The opening nine stages of La Vuelta 2019 are now behind us and today’s rest day is understandably, very warmly welcomed by all, following an incredibly brutal start to the race. Let’s just say, the Vuelta is less predictable, has little structure to the route and is herby somewhat harder to control than it’s French and Italian counterparts.
This year, has proven no different with the route running straight for the hills, concluding the opening, drama-filled team time trial, that saw a surprising Astana claim victory and Miguel Ángel López step into the lead - competitors unable to match their shear speed, while multiple favourites’ chances were diminished with unforeseeable crashes, due to a mid-stage water spill along the course.
From there, there was certainly no ‘warming into it’, as the riders took to the undulating terrain along stage two, that saw Nairo Quintana take an impressive victory, eventually outwitting a select group of race favourites by attacking them 3km from the line and maximising the core group’s hesitation behind. The Columbian’s win, wasn’t enough to move into the lead, with race veteran Nicholas Roche taking second on the stage - his team, Sunweb’s strong opening team time trial assuring him the jersey.
Stage three marked the first sprint opportunity of the race, resulting in a spectacular outcome for the Irish, with Sam Bennett’s (Bora-Hansgrohe) turn of speed far too good for competitors to match, winning the stage by a bike-length in a perfectly timed dash to the line. The jersey remained in fellow Irishman, Roche’s hands, making it a day to go down in history for Irish cycling.
Stage four, saw another hectic sprint finish and a tight battle to the line by Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen and Stage three winner, Bennett. The photo finish declared Jakobsen winner by the slimmest of margins - the young Dutchman stealing his first Grand Tour victory of his short, but promising career.
Dark horse, Ángel Madrazo of Spanish contingent, Burgos-BH went on to take a very surprising stage five victory in what marked the first official summit finish of this year’s La Vuelta. The victory stemmed from a successful breakaway - Madrazo initially in the move with the sole focus of picking up points to extend his lead in the mountains classification. The Spaniard, however stormed on, combining forces with team mate Jetse Bol, to take an emotional, career standout win. Behind, it was all-go for the GC contenders - young Columbian, López, all too strong for competitors, putting in an explosive attack several kilometres from the line that saw him take a significant time gap and soar his way back into the leaders jersey.
Stage six had Bahrain-Merida’s, Dylan Theuns step into the Maillot Rojo, concluding a successful 11 man breakaway. Jesús Herrada (Cofidis) proving too strong for breakaway companions, stealing the stage, while Theuns moved into the lead. A crash-marred stage sadly saw the departure of a handful of riders, including previous race leader, Nicholas Roche. EF Education First taking the biggest blow, losing Rigoberto Urán, Hugh Carthy and ultimately, Tejay van Gaarderen, who went on to contend the following stage, but failed to finish due to injuries sustained the day prior.
The punishing gradients stage seven dished out, saw a dominant Alejandro Valverde win the stage, as he seemingly effortlessly powered away from the remaining core group of four, over the relentlessly steep final climb. The world champion, stamping his authority and showing his strengths once more on the harsher gradients, while the closely tailing, López grasped the lead back once more.
Stage eight resulted in a 21 rider strong breakaway success and yet another exchange of the leaders jersey, into the hands of Cofidis', Nicolas Edet. The challenging, punchy course was tackled in treacherous weather conditions, eventually seeing Nikias Arndt of Sunweb take the stage victory, his speed simply too much for competitors in what resulted in a final sprint to the line.
Yesterday’s stage nine, marked quite likely one of the most challenging stages across the tour’s duration. With the start and finish points from Andorra, the 94km route was only up and down, proving a real test for contenders, and workhorses alike. As expected, the stage was all drama and action, with little to no respite for its entirety. A number of GC favourites suffered untimely mechanicals and crashes, including Mitchelton-Scott’s Esteban Chaves, who’s misfortune, resulted in him ending the day almost five minutes back. Grim conditions and a gravel section leading into the final climb, then saw favourites, Roglic and López hit the deck, however luckily losses were limited as both riders fought their way back to contention, despite the incident.
The stage victory went to a very impressive Tadej Pogačar of UAE. The young gun attacked the remnants of the race, in the closing km, storming past Movistar’s Marc Soler as he reluctantly sat back to support team mate, Quintana. His strength too great, as he went on to claim an emphatic win atop Cortals d' Encamp in brutal conditions. Movistar, not losing out, with Quintana’s strong performance moving him into the lead.
With the first phase behind us, every minute of today’s rest day will be greatly cherished, with the middle week set to be surprisingly even tougher, leaving the race well and truly wide-open. With all GC contenders having already pushed well above the limit to remain in contention, it should certainly prove an incredibly exciting second half!
“It’s been a very hard first week,” Mitchelton-Scott’s Esteban Chaves said with a laugh. “The sad part is that the second week is going to be even harder.”
- Esteban Chaves (VeloNews)
“It’s been a very interesting Vuelta so far,” Arndt said. “We’ve had changes in the leader’s jersey, we’ve had a few sprint stages, we started with a triple-T, and we’ve had some hard days in the mountains. I’ve come to the Vuelta in good shape, so I have not suffered so much, but it’s true it’s been a very hard parcours so far.”
- Nikias Arndt (VeloNews)
For us, we’re well and truly ready to join La Vuelta madness in Spain with GreenEDGE Travel...primed and eager to support Mitchelton-Scott in full force through to the grand finale in Madrid. Vamos! www.greenedgetravel.com