Simon Yates back in red
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Having essentially loaned the jersey out to Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) for a couple of days, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott is back in the red jersey – and looks good enough to potentially keep it all the way to Madrid.
It was a day of twofold glory for Yates, who in dropping and taking time out of all of his rivals also was crowned the stage winner. That makes four Grand Tour stage wins this season for the 26-year old, following his hat-trick of victories at the Giro, and
Of all the favourites, his ascent of the Les Praeres was the most efficient. He bided his time while Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attackers, then, after upon making his move, committed fully without worrying about anyone else.
Looking ahead, there will inevitably be doubt surrounding Yates’ capability of maintaining the red jersey given the way he ran out of steam at the Giro – especially with the Vuelta’s hardest test in the mountains being reserved until the penultimate stage of the race. But right now, he looks like the man to beat.
Nairo Quintana loses time
When Nairo Quintana attacked on Les Praeres, it looked like he was about to take control of the race.
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) was the only rider to follow him, and the pair quickly opened a gap of a few seconds over the over favourites. However, Quintana was reluctant to press on when it became clear that Lopez was unwilling to work with him, and the pair failed to hold their advantage.
Later, it became apparent why – Quintana simply did not have the legs of yesterday, and fell back during the sprint to the finish, reaching the line seven seconds behind Yates.
Even his team-mate Alejandro Valverde passed him before the line, meaning the Spaniard leapfrogs into second on GC, five seconds ahead of Quintana in third.
Could a Movistar civil war therefore be on the cards? Probably not, given how harmoniously the pair have worked in the past, and the fact that today’s super-steep finish was not well-suited to Quintana.
Tomorrow’s longer effort up Lagos de Covadonga is far more up his street. That’s the climb where he’ll be hoping to stamp his authority on the race, and will play a crucial role determining whether or not he’ll win the overall.
Different approaches up Les Praeres
On a climb as steep as Les Praeres, it’s of paramount importance that riders time their efforts well, and the GC favourites today tackled the approach in a variety of way.
On one hand, Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) opted to attack the climb from far out, spending its middle-section dangling out in front. He was eventually caught, and dropped into sixth place on the last slog to the finish, but will consider the day a success after jumping up from ninth overall on the GC to fifth, and into a position where he should be considered a potential overall winner.
On the other end of the spectrum, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) road far more cagily, following attacks from Quintana but refusing to put his nose to the wind until near the summit, where he sprinted for second place.
That puts Lopez fourth overall and keeps him within 47 seconds of Yates, but, given how he looked like the strongest rider on the climb, should things have been even better? Had the Colombian been more bold, perhaps it would have been him and not Yates stood on the podium?
Bahrain-Merida end Herrada’s run in red
Given the carnage on Les Praeres, it seems unlikely that Jesus Herrada (Cofidis) would have retained the red jersey even if he had made it to the foot of that climb in the group of favourites.
As it happened, Herrada’s fate had already been sealed earlier when a prolonged, ferocious pace set by Bahrain-Merida saw him dropped, putting an end to the Spaniard’s two days under the spotlight.
Bahrain-Merida were working for their leader Ion Izagirre, who didn’t exactly set the world alight with his ninth-placed finish on the stage, but did perform well enough to retain his seventh overall.
Izagirre may not seem like much of a GC threat, but could be playing the long game – he is, after all, comfortably the best time triallist in the top 10, and therefore – if his team again looks after him successfully on Lagos de Covadonga – could leap up the classification after stage sixteen’s time trial. Watch this space.
Kwiatkowski out on the attack
Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) was the biggest name in the day’s break, and gave the peloton a tough chase before finally being caught just before the official start of Les Praeres, 5km from the finish.
Having lost time yesterday, Kwiatkowski had stood 19th on GC at 5-02 – just about far adrift enough to be let up the road, but still close enough to possibly get himself back into contention.
There was a committed effort by the peloton to keep the break on check, however, and Bahrain-Merida’s work ensured he had no chance of surviving. He was subsequently spat out the back on Les Praeres, and loses another 6-00.
With his GC ambitions now very much over, we can now expect Kwiatkowski to revise his tactics to hunt for stage wins instead, and fine tune his preparations for the World Championships.