By Stephen Puddicombe published
Alexandre Geniez adds to Ag2r La Mondiale success
For the third time in his career, Alexandre Geniez (Ag2r La Mondiale) was a victor on a stage of the Vuelta a España.
Adding to his previous victories at the 2013 and 2016 editions, the Frenchman had the quickest kick of the five riders from the day’s break who remained in contention to compete for victory at the finish.
His wins continues what has been an excellent race for Ag2r La Mondiale. Given how most most of team’s limited resources are reserved for their home Grand Tour, the Tour de France, to deliver not one but two stage wins at the Vuelta (following Tony Gallopin’s success last week) will have comfortably exceeded expectations.
Gallopin has also defied the odds to remain as high as sixth on the GC this deep into the race - could Ag2r’s race bear yet more fruit with a top 10 finish on the overall come Madrid?
Jesus Herrada takes the red jersey - and could keep it longer than expected
Continuing the pattern at this year’s race, the break was allowed a huge lead in excess of 11 minutes.
As the highest placed rider on GC in the break, Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) was the main benefactor, and ends the day in the red jersey by the significant margin of 3-22.
Shrugging off criticism from Movistar for not taking it upon themselves to control the break yesterday, Mitchelton-Scott again set a relaxed pace today, clearly happy to concede Simon Yates’ red jersey for the time being.
Once again it was Movistar who took at the front, but did not show as much urgency as yesterday, and only succeeded in retaining rather than reducing the gap.
Herrada’s lead evokes memories of Oscar Pereiro at the 2006 Tour de France, David Arroyo at the 2010 Giro d’Italia and Thomas Voeckler at the 2011 Tour de France - all riders who were gifted the overall lead, but proved themselves far tougher to remove from it than expected. Could Herrada possibly follow suit?
He’s never competed for a Grand Tour GC before, but is nevertheless a good climber, and could surprise everyone in the upcoming summit finishes.
Dylan van Baarle nearly plays a blinder
The battle for the stage win among the day’s break was a compelling one, with the group gradually whittling down to a smaller and smaller number until just five remained to contest the sprint finish.
Of those rider, Dylan van Baarle (Sky) never looked like the strongest, but did a superb job of managing his efforts, and came very close to winning the stage.
He was the right side of the first key split in which eight riders broke clear, while the rest - surprisingly including the break’s two biggest names, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), missed out.
As a rouleur, however, Van Baarle was not suited to the finale’s rolling terrain, and indeed found himself dropped on a rise around 6km from the finish. But the Dutchman smartly used the following short descent to catch back up, and then used the same ploy when he was again dropped after another small rise.
Despite all this yo-yoing, Van Baarle retained enough in the tank to produce a fast sprint finish, but was edged out of victory by Geniez.
Chaos at the finish line
The drama of Geniez’s day didn’t end with his crossing the finish line arms aloft in victory.
A few pedal strokes later, he found himself on the floor having collided with a man running ahead of him, blocking his entry through a narrow pinch point beside the photographers. With no way through, behind him Van Baarle also toppled over him
Both riders were seen hobbling afterwards clearly in some pain, but did appear not to be too seriously hurt, with Geniez all smiles upon climbing atop the podium to collect his prize for winning the stage.
After a separate incident saw riders go down after the finish line on stage six, the Vuelta organisers clearly have some work to do.
The GC battle begins in earnest tomorrow
Jesus Herrada’s rise to the top of the classification may have shook up the look of the overall classification, but the fact remains that behind him ten riders remain within 37 seconds of each other.
It’s rare for the top of a GC to remain so close this deep into a Grand Tour, and the situation reflects what has been a subdued battle for the GC that has not really got going yet.
All that is set to change tomorrow, when the the riders take on La Camerona in what looks like one of the toughest finishes of the race.
With two more summit finishes at Les Praeres and Lagos de Covadonga to follow at the weekend, the real race for the red jersey is about to get going.
Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.
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