Elia Viviani coasts to second sprint win
Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) was touted as being the sprinter to watch heading into the Vuelta, and the Italian has lived up to expectations, comfortably sealing a second sprint win on stage 10.
There was to be no repeat of stage six, when the Italian national champion lost contact with his Quick-Step Floors train. This time Viviani stayed glued to their wheels, and was guided expertly to victory.
This could be his last chance for a while, with several hilly and mountainous stages imminent. In fact, the next probable bunch sprint arguably doesn’t occur until stage 18, and after that there’s just the final Madrid stage to look forward to.
However, based on how superior he looked today, additional stage wins on those two days seem likely – provided he can survive all the climbs to be tackled between then and now.
Quick-Step Floors back to their best
After a few false starts earlier in the race, Quick-Step Floors produced a virtually flawless lead-out today, although with the uncharacteristic variation of taking it up much earlier than usual.
So impressed was Viviani of his teammates’ work that he pronounced the lead-out as arguably ‘the most perfect’ Quick-Step have done all year.
They were briefly put under pressure when Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) – perhaps dreaming of the time he won the opening stage of the 2017 Giro d’Italia with a similar attack – went solo inside the final kilometre, but he was reeled in by a powerful turn from Michael Mørkøv.
It was then down to Fabio Sabatini to make the last acceleration, and he duly put Viviani in pole position to claim a sprint win that never looked in doubt.
Nelson Soto catches the eye
The most eye-catching result today was the fourth-place managed by Caja-Rural’s young sprinter Nelson Soto.
Despite not having featured in any of the previous bunch sprints of the Vuelta so far, and with a previous highest finish in the race of just 100th on stage eight, the 24-year old put in a very impressive sprint in the finale of today’s stage, getting the better of such established names as Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo), Matteo Trentin (Mitchelton-Scott) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis).
Until now, Soto’s biggest results had been a stage win at the 2.1 ranked Vuelta a la Comunidad de Madrid earlier this year, while he first made a name for himself by claiming a handful of stages at the 2017 Vuelta a Colombia.
His performance today at such an elite level was the clearest indication yet that he has a bright future ahead of him, and that he is yet another young Colombian talent to keep an eye on.
Puncture panic for big GC names
The most unusual passage of racing today occurred between around 18-14km from the line, when a spout of punctures afflicted the bunch.
It’s not yet clear what exactly caused the sudden flurry, but a handful of star names were among the victims.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was the first big name to be caught out, and required four of his team-mates to drop back and help him catch back up.
Then Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) was reported as having also punctured, before TV cameras broadcast the striking sight of Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) in the red jersey off the back of the peloton having also been caught up in an incident.
All three made it back to the peloton without too much stress, but slow bike changes or less organised chases might have proven disastrous.
A fluctuating day’s break
Today may have been a straightforward day for the sprinters, but there was nothing straightforward about how the day’s break was formed.
After an initial flurry of attacks from several riders, Jesus Ezquerra (Burgos BH) managed to break free – but found himself alone, and facing the prospect of a whole day out in front with no assistance.
Fortunately for him, several other riders weren’t ready to give up, with a group of around half a dozen, including Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) and Thiago Machado (Katusha-Alpecin), setting of in pursuit.
They were shortly reeled in by the peloton, but Machado went clear with another attempt and, in another twist, was briefly joined by Richie Porte (BMC), before the Australian thought better of it.
Ultimately Ezquerra and Machado spent most of the day out in front as a leading duo, but even they were reeled in relatively early with 30km. That prompted yet another change in circumstance, with Diego Rubio (Burgos-BH) trying his luck with a late solo attack, but there was to be no shock defiance of the expected bunch sprint.