Dumoulin did it
Living up to pre-stage and even pre-race expectation, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) did indeed smash it. He finished the Vuelta a España‘s key 38.7-kilometre time trial stage over a minute quicker than his closest challenger, and more crucially nearly two minutes quicker than general classification rival Fabio Aru (Astana) and three minutes to the good of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha). It is his second stage win in the race.
Once again, that put the 24-year-old Dutchman into the coveted red jersey of race leader, but it’s by a slender margin: just three seconds over Aru. The chance of Dumoulin maintaining that gap, let alone increasing it is very slim.
Although he has ridden well in the high mountains to limit his losses, make losses he did. It’s hard to see him fending off attacks in the forthcoming days and keeping the race lead even beyond the next couple of testing stages.
But it was a fantastic ride, and one that came after two weeks of self-discovery for Dumoulin after disappointingly crashing out of the Tour de France. A new Grand Tour contender has most definitely been born in Spain this September.
Aru is still looking good for the win
Despite Dumoulin’s time trial success and his defensive riding over the past two weeks, this year’s Vuelta will not be won on simply hanging on for its finale. Aru may have lost time to Dumoulin but he gained time on key rivals Rodriguez and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), and will do all he can to make up more time before the race concludes in Madrid on Sunday.
Aside from Dumoulin, of the GC contenders only Spanish Movistar duo Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana managed to better Italian Aru in the TT – and they are both better climbers than Dumoulin, albeit ones who have suffered flat spots in their form in the past week.
Aru doesn’t have to look far ahead for opportunities to overthrow his three second deficit on Dumoulin. The final week of Grand Tours are a war of attrition and often come down to whose soldiers are in the best shape – since Vincenzo Nibali’s departure from the race on its opening weekend, Astana has rallied behind Aru and look to be the most cohesive unit. That may make the difference, and hand Aru his first Grand Tour victory.
Who is leading Movistar now?
Whilst Astana has a clear-cut leader in Aru, Movistar has two riders in concurrent positions in the general classification: Quintana in fifth and Valverde in sixth. Just 22 seconds separate them.
Both riders have yo-yoed up and down the top order of the GC, and both have suffered bad days. Valverde seemed to be flagging in the mountains but is now revitalised after Tuesday’s rest day. Quintana, too, appears to have fully recovered from the fever he was suffering. But can the pair maintain their energy, particularly as they rode in the Tour de France?
It’s likely now that Movistar will play a game of wait-and-see in the forthcoming stages rather than picking an undisputed leader; but that also means that the two riders are unlikely to work for each other, instead looking after their own interests. And that may turn out to be Movistar’s biggest weakness.
Cummings continues new lease of life at MTN-Qhubeka
Freed at last from domestique duties at Sky and BMC, Brit Steve Cummings looks like he’s enjoying himself at South African outfit MTN-Qhubeka. Having taken the team’s first Tour de France stage victory in July, Cummings is attempting to add another Grand Tour stage win at the Vuelta – previously getting into breaks and powering his way through today’s time trial.
The 34-year-old from the Wirral was top-placed British rider in the time trial, placing ninth at 1-40 behind stage winner Dumoulin.
The MTN squad as a whole has relished its wildcard invites in the top races this season, and paid back the show of confidence in them with some great racing.
With Kristian Sbaragli’s stage victory already tucked away and Louis Meintjes in 10th place overall, you can look out for more from MTN-Qhubeka in the coming week – and that Cummings will be a part of it.
How would Chris Froome have done today?
One question that we can ask but never truly know the answer to is how Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Sky) would have done in the time trial had he still been in the race.
With only a very short individual time trial stage on the opening day of the Tour de France, we’ve been denied the opportunity to see Froome in any really decisive Grand Tour time trial this season after he was forced out of the Vuelta with a broken foot.
It’s highly likely that strong time triallist Froome would have beaten most of his GC rivals, but it’s doubtful that he would have beaten a flying Dumoulin today. The thought of the two riders going head-to-head in the Tour next year is an enticing prospect.