Adam Yates led the group of favourites up the Balcon de Alicante on Stage 7
And so the first week of the Vuelta a Espana comes to an end on the top of a mountain. It is a fitting way to end the first week of such a hard race as this, and with the General Classification battle still unclear, it is an opportunity for the strongest overall contenders to rise to the top.
Friday’s Stage 7, finishing up the hellish Balcon de Alicante, saw Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) dropped early on in the stage. What issues he is having, we do not yet know, but he had to abandon the race leaving us with one less overall competitor. Next was Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who, while not necessarily looking for the Red Jersey, tragically crashed out, hitting a bump in the road on a descent and landing hard to break his collarbone. We had to watch through the trees as he laid bare his emotions into the shoulder of team director and friend, “Chente” Garcia Acosta, on having to abandon his home Grand Tour. The Vuelta will miss him greatly as he is always a rider, even at 41, to animate the racing, and his disappointment was hard to watch.
What of Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)? While they didn’t totally implode, and their GC aspirations remain at least tentatively intact, they lost time dropping back and neither looked as if they will have the form to mount an attack on the Red Jersey going forward.
But up front, a day which was supposed to provide some GC clarity only ended up muddying the waters, introducing the likes of Felix Großschartner, Jan Polanc and Jack Haig into the mix from their breakaway escapades.
After a nervous, flat, sprinter Stage 8, which saw a ferocious Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) take the win, Stage 9 will be the next big GC day, with a massive 4,700m of climbing over 188km. The peloton will head from Puerto Lumbreras near the castle city of Lorca – once the frontier town between Christian and Muslim Spain – and then finish up the ruthless Alto de Velefique climb in Andalusia.
The Alto de Velefique has seen big time gaps between riders in the past and is the first Hors Categorie climb of the Vuelta (without category or “especial” for Spain). The climb averages 6.4 per cent over 13.2km with some agonising moments over 12 per cent. All of this after having just climbed the massive Alto Collado Venta Lui, a first category climb averaging 4.6 per cent over 29km with a horrific 7km in the middle which will hit above 12 per cent.
There will be attacks on the final climb and it will be spectacular to watch as the GC competition lights up amongst the switchbacks of the mountain before we head into the rest day and the beginning of the second week.
Route map and profile
Another punishing day in the mountains and the last stage before the first rest day, if the GC battle became no clearer on Stage 7, it may well do so on Stage 9. With that in mind, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is once again the favourite to take the stage win. So far, the race leader has looked like he is holding something back – perhaps thinking of the brutal third week and his propensity to fade as a tour goes on. Will he want to send a message to his competitors going in to the first rest day? Competing for the overall behind him is the Ineos Grenadiers duo of Adam Yates and Egan Bernal. Both are looking in good form, Yates in particular as he led the GC contenders up the Balcon de Alicante on Stage 7. Bernal has been content just to stay quiet so far but usually grows into a race and might reignite some of that attacking form he had in the Giro this year and assert himself as the leader of that team. With Mikel Landa dropping away in the GC, Jack Haig is now Bahrain Victorious’s best placed rider, he’s certainly one to watch in the mountains, especially with the team he has around him. Also expect the ominous Movistar duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez to be looking to take something from this stage. If a breakaway is going to make it to the end, it will have to be big and talented.
Watch out for: Mark Padun, Gino Mader (Bahrain Victorious), Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech), Michael Storer (DSM), and Felix Großschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe).
The stage is set to begin at 10:55am BST and is expected to conclude at around 4:30pm BST.
How to watch on TV
In the UK, the stage will be shown live on Eurosport from 3:30pm BST and on GCN+ from 1:50pm BST.
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