be taking him yet more seriously as a potential threat.
Bigger tests lie ahead, of course. So far he’s only had to cope with a maximum of one major climb per day, and mountain stages with several summits will test his resilience — especially next Wednesday’s queen stage. And though he has now excelled on both steep final climbs and long final climbs, he hasn’t yet been tested on one that is both very long and very steep. There’s still a lot to prove before we can say Dumoulin is a legitimate potential winner.
Have these first week finishes been exciting?
On the one hand, steep finishing climbs have made a great platform for battles for both stage wins and the GC, and the way the balance of power ebbed and flowed between Rodriguez, Froome and Dumoulin in the final few metres of stage nine was truly thrilling.
But before that explosive final we were treated to some 160km of nothing much happening, aside from a few attacks from the doomed breakaway. The significant climb of yesterday’s stage came not at the finish but with nearly 20km to ride, thus instigating hostilities much earlier, but profiles like today’s encourage riders to sit back and wait until as late as possible.
Then again, when the finish is as exciting as it was today, and the GC favourites are drawn to the front as early as the first week, should we really be complaining about a few tedious hours in between?
Sagan’s absence gives other sprinters opportunity
Still suffering from yesterday’s shocking motorbike collision, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) was forced to pull out of the race.
With Nacer Bouhanni having also abandoned following a crash yesterday, the Vuelta is left with something of a dearth of sprinters. John Degenkolb remains, as does stage five winner Caleb Ewan, but after that there are hardly any recognised grand tour sprinters still in the race.
That leaves some lesser names with a chance to make a name for themselves by landing a stage. JP Drucker (BMC Racing) looks set to capitalise having finished fourth twice already, while youngsters Kristian Sbaragli (MTN Qhubeka), Pello Bilbao (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and yesterday’s winner Jasper Stuyven (Trek Factory Racing) could all now feature towards the front of the bunch sprints — starting with tomorrow’s flat(ish) stage to Castellon.