Movistar make their move
In recent history, Movistar have received their fair amount of criticism for their tactical nous and race strategy. However, at the 2019 Vuelta they appear to have clicked and are starting to fire on all cylinders.
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Sure, there was a slight jostling for position between Quintana and Valverde for dominance in the early stages, but the Colombian seems to be back to his imperious best as he took the race lead on stage nine.
Valverde was relentless in his little jabs throughout, softening up rivals, specifically Roglič, before Quintana launched his attack and jumped away from his rivals, eventually gaining enough of a gap to take the race lead.
Movistar’s inferior time trialling ability means they need to be on the offensive and their performance today hints that they will take the fight to the group of favourites over the next two weeks.
Pogačar continues to shine
Tadej Pogačar’s 2019 keeps getting better and better. The 20-year-old had already taken the Tour of California and Volta ao Algarve titles, and now a first Grand Tour stage victory is the icing on the cake, a true announcement of his talents at the very top level.
The young Slovenian followed Quintana’s attack, and when Marc Soler was told to wait for his team leader and not pursue personal glory, he pounced. Attacking the Colombian as he scrambled to get on Soler’s wheel, he didn’t look back as he climbed the final couple of kilometres, holding much more seasoned pros at bay.
There’s no time to rest on his laurels, though, as Pogačar sits fifth on GC, 1-42 down on Quintana. There may be 1-22 between him and fourth place Valverde, but with a lot of racing still to come the UAE Team Emirates rider must remain focused for to consolidate or improve his position as and when the opportunity arises.
Miguel Ángel López falters
Having flirted with the race lead throughout the opening week, benevolently giving it to breakaway riders to ease the burden on his Astana team, Miguel Ángel López showed his first sign of weakness on stage nine.
Maybe his long-range solo attack from 20km was overly ambitious and ultimately cost him, but the swing from leading Roglič by six seconds to trailing by 11 is significant. And of course, Quintana is now also 17 seconds ahead, and seems to have found his climbing legs.
The time loss is likely to have been at least partly caused by a heavy fall suffered in the gravel section which had been made more perilous by the rain.
Until today, López would have been happy with his first week going into the rest day, but now finds himself with work to do.
Roglič limits losses ahead of time trial
A gutsy ride from Roglič, recovering from momentarily being dropped to fighting back and finishing third on the stage, losing only 25 seconds to Quintana.
The Slovenian moves up to second on GC, trailing the Colombian by six seconds. Following the rest day, he will have the chance to overhaul Quintana and gain a significant advantage, with his greater powers in the race against the clock.
At the Giro Roglič put in a commanding performance in the opening week or so but ultimately had to settle for third place on the podium. The test now will come from having the leader’s jersey on his shoulders, should the expected time trial result occur, and the added toll that takes on a Grand Tour rider.
Conditions play their part once more
Think of the Vuelta and the searing, dry heat of the Spanish summer comes to mind. However, water has proved the biggest obstacle so far for the peloton at the Spanish Grand Tour.
Firstly, we had Jumbo-Visma and other teams brought down by a leaking garden hose during the team time trial, then water on a downhill section of stage six caused the abandon of a number of riders including Rigoberto Urán (EF Education First) and Nicolas Roche (Sunweb).
Stage eight was blighted by torrential rain, allowing the breakaway to contest the stage victory as the peloton decided to take it easy on the downhills into the finish, and the heavens opened up once again on stage nine.
The rain started pouring just as the race was reaching fever pitch, with Spanish television unable to deal with the wet conditions and losing pictures. While viewers and commentators were left blind as to the race situation, specifically the passing over the novelty gravel section, the riders had more serious concerns.
López and Roglič both came down during the gravel section, with Roglič having to chase back on to his group and López wearing nasty looking scrapes as he crossed the finish line. Luckily he has the rest day to recover, hoping any pain is not there when he gets on his time trial bike for stage ten.
The scramble to get down the mountain via cable car was also complicated by the conditions, with riders who were queueing to get down left shivering after their damp finish.