Vuelta a España (st. 9)
Colombian from Movistar Team, 2nd atop Els Cortals d’Encamp, takes advantage from final attacks under hailstorm to don the red jersey as Valverde, 4th ahead of early escapee Marc Soler (5th), remains in contention -fourth, 20″ down- behind crashing Roglic (TJV), López (AST).
A series of results almost impossible to beat at the end of the first half of the 2019 Vuelta a España for the Movistar Team. The Telefónica-backed squad will enjoy on Monday’ rest day in France a well-deserved leader’s jersey, on the shoulders of Nairo Quintana, following a tough mountain stage nine in Andorra -94km with five rated ascents- which cold weather and hailstorm made even harder for all riders.
Marc Soler and Antonio Pedrero entered an early break of more than thirty riders, whose survivors, led by Marc himself, Ben O’Connor (TDD) and Geoffroy Bouchard (ALM), reached the penultimate climb, Engolàsters, ahead of the main contenders. Before that climb, the Movistar Team set an intense pace with Erviti, Oliveira, Arcas and Rojas, which Astana kept to set up an attack by Miguel Ángel López, who built a gap over 30″ against the other race contenders. Instead of pulling for Primoz Roglic (TJV), Valverde and Quintana made big efforts to make the Slovenian and his team-mates suffer with several attacks. And at the gravel road sector after Engolàsters, and once both have attacked together, the successive crashes by Roglic and López left both ahead while Soler sought for a solo stage win.
Another attack by Quintana at Els Cortals d’Encamp (Cat-1) forced Soler to pull for him and renounce to his chances of a victory eventually claimed by Tadej Pogacar (UAD), with Nairo in 2nd place; Roglic (TJV), author of a big final progression, in 3rd, and Valverde -alongside the Slovenian- and Soler, 4th and 5th respectively and ahead of López. The GC now sees the four main contenders just 20″ apart -Nairo in the lead, Valverde in 4th- while Pogacar sits in fifth, 1’42” down, before Tuesday crucial 36km ITT to Pau.
Nairo Quintana: “A very tough stage, where we always tried to ride on the attack to gain an edge on Roglic. I’m really thankful about what Marc Soler did there in the finish, as well as with all other team-mates. We always said we would be going day-by-day, seeing what Alejandro and I could do, supporting whoever is doing best, and the team has been protecting us both so far and we’ve been working together to take this jersey. There’s still a long way to go in this Vuelta. Roglic still has an advantage, considering the TT on Tuesday. We would have to make a big, big effort in the time trial not to lose the jersey, which is what will probably happen, but once we’re over it and together with the team, we will keep making efforts to take the jersey back and hopefully keep it until the end.”
Alejandro Valverde: “All in all, a very good day for us, despite everything we had to endure, especially with the cold. We tried to give our best and attack to gain those margins we sought for, especially against Roglic, and this is a good result. We’re still up there in the GC, the two of us, with Nairo in the lead and myself right behind the other contenders. Let’s keep pushing. It will be a different race after the time trial, with lots of climbs where we’ll need to give our best. Both Roglic and ‘Superman’ are really strong at the moment.”
Cover picture (c): Photo Gomez Sport