Philippe Gilbert back to winning ways
Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) was the strongest rider on paper of all those to get into the day’s break, and delivered on expectations to attack on the final climb 9km from the finish and solo all the way to the line.
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It’s his first win since spectacularly landing Paris-Roubaix back in April, and also his first since turning 37, suggesting that there’s plenty of life still left in his old legs.
At this late stage in his career, Gilbert could retire a happy man, having achieved an enormous amount during his 16 years as a pro, but he still shows a huge desire to keep adding to his palmarès.
This stage win is his 10th in Grand Tours, and suggests he’s coming into great form – just in time for the World Championships later this month. On this display, he shouldn’t be ruled out from winning another rainbow jersey.
Aranburu misses out again
Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural) is clearly desperate to win a stage at this Vuelta, but once again had to settle for a second pace finish today.
The young Spaniard was also second last week on stage eight, having been one of the most active riders in the break that day.
He crested the final climb alongside compatriot Fernando Barceló (Euskadi-Murias) 20 seconds behind Gilbert. The duo’s determination was reflected by the manner in which they tore down the descent in contrast to the more cautious Gilbert, and the deficit was reduced to just under 10 seconds 2km from the line.
However, that still turned out to be enough for the Belgian to hold on, and on the finishing straight Aranburu and Barceló shifted their focus towards the sprint for second, which was won by the former.
Having also made the break on yesterday’s stage, it seems Aranburu remains full of youthful energy. If he doesn’t fatigue later in this race – which is just the second Grand Tour he’s appeared in- look out for him to keep trying for that elusive stage win.
Jumbo-Visma show strength on final climb
This was not a day for the GC riders, but there was something of a phony war on the final, steep climb tackled 10km from the finish.
On it, Jumbo-Visma put on quite a show of strength, using climbing domestiques Sepp Kuss and George Bennett to jettison everyone out from the peloton aside from the top GC contenders.
Once the damage had been done, Miguel Ángel López (Astana) momentarily provided some excitement by launching a surprise attack, but Movistar’s Marc Soler promptly covered the move for his team-mates Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde, and things calmed down before the summit.
None of this had any real impact on the GC, although the peloton contained only 19 riders by the finish. But it did offer a small glimpse of how we can expect tomorrow’s mountainous stage to play out, and suggests that Primož Roglič’s red jersey will have plenty of protection from his Jumbo-Visma team-mates.
Ineos miss the break
As the last rolling breakaway day before we re-enter the mountains tomorrow, there was an almighty scrap at the start of the day between riders trying to get up the road and form the day’s break.
When the dust at last settled and a group finally were allowed up the road, fourteen teams were represented, with just eight missing out.
Some of those absentees were understandable – Jumbo-Visma were asked with controlling the peloton and defending the red jersey, for instance, while the likes of Cofidis and Burgos-BH may have been disappointed to miss out, but can at least point to the fact that they’ve already won a stage each.
Perhaps the team most notable by their absence was Ineos. The British squad also missed out on yesterday’s break, despite having neither a sprinter nor GC rider to protect.
They still have over one week to rescue their Vuelta, but will have to demonstrate more intent than they have these past two days.
12 days, 12 different winners
Philippe Gilbert’s win today continues a curious pattern at this edition of the Vuelta – he becomes the 12th different winner in as many days, with no rider yet to claim a repeat victory.
To underline just how rare that is, the last time the Vuelta began with such a long streak of different stage winners was 2008, which eventually came to an end 14 stages into the race when Alberto Contador won back-to-back mountain stages.
The run illustrates just how varied the parcours of the race has been. We’ve have breakaway stages, an individual time trial, finishes up big mountains, finishes up short steep climbs, and only a couple of sprint stages, where you usually expect the same riders to triumph on multiple occasions.
The run could easily extend to 13 tomorrow on the finishing climb of Los Machucos – especially when you consider that Miguel Ángel López, who has arguably been the most impressive climber of the race so far, has not won a stage yet. Watch this space.