A finish no one could have predicted at the Spanish race
Tony Gallopin is victorious
It’s been a great few days for France at the Vuelta a España. On Wednesday Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) became the race’s overall leader; on Thursday Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) won a bunch sprint; and on Friday Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) made it two wins in two with an opportunistic late attack.
Capitalising in the confusion of what was a messy finale, Gallopin slipped clear from a reduced peloton inside the final 3km. He caught the sole rider out in front (Jesus Herrada, Cofidis), dropped him, and soloed to victory ahead of a disorganised bunch, with a comfortable winning margin of five seconds.
All week Gallopin has shown great form, having been in the mix on stage three’s uphill finish, and surprisingly sticking with the top GC favourites in Sierra de la Alfaguara on stage four.
It’s the Frenchman’s first win at Grand Tour level since he triumphed from a similarly late attack at the 2014 Tour de France, and evidence that, despite turning 30 earlier this year, he still has plenty to offer.
The biggest name faller during an incident packed finale was Michal Kwiatkowski, who went down inside the final 10km
The Pole, who had been second overall, might have had his eye on a stage win today on a finish that looked well-suited to his punchy sprint, but instead had to switch to damage-limitation mode.
Despite a lack of support from his Sky teammates, Kwiatkowski did a good job of limiting his losses. Although at times the deficit was over 40 seconds and looked as though it could grow larger, by the finish line he only lost 25 seconds to the group of favourites.
The consequence is that he slips from second to sixth overall, but remains very much in overall contention.
Another unpredictable finish at the Vuelta
The sprinters may disagree, but it’s stages like this that make the Vuelta such a reliably engaging race.
It was a difficult stage to predict how it would pan out, but the challenging final 20km was enough to split the race into pieces and encourage loads of attacks.
Prior to Gallopin’s successful move, Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) briefly looked like he might be able to hold off the bunch for a win, while Luis Mas (Caja-Rural) also enjoyed a brief spell off the front.
At one point a dangerous looking group of around seven or eight riders, including the Movistar pair of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, broke clear from the rest of the peloton, opening up the possibility of significant time gaps between the overall contenders.
The two groups eventually came back together, but the split was typical of the kind of excitement this opening week of the Vuelta has produced.
Sagan looks to be improving
Behind Tony Gallopin, a slightly uphill sprint in a chasing group of around 30 riders was won by Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The world champion will be frustrated that Gallopin’s attack denied him the chance to win a stage, but will be buyoned by an apparent return to form.
Up until now Sagan has clearly been struggling to recover from the crash that nearly ended his Tour de France last month, having often been seen at the rear of the race and struggling to involve himself in the sprints.
But today Sagan not only managed to finish amid the elite group of riders, but also had the legs to outsprint Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) for second place.
On this basis, it would be a surprise if the Slovak doesn’t manage to land a stage win at some point during the Vuelta, as he continues to build his form for the World Championships.
Michael Woods rides through the pain to attack
Yesterday Richie Porte (BMC) was the surprise big name in the day’s break – today Michael Woods (EF Education First-Drapac) tried something similar.
The Canadian was out trying to take something from this race having already seen his GC hopes go up in smoke after over eight minutes were lost within the first six days.
A crash early in the day looked as though he might have to suspend such plans for now, but, after receiving medical attention, Woods decided to soldier on and continue to fight for stage victory from the break.
Unsurprisingly he proved the strongest rider in the break, attacking alone on the final climb with around 15km to go, but did not have a big enough advantage over the peloton to hold on for victory.