David de la Cruz celebrated victory twice over in stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana. The Spaniard took the stage win after being in the break, and then took the red jersey after gaining a large enough time gap to the race leader Nairo Quintana. Dries Devenyns took second with Moreno Moser third.
The only similarity between stage 8 and today’s stage 9 was that both were technically mountain stages. Beyond that everything was different. Yesterday’s stage featured just one climb, today’s possessed five. Yesterday’s climb was a brute, today’s would be much more tame, but no less energy sapping as the riders navigated the opening category 2 climb, three category 3 climbs and then one final category 2 rise of the Alto del Naranco. Cistierna to Oviedo. Alto del Naranco.
The battle for the king of the mountains
It took a little over 10km before the breakaway of 12 riders established itself at the front of the race. Cannondale-Drapac had two riders in Moreno Moser and Simon Clarke, as did IAM Cycling in Dries Devenyns and Mathias Frank. Beyond them Bartosz Huzarski of Bora-Argon18, Pello Bilbao of Caja Rural-Serguros RGA, Dylan Teuns of BMC Racing, stage 3 winner Alexandre Geniez of FDJ, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, David de la Cruz of Etixx-Quick Step and Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana.
Alexandre Geniez and Thomas De Gendt’s presence in the breakaway presented a battle for the king of the mountains classification; with the two of them separated by just two points. Meanwhile David de la Cruz started the stage just 2.46mins away from the red leader’s jersey of Nairo Quintana. It would be interesting to see whether Movistar would be happy to surrender the overall lead for the time being to de la Cruz or not.
The answer to the King of the Mountains dilemma quickly began to solve itself. While the break’s advantage grew to over 5 minutes, Thomas De Gendt showed himself to be significantly stronger than Geniez on the categorised climbs, he quickly made up the points difference on Geniez and then took over the virtual lead. Behind the break Movistar led the chase with Tinkoff, Team Sky and all of the usual suspects close at hand.
Cooperation disappears in the break
It was the 24km to go point, with the break’s lead at around 4.30mins, that the attacks began to go from within the breakaway. De Gendt had already tried a mini-move, as had Geniez and Clarke. But it seemed that the 24km to go mark signalled the end of cooperation within the break as Luis Leon Sanchez, De Gendt and then Dries Devenyns all attacked. Of those moves it was the IAM Cycling rider’s move that appeared most promising, with the Belgian gaining a 14 second lead with 22km to go. Devenyns was pursued by Jan Bakelants and caught with 21km left.
The two of them hit 20km to go with 23 seconds in hand over the rest of the break, while the Movistar-led peloton were still 4.42mins down. The day was almost certainly going the way of the break, but the final climb of the day would be both tough and telling, for everyone including Devenyns and Bakelants who extended their lead to 32 seconds with just under 17km remaining. The advantage to the peloton was also just stretching a little, but on the penultimate climb up Alto de la Manzaneda the gap was almost completely bridged and was completely bridged by BMC Racing’s Teuns. The rest of the break did in fact manage to catch up with 15km to go.
Luis Leon Sanchez appeared strongest, but De Gendt was suffering, dropped on the climb while Geniez took maximum points this time at the top of the climb. The gap to the peloton was now 4.25mins. Back in the bunch, things were just picking up a little bit with an attack from Katusha’s Matvey Mamakin. The wisdom of the attack was questionable, as was the reason for it with such a large deficit to make up to the break. Next to go up the road were Devenyns and del la Cruz, they led by 17 seconds with less than 9km to go. The gap to the peloton at this point was still stable at 4.25mins or thereabouts.
Devenyns vs de la Cruz for the win
With 7km remaining the two leaders still had a reasonably healthy lead, but things were just heating up behind him. Thomas De Gendt had been ruled out previously but now came right to the forefront of affairs again as he caught and then passed the bulk of the break and went off in pursuit of the two leaders as the climb approached. He had 27 seconds to make up with 6km to go but De Gendt’s known climbing ability could well be his major advantage on the slopes of the final climb.
With 5.3km to go for the leaders the peloton were just passing through the 9km to go banner. There was no change at the front with Movistar still in control for now. Team Sky and Tinkoff were the principal teams directly behind them. As the break climbed they began to fragment a bit, but de la Cruz and Devenyns were still out in front and leading pretty comfortably, but where was De Gendt? Also to take note of was Pello Bilbao who attacked the break and got a gap. With 3.5km to go the leading pair’s lead was 54 seconds to the Sanchez and Geniez group.
There were two races going on and with 3km to go it looked like David de la Cruz might win one but lose another. They had 3.48mins in hand on the peloton, and de la Cruz needed 2.46mins to win. Time bonuses at the finish might prove all important for him as he climbed onwards in the hope of a stage win and a red jersey at the end of the day. With 2km to go Devenyns and de la Cruz were playing a very good game, working together; which is more than could be said for the group behind them. The group finally caught De Gendt with 2km to go, but cat and mouse games dominated the move which really played into the hands of the two leaders.
Meanwhile Team Sky began to move forward alongside Movistar as the road went up. Peter Kennaugh of Team Sky launched the opening attacks with Omar Fraile of Dimension Data going with him. Kennaugh, red jersey after the team time trial, was a little surprising but it made sense if Kennaugh was to act as a stepping stone for a later attack by Froome.
Double victory for de la Cruz
Under the kilometre to go banner de la Cruz and Devenyns were looking good for the stage win with 41 seconds in hand. Devenyns suddenly appeared to have a bit of a mechanical problem, something that de la Cruz immediately captialised on. Suddenly it looked like he would be winning both races; for the stage and the red jersey! The Spaniard grimaced his way through the final 500m of the stage, with the unlucky Devenyns now nowhere to be seen. The Spaniard held off from celebrating until he was across the line as the clock now started. Devenyns crossed the line for second place with Moreno Moser of Cannondale-Drapac third. Luis Leon Sanchez was fourth and could only wonder what could have been, with Mathias Frank in fifth place ahead of Alexandre Geniez.
The battle for the GC riders was still hot down the mountain. Movistar still led, but the group was a rather large one and featured George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo. Samuel Sanchez of BMC Racing attacked late in the final kilometre and was countered by Gianluca Brambilla of Etixx-Quick Step. That move broke up the group a little bit, as Brambilla crossed the line ahead of the rest. The time gap was all important though for David de la Cruz and it was confirmed that with the time bonus for the Spaniard and the 2.56mins time gap to Quintana, the race lead would go his way by just 22 seconds. Alejandro Valverde was third by 41 seconds.
George Bennett crossed the line 28th on the stage in the same group as Louis Meintjes, Darwin Atapuma 8 seconds behind the Froome group. 28th on the stage and now 19th overall, Bennett now sits 4.07mins behind David de la Cruz.