Quintana runs out of energy into Cortals d’Encamp climb, loses 3’ to new leader Aru (AST) to slip back to 9th overall; Valverde struggles, sticks to leader's group, stays 6th overall at 1'22" from race podium
A stage regarded as one of the hardest in Vuelta a España history, with 5,000m vertical gain, six rated climbs in just 138km, moist descents and lots of risks, ended up being way less generous than expected to the Movistar Team. The Blues lost part, yet not all of their chances for overall success, after a late gallop by Fabio Aru (AST) awarded him 2nd place into the stage, behind Basque Mikel Landa, and the leader's jersey, with a 27-second margin over Rodríguez (KAT).
The telephone squad went always on the attack, launching Javi Moreno and imanol Erviti early into a 16-man breakaway that included the stage winner and even leading the stage solo with Erviti himself into the third climb, La Rabassa (Cat-1). As Imanol was caught and dropped back, the big rouleur from the telephone squad played as sensational support for an attack by Valverde into the descent of La Gallina (HC), together with Katusha's Rodríguez, Moreno and Losada, which was caught by the leader's group into the first slopes of La Comella (Cat-2).
At the final climb towards Cortals d’Encamp, following an initial suffering by Valverde with 7km to go -which Quintana tried to solve pushing into his group-, the Colombian, briefly going after a second echelon of favourites with Majka (TCS) and Nieve (SKY), cracked with 5km remaining, the Murcian being dropped back shortly afterwards. While Nairo was left with no energy to even follow former race leader Tom Dumoulin (TGA) and finished in 14th place, 4'19" down, Valverde showed his usual consistence to finish with the red jersey -12th, 3'04" back- and stay alive into the GC, still in 6th spot, 1'52" behind Aru and 1'22" after the third place of the podium. Quintana is now in 9th place, more than 3' down.
The Vuelta will now head southbound, towards Lleida -173km, including the Cat-2 Boixols ascent- in the first of two stages suited for sprinters and adventurers, before three consecutive mountain-top finishes in Asturias and Cantabria keep defining the GC hierarchy from Saturday.
Alejandro Valverde: “We knew it was going to be a hell of a day, and even after it was a bad result and one that I'd have liked to be much better, we did quite a decent job and I'm happy with that effort. We lost quite some time with Aru, who looked really strong from the very beginning, and also with Purito, but as we said yesterday, we're not bad physically but we're paying the efforts from the Tour – we're simply not at the same level as in France. Everyone struggled today. Froome did lost plenty of time, but it was really a stage where things could turn bad with a minor difficulty, like his crash. We're still alive in this Vuelta and there's still many stages left: we can lose more time or recover, but we won't stop fighting."
Nairo Quintana: "It really was hard for me last night, with a lot of fever and sort of a dehydration. Fortunately, I could get over the day. We're all human beings, with good and bad days, and I paid the effects of an unexpected illness today. I actually though twice about abandoning during the stage, but I had to keep going. I couldn't let my team down. I could make it to the finish after a day where I really struggled, where I tried to keep the pace, helping out… but I couldn't do much. At least we're still into the race – I hope to recover and help my team-mates out."