Five talking points from stage nine of the Vuelta a España
Froome dominates, Chaves the contender and Cannondale perform with pride
Chris Froome looks imperious
The Vuelta is far from over – there are still two weeks left of racing, and five riders remain within 90 seconds of Chris Froome, and another three within two minutes.
But the way Froome has dominated this first week does leave the impression that overall victory for him is almost a foregone conclusion.
He was as dominant as ever on today’s summit finish, putting in an explosive attack to drop the field in the final kilometre, then finding a second wind to solo to the finish after Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) had briefly caught back up to his wheel.
The stage win is his first since the Vuelta time trial last year, and a long overdue chance for him to lift his arms in celebration crossing the finish line.
He has been the dominant climber on all of the race’s ascents so far, and is gradually gaining more and more time on all his rivals.
If he retains this form into the bigger mountains of the second and third week, the question won’t be if he will win, but by how much.
Chaves the main contender
Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) may have caught the eye with his attacking racing and star presence, but while he remains over three minutes down on GC, Esteban Chaves will remain Froome’s main rival.
In contrast to Contador’s style, Chaves has ridden cautiously and stealthily, content to follow Froome’s wheel at all the decisive moments and limit his losses as much as possible.
He maintained that approach today, and even looked in an ideal position to win the stage having latched onto his rival’s wheel with a few hundred metres to go, but didn’t have the legs to pass him.
Chaves might not have won the stage, but again finished ahead of all the other rivals, and, despite Froome’s dominance, is only 36 seconds adrift on GC.
While he remains so close to Froome’s lead, the Colombian could yet have a major say in how the GC shapes up – especially as long as teammate Adam Yates remains within striking distance too.
Favourites lose more time
Today’s finishing climb was only a short one, but many GC contenders will be frustrated and anxious at having haemorrhaged yet more time to Froome on the overall classification.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) may be waiting until the back-end of the race to make his move, but another 24 seconds lost today sees him now 1-17 back on GC.
Similarly, Fabio Aru (Astana) added another 27 seconds to the 1-06 he had already lost, while BMC’s twin-threat of Nicolas Roche and Tejay van Garderen continues to be softened as the pair lost 24 and 29 seconds respectively, pushing them both over one minute adrift of Froome.
The time margins will be bigger come the mountains of the second and third week, so it is more important to come into top form then, but all of these contenders have already been left with a lot to do if they hope to win the overall.
Cannondale-Drapac battle on
Rocked by the news that their team is at imminent risk of folding, Cannondale-Drapac’s riders put on a brave face on today’s stage.
They did much of the pace-setting at the front of the peloton throughout the day, determined to reel the break back in to provide their leader Michael Woods with a chance to win the stage.
They succeeded in their efforts to do the former, as the final remnants of the break were swept up at the foot of the final climb. And Woods was indeed in the mix during the sprint finish, forging ahead of the peloton along with Froome and Chaves.
But the Canadian ultimately didn’t have the legs to keep up with that formidable pair, and had to settle for third on the stage and a jump from ninth to eighth overall.
The team will be desperate for him to continue his current streak of form and deliver the kind of results that will help attract a sponsor and save the team at this critical moment.
Movistar try in vain once more
We’re used to seeing Movistar boss their home Grand Tour with teams of classy climbers, led by and Alejandro Valverde and sometimes Nairo Quintana. But in the absence of that pair, they’ve been a shadow of their former selves.
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Misfortune and lack of form have scuppered any hopes they harboured of mounting a GC challenge, as Daniel Moreno lost substantial time after crashing, while Carlos Betancur was forced to abandon following a nasty crash.
They have therefore resorted to chasing stage wins, but to no avail so far, with Marc Soler and Jose Joaquin Rojas both failing to convert strong positions in successful breaks into victories.
Soler was again present in the break today, and appeared to be the strongest rider there, but was denied the chance to compete for victory when the peloton made the catch.
The team didn’t give up, with Richard Antonio Carapaz attacking on the final climb, but once the GC riders wound things up he never had any hope of staying clear.