With so much fall-out from yesterday’s stage to discuss, we must thank the providence of the organizers for the 120-or-so kilometres of nothingness preceding the action of the climbs today. It was to be a good opportunity for the G.C. men, but there was a seemingly interminable stretch of road to get through before the stage kicked up. Thus, please imagine the riders placidly enjoying vast tracts of sun-satured Mediterranean coastline, whilst we tuck into the overnight news.
The drama of yesterday’s mid-stage crash has now been fully unveiled, with the news that Bouhanni also pulled out, Tejay has a broken shoulder and will miss the World Championships (for which he was highly touted), and Dan Martin broke his clavicle. A surprise (to us, at least), was that Jasper Stuyven has had to pull out of the race, too. It seems that Stuyven’s win yesterday, out of a reduced bunch, came in spite of a broken hand. Mixed blessings indeed, and he must surely have been the only person in a Spanish x-ray clinic with a grin on his face last night. A fearsomely strong ride from him. The extent of Boeckmans’s horrifying injuries has also unfolded, with Lotto-Soudal reporting that the poor soul has suffered serious facial trauma and a punctured lung (amongst other injuries), and is to be kept in an induced coma for several days. Let us hope he recovers as quickly as he can sprint.
Finally, it would be remiss of us not to mention Peter Sagan. Shortly after the stage it was confirmed that Sagan had indeed been knocked off his bike at high speed by a motorcycle. Later, it emerged that Sagan was to be fined for “threatening the image of cycling”, despite the fact that he has single-handedly boosted cycling’s image since he turned professional. Incredulous, team owner Oleg Tinkoff took to Twitter to call A.S.O and the UCI “a bunch of pricks”. Finally, rounding off the sorry tale, Sagan announced he would not start today due to second- and third-degree burns he gained from hitting the tarmac at speed. So far no official apology has been made to Sagan or Tinkoff-Saxo, who are now considering legal action. Given that it’s not even the first (or second or third) time this year that a support vehicle has collided with a rider, we would have to hope that Tinkoff do indeed manage to effect some change or other.
Back to today’s race, and thirteen men went clear almost from the gun. Sky, unusually, had a man in the break in the shape of Geraint Thomas — no doubt to ensure they wouldn’t have to pull on the front of the peloton today. The race rolled on to the first climb, which is also two-thirds of the final climb today; the riders would be performing a loop and returning to finish off the Alto de Puig Llorença later. Four men went clear of the break on the climb, and we were treated to a superb balance of ambition and power from our polka dot jersey wearer, Omar Fraile. Fraile took maximum points here to consolidate his lead in the King of the Mountains contest, and to add another feather to Caja-Rural’s currently well-plumed cap. A fine Vuelta on home soil for them.
The race trundled on, and the gap was slowly eaten up by the peloton; as the riders swept around for the second and final run up the Puig Llorença there were only a few riders left out front, and they were swiftly caught by the overall favourites as the climb opened up. Quintana went with over 3km left, right from the first slopes of the climb — perhaps he’s decided to ride for Valverde after all, as his move was destined to fall flat as he ran out of steam. Swept up by a strong pack, it was Rodriguez, Valverde, Froome, Majka, Aru, and other tough climbers who were leading the way up the climb. Impressively, both second and first place in the G.C. held on well, as Dumoulin and Chaves marked one another. As Chaves, and indeed Froome, looked like they were suffering, Dumoulin took the chance to head off up the road with a powerful kick. Valverde gave chase, and the two were off together.
It was down to whomever had a little something left in the legs now, and Froome overcame his falter and made his own move. He led the chase behind Valverde and a storming Dumoulin, as Chaves suffered on behind the favourites. At one point Chaves nearly caught Dumoulin, but Tommy D kicked again and again, putting some of the world’s best riders into the red as they tried to stay with him. Within the last kilometre, Majka, then Rodriguez, then Froome held the lead of the race. Froome looked like he had the stage in hand, answering questions about his form, but in the fading moments of the stage Dumoulin found a last ounce of energy, and swept past Froome for a spectacular and surprising win, his large time-trialler’s frame swinging ungainly but efficiently past the featherweight Froome. And coming in soon after, but not soon enough to conserve the overall lead, was a fatigued Esteban Chaves. Dumoulin took both stage and G.C. lead in superb style, ahead of Froome then Rodriguez on the day; it was around 14 seconds before another rider crossed the line. With Froome showing some form, and this unexpected display from Dumoulin, the challenge of stage 11 after Tuesday’s rest day promises some explosive action — and with so many riders still within ready reach of the red jersey, we can say for sure that this race is far from over.