Simon Yates takes control of the race
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When asked three days ago whether he was ‘dominating’ the race, having just won atop Les Praeres to begin a second spell in the red jersey, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) denied that he was, pointing out that most of the significant tests were still to come.
Although he could simply have been deflecting pressure away from himself, his comments wrung true – at that point the GC remained wide-open, with four riders within a minute of each other at the top of GC, and no one contender having emerged as the clear strongest.
The same cannot be said after today’s time trial. This felt like the moment in which Yates took control of the race, putting time into all of his closest rivals on a stage that he might have feared would see him potentially lose the jersey altogether. There can be no doubt now – Simon Yates is the man to beat.
His lead in the GC remains a slender one, but bigger than it has been at any point during either of his two spells in red, growing from 26 seconds to 33 seconds. With just five stages left, his rivals don’t have much time left to plot how to oust him from that lead.
Rohan Dennis streets ahead of the field
There was one runaway favourite for stage victory today, and he delivered as expected.
Rohan Dennis (BMC) posted a time that was on a whole other level above everyone else, from time trial specialists like Jonathan Castroviejo (50 seconds behind) and Michal Kwiatkowski (51 seconds), GC riders on flyers like Steven Kruijswijk (51 seconds) and Enric Mas (1-03), and his own teammate Joey Rosskopf (who was second at 50 seconds)
The Australian is enjoying the season of his life against the clock, not only also claiming the opening stage of the Vuelta, but winning the long time trial at the Giro d’Italia too.
Having gone home after his victory, Dennis’ next target will be the World Championships in two weeks time, an event that he has, surprisingly, never before medalled in. Carrying this kind of form, it’ll take a brave punter to back against him taking gold this time around.
Alejandro Valverde looks like Yates’ biggest threat
Although he did not take any time out of Yates, as past contests between the two suggested he might, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) emerged from the time trial as the Brit’s main adversary.
The Spaniard was an impressive 15th in the stage, seven seconds behind Yates but quicker than most other GC riders.
Most notably of all, his time was 35 seconds quicker than his team-mate Nairo Quintana, who, having appeared a little weary during the previous mountain stages, again looked short of his very best form.
Unless Quintana can rediscover his best legs during the Vuelta’s final week, the onus might now be on the 38-year old Valverde to lead Movistar’s attempts to depose Yates of the red jersey.
Steven Kruijswijk catapults himself into overall contention
The biggest turn up for the books of today’s time trial was the ride from Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), who shocked everyone to finish fourth on the stage.
As soon as the Dutchman stormed through the first intermediate check with the best time – a few seconds faster even than Dennis – it was clear he was on schedule to throw a cat among the pigeons in terms of the GC race.
Although he couldn’t quite retain that blistering pace, he did gain enough time over all of the other GC candidates to leapfrog both Nairo Quintana and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) – the two big losers of the day – up to third overall, just 52 seconds away from Yates.
Kruijswijk has finished second in a Grand Tour time trial before, at the 2016 Giro d’Italia, but that was a mountainous course up the Alpe di Siusi. In terms of a flat course like today, this performance was unprecedented.
That suggests Kruijswijk is on deadly form, and is a genuine candidate to the win the red jersey.
Enric Mas has it all
Today produced arguably the clearest evidence yet that Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) will one day win a Grand Tour.
Having impressed over the last three summit finishes and proved himself to be one of the best climbers of the race, Mas confirmed that he also possess a very strong time trial in his armoury, finishing sixth on the stage with a time just 1-03 slower than Dennis’.
This is marked improvement from his previous performances against the clock. The Spaniard lost ground in the time trials of his two previous World Tour GC bids this season, at the Tour of the Basque Country and Tour de Suisse, but today strengthened his position on GC, moving up to fifth and reducing his deficit to the podium to just 38 seconds.
To be a truly great Grand Tour star, a rider must excel in all disciplines, and Mas appears as comfortable against the clock as he is riding up mountains. He’s still in the mix for a podium finish, but whatever happens from here until Madrid, the 23-year old looks like the real deal.