Etixx-QuickStep's dream Vuelta a España continues; more breakaway success; GC riders take it easy and more of stage nine's talking points
A Dream day for David de la Cruz
Outside of Spain, David de la Cruz is a name known only by the most committed fans of bike racing.
But that will no doubt change as of today, following an exceptional display to win stage nine of the Vuelta a España that comfortably goes down as the best of his career.
Not only did he break clear of breakaway companion Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling) with 600 metres to go to win the stage, he also finished far enough ahead of the peloton to become the new overall leader of the race, 22 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
It was the perfect double for the de la Cruz (who also becomes the first Spaniard to win a stage at this year’s Vuelta), especially considering that he was forced to abandon last year’s race in the first week.
Etixx-QuickStep are having a great Vuelta
Etixx-QuickStep’s Vuelta could already go down as a resounding success before today, following Gianni Meersman’s two stage victories in bunch sprints earlier this week.
But things continue to get better and better for the Belgian squad. Not only does de la Cruz’s victory go down as the team’s third, they now lead four different classifications: the overall and combination classifications through de la Cruz, the points through Meersman and finally the team classification.
Having failed to land any of their cherished major spring classics, and managed an under-par sole stage win at the Tour de France, these performances are more in line with the team’s very high standards in the biggest races.
Watch: Vuelta a España essential guide
GC riders take it easy with tomorrow in mind
The category two climb to the finish at Alto del Naranco provided ample opportunity for attacks among GC riders but they opted to take it easy, no doubt with tomorrow’s mountain top finish in mind.
There was an acceleration from Samuel Sanchez (BMC) at the top to force the favourites to sprint to the summit, causing small splits that saw the likes of Darwin Atapuma (BMC) and Dani Moreno (Movistar) lose a few seconds.
But for the main part riders were happy to follow Movistar’s modest pace-setting. Tomorrow’s finishing climb of La Covadonga will undoubtedly host a more committed GC battle, and probably see the overall lead change once more.
Another success for the breakaway
The race’s lack of straightforward sprinter stages has helped swing the advantage towards breakaways, and today saw the fifth successful escape in eight road stages.
It was an intriguing, ebbing and flowing battle between the riders in the break, too. Familiar faces from previous breaks likes Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Mathias Frank (IAM Cycling) and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) were all involved again, and attacks were frequent and the balance of power constantly shifting, with Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and a group of Jan Bakelants (Ag2r), Dylan Teuns (BMC) and Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling) both out in front at different points with considerable leads.
But eventually it was the two-man selection of Devenyns and De la Cruz that made the key move, and played out their own battle for the stage, resolved by what seemed to be some form of mechanical suffered by Devenyns in the run-in to the sprint.
Thomas De Gendt is one of exciting riders to watch
We all know from the Tour de France how exciting Thomas De Gendt is to watch, and he has picked up at the Vuelta where he left off from that race.
The Belgian was out on the attack again today, and was the main protagonist for much of the stage. He claimed maximum points on the first category two climb of the day, then continued to accelerate alone after being first over the category three Alto de Santo Emiliano just under 50km from the finish.
He was soon reeled in and dropped on the next climb, but managed to catch back up and attack again with 7km to go, before again being caught and dropped shortly before the final kilometre.
His efforts at least put him into the overall lead in the King of the Mountains classification, and we can expect to see him continue to ride off the front in search of points.