Vincenzo Nibali on the attack
When Bahrain-Merida moved to the front of the peloton on the ascent of Collado Bermejo – the key climb on stage 10 of the Vuelta a España on Tuesday – you knew that they were teeing up Vincenzo Nibali for the descent. The Italian is well known to be one of the best descenders in the bunch, and he was looking to capitalise on the opportunity.
Sure enough, he attacked over the top of the climb, putting pressure on the other GC riders to take risks in following him on the sinuous roads. However, race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) has shown in the past couple of seasons that he, too, can descend with the best and Nibali could not make any headway.
By the time the terrain flattened out, the pace eased off, even allowing Froome and Nibali time to have a chat as they cruised home. Their steady speed also meant that a dropped group rejoined them, with Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) getting back in touch with the rest of the GC riders.
Although Nibali’s downhill move ultimately bore no fruit, it shows that he is willing to play to his strengths and attack Froome when he can. It bodes well for an exciting second half of the three-week race.
Roche reclaims time
The biggest winner of the day in terms of the general classification was Irishman Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing), who descended like a stone to gain a significant amount of time on his rivals.
Roche started the day in third place overall, one minute and five seconds behind Froome and 29 seconds adrift of second-placed Chaves.
When Nibali attacked on the downhill of Collado Bermejo, Roche followed him – and then accelerated again to distance Nibali and all of the other GC contenders. By the line, Roche had reclaimed all 29 seconds of his deficit on Chaves.
Roche is still third overall, but is now tied on time with Chaves after a very clever bit of riding and 41 seconds ahead of Nibali in fourth.
The rain in Spain
Heavy rain greeted the riders as they arrived for the start of the stage on Tuesday morning in Caravaca. After nine stages and a rest day largely blessed with clear skies and sunshine, it came as something of a shock.
The twisting, hairpin-strewn descent of the day’s big climb of Collado Bermejo was intermittently under trees, switching from wet to dry as the rain eased during the day. Rough edges and leaves to the side of the asphalt meant riders had to stay vigilant.
Peaking at around 22km to go until the finish, everyone was aware of how crucial positioning would be on the descent to avoid getting caught up in a crash, and the peloton was soon whittled down on the category one climb with nerves on edge.
Thankfully, the rain stopped and rapidly drying conditions meant that there were no major incidents, and by the finish the sun had come out again.
Another win for Quick-Step
For the first half of the stage it looked like we may have a repeat of stage two, when a break failed to form until the final 10km. However, after a nervous and wet 90km of racing an escape group did assemble and the stage honours were fought out among the escapees.
Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors) once again showed that he is in flying form, out-pacing José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) in the two-up sprint to the line to take his second stage win – after also claiming stage four.
It brings Quick-Step’s tally up to four stage wins in total, after Yves Lampaert win stage two and Julian Alaphilippe claimed stage eight.
Although Trentin was wearing the green jersey of points classification leader, Froome was actually leading that competition going into the stage ahead of the Italian. But now, Trentin’s win means that the jersey is rightfully his to wear on stage 11.
Still no win for Spain
José Joaquín Rojas (Movistar) came close to breaking Spain’s duck at the 2017 Vuelta, where so far home riders have failed to score a single victory after 10 stages. There’s also been no win for Spain’s big team – Movistar.
Rojas’s second-place behind Trentin must have stung, given that Trentin himself admitted that he struggled to stay on Rojas’s wheel on the descent – roads that Rojas knows well.
Given the number and depth of talent of Spanish riders in the race, it’s only a matter of time before one of them claims a stage win. Perhaps Spain’s highest-placed rider overall, David De La Cruz (Quick-Step Floors), will repeat his feat of last year in being the first home rider to net a stage win.