Louis Meintjes is finally a Grand Tour stage winner
This year’s Vuelta a España is Louis Mientjes’s (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) 15th Grand Tour participation, and until Sunday, he had never tasted victory in a three-week race.
On the steep slopes of Les Praeres, the former South African road champion floated away from his fellow breakaway companions to take his biggest career win to date. The victory added to what has been a standout year for the 30-year-old, who put in a career best Grand Tour performance at last month's Tour de France, where he finished seventh in the overall standings.
Meintjes now sits 16th on the general classification at the race, six minutes and 44 seconds down on the race leader, Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl)
The breakaway keeps having its day
For the fifth day in a row, the breakaway went all the way to the line at in this edition of the race.
First it was Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) who triumphed from the break into Bilbao. Then Jay Vine (Alpecin-Deceuninck) climbed to glory in the fog-covered heights of the Pico Jano. Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) was the second Spaniard to win at this year’s race on stage seven, before Vine repeated his feat the following day atop the Colláu Fancuaya.
On stage nine, it was Meintjes’s turn. Runner-up to Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) on Alpe d’Huez last month, the South African went one further on Sunday, proving his climbing prowess in the front group.
Sadly for any breakaway hopefuls, the five-day streak will now come to an end. A rest day awaits the riders in Elche, before an individual time trial on Tuesday.
No one can match Remco Evenepoel
Evenepoel is in imperious form.
After being delivered to the foot of the final climb by his teammate, world champion Julian Alaphilippe, The Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl rider proceeded to rip the legs off the rest of the field. Even Enric Mas (Movistar), who has largely been able to follow Evenepoel at this year’s race, couldn’t hold the wheel of the 22-year-old.
When he crossed the line, Evenepoel had amassed an extra 44 seconds at the top of the overall standings, and now sits one minute and 12 seconds ahead of Mas. With a 30.9km time trial up next, don’t be surprised to see the Belgian further extend his advantage.
The Vuelta is back to its brutal best
No Grand Tour does savage inclines quite like the Vuelta. After the ramps of the Colláu Fancuaya took the spotlight on stage eight, stage nine saw the riders head up Les Praeres - a shorter climb at 3.9km, but with a leg-sapping average gradient of 12.9 per cent.
Samuele Battistella (Astana Qazaqstana), one of the last survivors of the day’s breakaway, fell victim to the steep slopes, pedalling squares as the climb peaked at over 20 per cent. Other riders were offered a helping hand by those at the roadside.
The scenes in Asturias wouldn’t have looked out of place at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, taking place at the same time in Les Gets, France. Though the riders didn’t have to slalom through trees or stomp over boulders, they suffered all the same.
Covid-19 is still affecting bike races
Ahead of Sunday’s stage, it was announced that Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) and Pieter Serry (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) wouldn’t take the start line in Villaviciosa.
The duo became the ninth and tenth riders to receive a Covid-19 diagnosis at the race, and were duly sent home by their teams.
Jumbo-Visma were also dealt a blow when Sepp Kuss withdrew with a fever. The American’s absence was felt by his team leader Primož Roglič on the final ascent, as the three-time Vuelta winner lost more time to his fellow general classification contenders.
Just how costly Serry’s absence is to Evenepoel will likely become clear when the race enters the mountains in the final week.
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