Vuelta a España 2016 Stage 9

Sergey Lagutin holds his head as he wins stage 8. Photo courtesy of larazon.es
Sergey Lagutin holds his head as he wins stage 8. Photo courtesy of larazon.es

Well we said the breakaway wouldn’t win, and lo! The breakaway won. Start betting against us, everyone. It seems the harder the stage (and the Grand Tour itself) the more willing the peloton is to let a breakaway win — a stage win deemed not as important as long as your fellow favourites have the same opinion.

Stage 8 was won by Sergey Lagutin of Team Katusha, whose two riders in the breakaway (the Colombian Jhonatan Restrepo completing the pair) worked together brilliantly to get the win. Restrepo attacked out of the break as soon as the climb started, meaning Lagutin could sit in and not chase. Restrepo was caught by a much-diminished breakaway just after the harshest gradients (eventually getting himself awarded the most aggressive rider prize), and Lagutin was able to attack in the final 200 metres to cross the line first. Covering his face with his hand in disbelief at the reality of winning the stage, you couldn’t help but think it was mostly with relief that the climb was over.

In terms of the General Classification guys, the peloton stayed together for much of the lower aspects of the climb before splintering into the heavyweights and the not-so heavyweights. Valverde, Quintana, Chavez and Contador were close together, and for a while it seemed like Froome was distanced, Konig being Sky’s representation in the favourites pack. Shortly thereafter it came back together, with Yates and Froome able to rejoin and, after a few minutes, Froome was able to hit the front hard. Out the saddle and pushing hard, Quintana and Contador were the only one’s able to respond, Chavez quickly getting dropped. Contador began wavering and, as soon as Froome sat back on the saddle, Quintana went off on his own attack, quickly distancing the man from Sky.

The gap would vary but ultimately it never disappeared, and Quintana took the stage out of the G.C. men. With about 800 metres to go it looked like Froome had quite a distance on Contador, Chavez and Valverde, but a lot can change in 800 metres in cycling on a climb like this. By the time they crossed the line, a late surge from Contador meant he finished in front of a tiring Froome, and Chavez would finish way down in the pack with his teammate Simon Yates — both looking exhausted.

A quick mention must go to the security guards manning the crowds on the climb. They were mostly in control of the fans and they were high in number — they did a great job of keeping the riders safe and the race from descending into chaos.

Quintana is now in the red jersey, after Atapuma suffered miserably on the climb, and Valverde moves up to second, Froome third and Chavez fourth – 58 seconds span the four of them. With Daniel Moreno in 7th place, Movistar definitely have strength in numbers for the overall classification.

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Stage 9 includes what stage 8 lacked — descents! And a nice long 50km one at that; how glorious that will feel. Once the fun part of the stage is out of the way, the riders will have five climbs in quick succession to battle over. With three category 3 climbs, an uncategorized climb, and finally a category 2 climb, there’s enough ascending here to test everyone’s legs before the finish. Should we even question whether a breakaway will win? Let’s say they won’t, and we’ll predict it will all come back together before the final climb.

However, the final ascents shouldn’t split the pack up too much, so a lone rider might be able to jump out of the group near the finish. With Chavez suffering today on the final climb, Orica-BikeExchange might be keen to show their strength here. Simon Yates might go early to see if he can make it stick like he did on Stage 6. With Movistar still deciding on whether Valverde or Quintana should be their leader, we think Daniel Moreno will go for the stage win as well. Other candidates include the strong riders who are making up the top 15 on G.C. Maybe Andrew Talansky (who was in good form today) or Gianluca Brambilla.

Picks: This is a tough one. Let’s say Simon Yates.

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