Two lead changes in two days took place as the Vuelta a Espana finally reached the first rest day.  Nairo Quintana of Movistar now has the overall lead after Tadej Pogačar won the final major mountain stage of the first half.

Arndt sprints to rain-soaked stage 8 win

Stage 8 of the Vuelta a Espana was another stage primed for the breakaway.  A nasty category 2 climb featured just too close to the finish for the sprinters; but the stage was far from challenging enough for the GC contenders.

A breakaway of 20+ riders featured stage 6 victor Jesús Herrada and Nicolas Edet of Cofidis, Jonas Koch of CCC Team, Jorge Arcas of Movistar, Luis Leon Sanchez of Astana, Sylvan Dillier of AG2R La Mondiale, Tobias Ludvigsson of Groupama-FDJ, Zdenek Stybar of Deceuninck-QuickStep, Nic Dlamini of Dimension Data, Ruben Guerreiro of Katusha-Alpecin, Lotto Soudal’s Carl Fredrik Hagen and Tosh Van Der Sande, David de la Cruz of Team Ineos, Sunweb’s Nikias Arndt and Martijn Tusveld, Sergio Henao of UAE Team Emirates, Peter Stetina of Trek-Segafredo, Jonathan Lastra and Alex Aranburu of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA and Fernando Barceló of Euskadi-Murias.

The calm before the storm for the peloton in stage 8, photo Sirotti

Over the course of the day the break’s lead hit a maximum of six minutes, hovering around that point with 39km to go as Astana and Jumbo-Visma led the peloton, but with no real intent to bring back the move.  The category 2 climb saw Herrada move towards the front of the group and begin to put pressure on, but it was an attack by Peter Stetina that kicked off the attacks.  The American quickly gained a lead of almost 30 seconds but struggled to gain more.  Barceló bridged across and so too did Herrada shortly after the summit of the climb.  Behind them a fractured pursuit gradually came across; as Astana continued to lead the peloton.

It was up and over the Monistirol de Monserrat where the heavens opened and made for a very tricky final 20km for the break.  Barceló was continuing to attack, this time in the company of Ruben Guerreiro and Nikias Arndt with the three leading the break by a narrow margin as the kilometres to go reached single digits.  Aranburu bridged across to make a lead quartet that with 5km to go had a gap that was no larger than about 6-7 seconds.

With 3.5km to go Martijn Tusveld’s hopes of a stage win were ended by a crash on a roundabout.  The Sunweb rider had attacked, but was now on the deck and the rest of the move were caught just as Groupama-FDJ’s Ludvigsson went on the offensive.  He was caught and passed by a counter attack by Zdenek Stybar, and the former cyclocross world champion looked the most at home of all the breakaway riders taking on conditions that even brought down a camera motorbike.

Through the tight right hander everyone was safe, but then de la Cruz attacked to get across to Stybar and brought everyone with him.  It would come down to a big sprint between the break and Guerreiro opened up the sprint but sprinting in the saddle Nikias Arndt surged forward and took the stage ahead of Alex Aranburu and Tosh van Der Sande.   Nicolas Edet crossed the line 11th on the stage, but with enough of a time gap to take over the overall lead by 2.21mins from fellow breakaway companion Dylan Teuns.

Nikias Arndt celebrates a well-executed sprint that secured stage 8, photo Sirotti

GC battle heats up in dynamic stage 9

The final stage before the first rest day of the Vuelta a Espana was set to be a barnstormer, with 94.4km of racing taking in five climbs including two first category climbs and an HC climb midway through the stage.  It was a stage that could have played out in a number of different ways in terms of a breakaway being able to go clear, but in the end a group of around 30 riders went away including New Zealander Patrick Bevin of CCC Team.

There was definitely firepower in the move alongside Bevin, who was expected to take centre stage in stage 10’s individual time trial.  Mikel Nieve of Mitchelton-SCOTT, Marc Soler of Movistar, Pierre Latour of AG2R La Mondiale, Jakob Fuglsang and Gorka Izagirre of Astana, Felix Großschartner of BORA-Hansgrohe, Sergio Higuita of EF Education First, Thomas De Gendt of Lotto Soudal, Ben O’Connor of Dimension Data, Wout Poels and David de la Cruz of Team ineos, Sepp Kuss and Robert Gesink of Jumbo-Visma, Wilco Kelderman of Team Sunweb and Jesús Herrada were just some of the highlights in the move.

The break reached the bottom of the Coll de la Gallina with a lead of just over 4 minutes with Movistar surging to the front of the race to head up the chase effort.  On the climb it was Team Ineos who went on the attack from the break in the form of Tao Geoghegan Hart who was joined by AG2R La Mondiale’s Geoffrey Bouchard.  Back down the road problems occurred for Esteban Chaves who had to have a bike change and wait a while for the team car after an incident.  The gap was coming down under the pace set by Movistar, but it wasn’t coming down hastily; eventually triggering Astana to take their place at the front.

Bevin was one of the early riders to be dropped on the climb from the break and he was caught with a little over 40km to go by Astana who had closed to within 3.30mins to the head of the race.  Meanwhile Chaves was struggling to regain contact with the main field; still over 50 seconds behind.

By the time the race reached the summit of the climb it was Bouchard who crested the summit solo with a slender lead over the rest of the break who were still largely together but for the loss of a small handful of riders.  On the descent the break’s advantage was allowed to grow again, with Bouchard still leading the way but the fireworks were ready to start in the main field with just under 20km to go.  Alejandro Valverde of Movistar went on the attack, but he was countered by Miguel Angel Lopez of Astana who found clear daylight behind him.

Patrick Bevin was in the break of the day but will be expected to fire earnestly in the time trial in stage 10, photo Sirotti

Jumbo-Visma, with George Bennett in the group, had to go on the defensive in response to the Colombian’s ferocious attack.  The team hit the front of the GC group but were quickly down to just two riders at the sharp end of the group with Bennett losing energy on the back.  All the while Bouchard was continuing to lead and notch up a handy tally of points in the king of the mountains classification.

In the group of contenders Roglič was left on the front, with Quintana and Valverde on the front, Majka and Pogacar still in the group; but cooperation amongst the riders really struggling to materialise as Lopez sat 20 seconds up the road and with the support of his teammate Gorka Izagirre.  Up ahead Bouchard was caught by Geogeghan Hart and O’Connor and the three had a 1.20min lead over Lopez with 13km to go and almost 2 minutes over the Quintana-Valverde-Roglič group.

Once again the heavens opened with a little over 10km to go as the lead of the stage changed hands again; this time seeing Marc Soler out front and enjoying a slight lead ahead of an attacking Nairo Quintana who went up the road with Pogacar.  Lopez, by stark contrast, had begun to hit a wall, dropping back to Valverde’s group that had also distanced Roglič who was now chasing solo.

With 3.4km to go Soler was 18 seconds ahead of Quintana and Soler was being called on to wait for the Colombian.  The news was not well received by Soler, who gestured quite aggressively but he did his job; but even Valverde was attacking behind them.  Soler was looking after his teammate but he was also being chased by another teammate.  As Quintana caught up with Soler, Pogacar went on the attack with 3km to go; and Quintana had no response.  Soler could only wonder what might have been if he’d been given freedom to pursue a stage.

Nairo Quintana now sits in the overall lead, photo Sirotti

Back down the road Roglič attacked and dropped Lopez, making his way over to Valverde who now had to decide whether to keep pursuing his teammates or not.  Soler dropped Quintana off with about 1.3km to go as up ahead Pogacar charged on towards a famous solo victory.  The 20 year old Slovenian moved into 5th place overall with a fantastic stage win.

23 seconds later Quintana crossed the line, with Roglič coming home third at 48 seconds with Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler fifth 9 seconds later.  Quintana’s second place was enough for him to take the red jersey by 6 seconds from Roglič and 17 seconds from a floundering Lopez who managed to limit his losses.

21st place for George Bennett at 4.17mins saw him move to 15th overall on the eve of the individual time trial.  The race against the clock on paper suits his Slovenian teammate who would expect to take the red jersey.

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