Damiano Caruso took an impressive victory from the breakaway on stage nine at the Vuelta a España to add to his astounding Giro d'Italia performance earlier in the year in what has become a season the Italian could have only dreamed of in January.
On the final summit finish climb of Alto de Velefique, the GC fight got underway, Adam Yates attacking relentlessly to try and disturb Primož Roglič but the Slovenian barely looked troubled as he eventually rode away from his rivals alongside Enric Mas to finish second and further cement his grip on the red jersey.
Caruso's stage win also gave him enough KOM points to take the polka dot jersey, usurping Romain Bardet who had fought for points out on the climbs during the stage, but unable to accrue enough to secure the jersey before the Italian took the stage honours.
How it happened
4,500m of climbing was on the menu for day nine, most of it towards the end of the 188km-long stage.
Numerous attacks tried to get off the front in the opening stages before the first ascent of the day, but the peloton dragging every move back, 50km/h the average speed during the blistering start.
Onto the 10.7km-long Alto de Cuatro Vientos Wout Poels went up the road, the peloton already all over the road early on in the day, as riders scrambled to get across to the front of the race in search of KOM points and the potential for stage glory.
The elastic soon snapped as 11 finally found themselves ahead of the red jersey group, including Damiano Caruso (Bahrain Victorious), Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates), Lilian Calmejane (AG2R Citroën) and Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH), building up a gap of two and a half minutes as it ticked past the halfway point.
Lilian Calmejane took the intermediate sprint with Movistar’s Johan Jacobs confirmed to have abandoned due to an earlier crash.
A 29km-long climb followed, reaching 2,000 metres of altitude with a murderously steep section in the middle.
The breakaway’s gap yawned out to three and a half minutes before being brought back down under the two-minute mark, Ineos Grenadiers on the front, before Bahrain-Victorious’ Damiano Caruso went off the front of the race solo with 70km remaining, Romain Bardet following first before Rafal Majka also went off in search of the Italian.
Ineos were controlling the pace on the climb, Roglič still surrounded by team-mates, as Caruso found himself a minute and a half ahead of his nearest chasers, the red jersey group only a further half a minute down the road.
Over the top and Bardet was second, giving him the lead in the KOM competition, as Caruso did all he could to stretch his advantage, descending like a madman in complete control.
Under 40km to go and he had two minutes on the chasers, Bardet, Majka, Bouchard and Julen Amezqueta (Caja Rural-Seguros) going the wrong way as the red jersey group stopped chasing those up ahead.
25km remaining, split equally between descending and then climbing, the summit finish up Alto de Velefique, which Caruso took three and a half minutes onto, the stage win looking to be going his way, the temperature into the thirties now as Bardet lost his chain but managed to stay upright.
Ineos once again went to the front as Mikel Landa struggled at the back, then dropping off to not be seen again, clearly suffering.
Finally, under 10km, Ineos launched their move, Adam Yates peeling off the front on the steepest part of this final climb, López and Kuss following before the American was summoned back by Roglič, Yates being brought back before going again, as the Slovenian race leader also put in a dig, bring Yates and López to heel as Bernal hung on.
Yates wasn’t giving up just yet, however, attacking once more, splitting the GC group. Bernal, Roglič, Mas and López still there, as Caruso’s advantage came down to around the three-minute mark, the other GC chasers making their way back up and Carapaz putting in a dig.
Further attacks saw Yates again gap his rivals as Bernal struggled, Caruso the only rider remaining out front as Majka and Bouchard were caught and passed.
Soon, Roglič and Mas had set off and caught up to Yates, dropping the Brit as they pressed on, soon having a chat about what their plan was.
3km to go and Caruso’s lead was down to two and a half minutes, Bernal 15 seconds behind Roglič and Mas, Yates now leading that group up the road.
Bernal was then gapped by Yates, his team-mate looking around for him and the Colombian doing all he could to stay in touch.
Another minute was soon gone from Caruso’s gap, as his team-mate Haig attacked the Bernal group, sensing weakness, as the Italian sailed across the line to take the win, Roglič attacking Mas just before the line to finish second, gaining more time on all of his rivals in the fight for the red jersey.
Vuelta a España 2021, stage nine: Puerto-Lumbreras to Alto de Velefique (188km)
1. Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain-Victorious, in 5-03-14
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 1-05
3. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 1-06
4. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-44
5. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar
6. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, both at same time
7. Gino Mäder (Sui) Bahrain-Victorious, at 2-07
8. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 2-10
9. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
10. David de la Cruz (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 2-40
General classification after stage nine
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, in 34-18-53
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 28 seconds
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar, at 1-21
4. Jack Haig (Aus) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-42
5. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 1-52
6. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 2-07
7. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, at 2-39
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at 2-40
9. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-25
10. David de la Cruz (Esp) UAE Team Emirates, at 3-55
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