Discontinuing the trend for tortilla flat stages, today’s profile offered a gradual rise followed by two category 3 climbs up to the mountain range of the Sierra de Carzola, spanning 200km of Spanish highway. Willing breakaway riders would have had this stage marked in their race manuals, and as the riders awoke to another day of baking heat, it looked yet more favourable for a break to go long. And, with only seconds separating the riders in the top ten, it was going to be a hard-fought finale and a potential change of race leader.
As racing started, the attacks came, but the peloton displayed mass-reluctance to let anyone go too soon. Adam Hansen had a good go at slipping away, but his move was quickly neutralized by the early average pace of 50kmph set by the peloton. In the end, it took a dedicated five-man unit to form a break after over an hour in the saddle for the rider; they were Cyril Gautier, Kristijan Durasek, Niki Terpstra, Steve Cummings, and the previous wearer of the red, Peter Velits. Miguel Ángel Rubiano missed the initial move, crashed in his effort to bridge across, but nevertheless eventually caught up with the leading group after 100km of racing, to make it six for the day’s break — and there was certainly no shortage of power amongst them.
Cyril Gautier peaked first on the cat 3 climb two thirds of the way through the stage; he earns himself about enough money for a packet of Polos, but, given the unstable state of Europcar’s sponsorship, he’s out to prove his worth to other teams this Vuelta. Coming down the other side towards the foot of the final climb, peloton defied the advantage of the breakaway, who held only a minute or so on the pack. It might be a day for the punchier climbers after all, and it was Sky and Movistar who were setting the pace.
Gautier showed his determination on the upward run towards the official start of the last climb, digging deep in an attempt to hold open the diminishing gap. However, it was Rubiano who took the intermediate sprint, shortly before launching himself off the front of breaking group. Steve Cummings rose to the challenge and, like a slingshot, flew past Rubiano in a solo attack with 12km remaining. And for a while it looked good for Cummings: he rode hard and well, steadily and determinedly riding a time-trial to the foot of the last climb with half a minute in hand. But it was not to be.
Entering the last climb, Cummings began to waver as the road went uphill, and it was Greenedge who now led a speeding peloton. As the road turned left into the final 3km, the riders faced a 15% straight rise that loomed ominously above, and it then that Chaves attacked. Hitting the veritable wall hard, he swept past Cummings, who, in testament to the difficulty of the gradient, was grinding to a halt in a tiny gear. He quickly opened up a 15 second gap on a peloton now driven by Giant-Alpecin, trying desperately to keep Tom Dumoulin in the red jersey, as Cummings merely entered the red.
Tommy D’s own attack came in vain, at 1.5km to go. He put in a brave move, but it couldn’t match the bold and brazen Chaves who was dancing (and…smiling?) all the way up to the line, working the pedals efficiently and powerfully. Dan Martin put in a turn of speed, and caught Dumoulin, but once again he had mistimed it to fight for the stage. By now there was no one on the road who could bring back Esteban Chaves. With around 7 seconds on the Martin-Dumoulin duo, Chaves took his second stage of the Vuelta, the third win for Orica-GreenEdge, and secured himself a nice X-Small red jersey for tomorrow’s difficult mountainous stage. How will he cope on a category one mountaintop finish? It’s perhaps too much to expect him to remain in the lead amidst a sea of strong G.C. talent, especially with stage 11 still dominating the near horizon, but one thing is for sure: Orica-GreenEdge have truly reimagined themselves as a general classification force to be reckoned with. What a performance, and what a dazzling display in the final from Chaves.