A revelatory stage winner
The Vuelta is often a stage for bright young talent to announce themselves at the highest level.
In 2012, for instance, a 22-year old Nairo Quintana wowed by managing to stay with the very best climbers in support of Alejandro Valverde on some of the race’s toughest tests, while in 2011 a certain Peter Sagan won his first three Grand Tour stages.
Today, we might just have seen the inauguration of a new star in the shape of Oscar Rodriguez (Euskadi Basque Country-Murias).
Of the 32 riders to make it into the day’s successful break, few would have picked out the 23-year old as a potential stage winner, who had previously never won a race since turning pro in 2017. Yet on some of the steepest slopes of La Camperona, he clawed his way up the wheels of Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Teuns (BMC), and stunned everyone by leaving them for dead.
Given the calibre of the riders he defeated – not just Majka, but also another former Vuelta podium finisher in Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) – and the severity of the climb he beat them on, this performance felt like the making of a star.
Quintana and Yates emerge as the prime GC contenders
It’s been an unusually tight race for the red jersey so far, with little to choose between a dozen or so riders up until now.
The steep slopes of La Camperona ensured that more revealing selections were inevitable, however, and two riders emerged as the strongest – Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
Both had ridden pretty much flawless races up until, and respectively held the fourth and second spots on GC heading into today’s stage.
Towards the summit of La Camperona the pair opened up a gap ahead of the rest of the peloton, before Quintana attacked to gain six seconds on Yates.
The result is that both riders now have some daylight ahead of their rivals in the overall classification, with Quintana’s team-mate Alejandro Valverde the only rider within 30 seconds of them.
If today is anything to by, the GC race could evolve into a two horse race between the Brit and the Colombian.
Less experienced Grand Tour riders lose time
It’s one thing to maintain a high position on the overall classification for the first half of a Grand Tour, but a rider must reach a whole new level to maintain it when the serious climbing gets going in the second half.
That seemed to become apparent today, when the less experienced Grand Tour riders suffered the greatest time losses.
Excluding Jesus Herrada (Cofidis), only three riders in the top 10 overnight had never in the past finished a Grand Tour in the top 10: Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe). Tellingly, they were the GC contenders to lose most time on La Camperona.
Izagirre is seeking to finally replicate his form in week-long stage races in a Grand Tour and seal a high GC finish; the 25-year old Buchmann to continue his development into a top rate Grand Tour riders; and Gallopin a leap from the 21st he managed at last year’s Tour de France.
All three have now been passed by the more established pair of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), however, and face a battle to hold onto their top 10 positions.
Miguel Angel Lopez scuppered by untimely mechanical
One of the most dangerous looking riders at the Vuelta so far has been Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), who has seemed primed for some big attacks.
Ominously, Astana massed at the front of the peloton as La Camperona approached, suggesting that today was going to be to the day he made his first move.
And it might have been, had the Colombian not suffered a mechanical on the final climb, forcing him into damage limitation mode.
It was a significant dose of misfortune, but the fact Lopez managed to catch back up to the small group chasing Quintana and Yates suggests he has the legs to remain a genuine overall contender.
Jesus Herrada loses time, but stays in red
Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) enjoyed his day in the spotlight as overall leader of the race.
Unlike Mitchelton-Scott and Sky before them, Cofidis defended the red jersey with relish, taking to the front of the peloton and still committing turns as the GC teams prepared for the finishing climb.
For all their good work, the jersey was put into peril when Herrada was dropped early on the climb, but he managed to keep his head despite the uber-steep gradients and limit his losses to under two minutes to his rival – enough to retain an overall lead of 1-42 ahead of Yates on the GC.
Can Herrada hold on to it for another day? Not if he loses a similar amount of time, and tomorrow’s finishing climb of Les Praeres is arguably even more difficult than La Covatilla. But we can expect him to dig in deep in an attempt to do so