Nairo Quintana rode himself into the red jersey across high mountains in torrential rain as Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) took his maiden Grand Tour stage victory on stage nine of the Vuelta a España 2019.
The Movistar rider finished 23 seconds behind Pogačar, after the Slovenian dropped him in the closing kilometres, which was enough to take the race lead.
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Primož Roglič finished third, coming in 25 seconds behind Quintana, whose team-mate Alejandro Valverde came in on his tail in fourth.
Miguel Ángel López hit out with 20km to go, but was reeled in and ended up losing 38 seconds to Quintana, who leapfrogs him in the overall classification and takes the red jersey.
Quintana now leads Roglič by six seconds, with López down in third, 17 seconds back. Valverde sits in fourth, 20 seconds behind his team-mate.
How it happened
What stage nine lacked in length, it more than made up for in height. Five categorised climbs, with two leading up to a first category summit finish. Organisers had placed a proper GC battle on the final day of the first week of the 2019 Vuelta.
The shortest stage in Spanish Grand Tour history left little time for riders to mess around, so attacks came in thick and fast after the flag dropped and a large breakaway went off the front.
Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) attacked with 46km to go, just before Esteban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) suffered a puncture and required a bike change.
Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) was dropped with 40km remaining, his time in the red jersey coming to an end predictably quickly, as Geoffrey Bouchard reached the summit of the Coll de Gallina first.
López then launched his attack with 20km to go, in the foothills of the first of two second category climbs up to the finish. The Colombian sprung from the group of favourites, with team-mates up ahead to aim for.
Valverde then made his own move, but was brought back in, content to let Jumbo-Visma do the work to reel in López, who was trying to get as much time as possible on Roglič ahead of stage ten’s individual time trial.
Tao Geoghegan Hart caught Bouchard up front with 14km remaining as Ben O’Connor was dropped and the Frenchman also going backwards soon after, leaving Geoghegan Hart alone in the lead.
Valverde then attacked again with 13km to go and Roglič was forced to expend more energy reeling the Spaniard in, the Hispanic contigent of GC favourites putting the Slovenian through his paces. Nairo Quintana then jumped from the group, sailing up the road and towards López.
As we have become accustomed to at this Vuelta, water had its say in the day’s proceedings, this time falling from the sky instead of from a broken garden hose.
The heavens opened with 12km to go and broadcasters soon lost pictures from their motos and helicopters, resorting to pictures of race staff huddling under shelters as rain cascaded down the mountain road. However, even that image soon disappeared, leaving everyone to imagine the GC battle taking place on the final climb of the day.
Therefore, we only received glimpses of the much discussed gravel section, which claimed both Roglič and López who apparently fell on the section that had been further complicated by the weather.
Marc Soler joined Geoghegan Hart at the head of the race, before Valverde attacked once more alongside Quintana, soon catching López before Quintana pushed on up the road, catching remnants of the day’s break away all the while as Roglič struggled to keep the pace.
Geoghegan Hart was caught with 4.5km to go as Pogačar sat on Quintana’s wheel as the pair forged on. Marc Soler was alone up front, and wheeled around in frustration after receiving team orders to wait for Quintana rather than pursue his own stage victory with just over 3km left to race.
Valverde, now back in a group of favourites with López and Roglič, attacked once again, leaving the two GC rivals behind.
Just before making the juncture to Soler, Pogačar attacked, leaving Quintana to try and get onto Soler’s wheel as quickly as possible.
Roglič then found his legs and rode away from the López group towards the world champion, catching him with 1.7km remaining. Pogačar had an advantage of 15 seconds over Quintana, with Roglič and Valverde 40 seconds back and López a further 10 seconds behind them.
Roglič continued to press on, as López, Sergio Higuita (EF Education First) and Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) grouped together behind.
Pogačar had a lead of 20 seconds at the 1km banner, sailing across the line with a big grin on his face as he sealed his debut Grand Tour victory. Quintana finished 23 seconds back in what was a scintillating ride from the Colombian. Roglič and Valverde then came through 25 seconds later, with López losing nearly 40 seconds to Quintana, who took the race lead into the first rest day.
Vuelta a España 2019, stage nine: Andorra la Vella to Cortals d’Encamp (94.4km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 2-58-09
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, at 23 seconds
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 48s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at same time
5. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar, at 57s
6. Hermann Pernsteiner (Aut) Bahrain-Merida, at 59s
7. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education First, at 1-01
8. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb
9. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, both at same time
10. Tao Geoghegan Hart (GBr) Ineos, at 1-38
General classification after stage nine
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 35-18-18
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at six seconds
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Astana, at 17s
4. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, at 20s
5. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, at 1-42
6. Carl Frederik Hagen (Nor) Lotto-Soudal, at 1-46
7. Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, at 2-21
8. Rafał Majka (Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-22
9. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, at 3-53
10. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain-Merida, at 4-46