Nikias Arndt wins from the breakaway
Too hilly for the pure sprinters, but not hilly enough to ignite a GC race, today’s stage always looked likely to be one for the day’s break.
That was indeed the case, as a strong group of 21 were granted an ample gap from the peloton to contest the stage.
Despite several attacks throughout the stage, the race ultimately boiled down to a sprint among those breakaway riders, circumstances that played nicely into the hands of Nikias Arndt (Sunweb), who used his superior kick to take victory.
The German has won at Grand Tour level before, in a bunch sprint on the final stage of the 2016 Giro d’Italia, however on that occasion he was only awarded the stage posthumously after the rider first over the line, Giacomo Nizzolo (Dimension Data), was relegated for dangerous sprinting.
This was also an important result for Sunweb, who had only managed six wins all year, and none at all since Chad Haga’s success at the Giro d’Italia almost three months ago. Following Nicolas Roche’s stint in the red jersey, the team look like they’re getting back on track.
Astana give away red jersey for a third time
Throughout the opening week of this year's Vuelta, Miguel Ángel López (Astana) has treated the red jersey like a hot potato - every time it has fallen into his hands he’s immediately tossed it away again.
First Nicolas Roche took the jersey after an attack on stage two, then Astana were happy to cede it again to Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) on stage six, and today they were once again content to allow the breakaway enough of an advantage, this time for Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) to become the new overall leader.
It’s a strategy that has worked well so far. López remains the strongest placed rider on GC of all of the genuine GC favourites, while his Astana domestiques have enjoyed several days off that they might otherwise have spent riding at the front of the peloton.
This time, Nicolas Edet was the lucky man to inherit the jersey from Lopez. The Frenchman was the best placed rider on GC in the breakaway group, and once the rain started falling heavily it seemed inevitable that he would become the new overall leader, as there was no way Astana or any other team in the peloton was going to take any risks on the treacherous wet downhills to the finish.
Like Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) before him (who himself is now back up to second overall having also been a part of the day’s break), Edet’s time in red may not last any more than one day. His 3-01 advantage over López is likely to be obliterated during tomorrow’s ultra-difficult mountain stage. But it should still be a special day in the 31-year old’s career.
Nerves run high in treacherous weather
Storms have threatened to affect the race on several occasions this week, and today’s downpour towards the end of the stage was among the wettest and most dangerous the riders have had to race in so far.
Thankfully, crashes were kept to a minimum despite the conditions, although the frantic final few kilometres of racing did produce two dramatic incidents.
First, Martijn Tusveld (Sunweb) lost control on the slippery roads going around a roundabout while leading the race, having dropped his two companions (Fernando Barcelo and Ruben Guerreiro) of a three-man break who had attacked the rest of the breakaway group.
Then a TV motorbike also took a fall while live on air, a rare incident that illustrated just how dangerous the wet roads were.
Encouragingly, there were no reports of any serious injuries to either cyclist or driver at the finish.
Aranburu impresses but can’t quite claim victory
One of the most impressive riders in the break was Alex Aranburu (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA), who rode an aggressive race and took second in the finishing sprint behind Arndt.
He managed to bridge up to the leading trio of Tusveld, Fernando Barcelo (Euskai-Murias) and Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha-Alpecin), presumably after having taken some risks down the descent (although his efforts weren’t picked up by the TV cameras among the difficult weather conditions).
The young Spaniard wasn’t done there either and attacked the trio by himself soon after bridging up to them.
Then, even after he and the rest of the group were eventually neutralised by the chasers, he still had enough left in the tank to sprint for second place on the stage, another indication of his considerable all-round talent.
In what has been a quiet race for the Caja Rural - Seguros RGA team, especially compared to the stage winning exploits of two of the other wildcard entries, Cofidis and Burgos-BH, his performance was especially welcome.
The favourites save themselves for tomorrow
The presence of just one category two climb on today’s profile was never likely to tempt a GC rider to make any attacks, what with the gargantuan stage that awaits them tomorrow.
The treacherous weather late on gave the favourites even more incentive to ride cautiously and stay safe in the bunch, and the breakaway were allowed lots of leeway to contest the stage and move up the GC, with the peloton eventually rolling in 9-23 in arrears of stage winner Arndt.
They should therefore bring fresh legs into tomorrow’s stage, which will be needed right from the off. The climbing begins from kilometre zero as the peloton take on the category one Coll d’Ordino, followed later by the uncategorised Coll de la Gallina and three more climbs with only the briefest of descents separating each of them - all crammed into 94km of intense racing.
It has all the hallmarks of a classic Grand Tour stage and should ignite fireworks in the GC race.
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