We find ourselves looking upon the general classification contenders once more, as Stage 9 runs the 185km from Carboneras de Guadazaón to Aramón Valdelinares. The early part of the day is simple enough affair for the peloton as a breakaway of the usual suspects is likely to get away – think CajaRural, MTN-Qhubeka and IAM Cycling. But after 124km the peloton will need to start calculating how they shall best tackle the Category 3 Puerto de Cabigordo and Category 2 Alto de San Rafael in order for the big GC hopefuls to play out the stage win atop the Category 1 Aramón Valdelinares.
Stretching over 8km is the climb to Aramón Valdelinares, fluctuating between a low of 4.5% and a peak of 8.5%, it eventually levels out to a comfortable 2.5% in the last few hundred meters. It will naturally bring the major GC players to the fore as they look to concede as little time as possible to one another, especially with a 34.5km Time Trial on Tuesday. The relatively constant gradient will suit most of those with the red jersey in their eyes, but the sudden ramp from 4.5% to 8.5% will be the perfect time for one to launch a, possibly jersey snatching, attack for the line.
Similar to the previous visit to the mountains at this year’s Vuelta; messrs Valverde, Quintana, Froome and Contador will be at the front of affairs once again. Around them it is likely that Mikel Nieve, Joaquim Rodriguez and Esteban Chaves will be trying to bridge the gap once too. The main surprise from Valverde’s win in Stage 6 was Rigboberto Uran’s shipping of more than a minute to the victorious Spaniard, so it is unclear how he may cope on a similar finish. His Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana kept his usual facade of comfort during the conclusion, making it difficult to gauge how hard he found it exactly, but he looked cool regardless. Chris Froome and Alberto Contador seemed to be having a contrasting time at the moment, Contador’s horror injury has healed incredibly well and left him looking close to peak form once again. Froome however has been off the bike again already, and despite finishing only 8 seconds back on Stage 6, seems to be less convincing than Contador already. Froome’s interesting habit of snatching 2 or 3 seconds at a time could be read in a couple of ways; is it showing an eagerness to win the race by making every opportunity count? Or is he having doubts about his mountain form, so is looking to create a cushion ahead of this? With today not being hugely important in the overall outcome of this year’s Vuelta, there is a chance that the favourites will be happy to let somebody like Dan Martin get away from them on the final approach to take the win, though a day long breakaway also has a reasonable shot today.
It seems likely that the jersey will trade hands tomorrow and it might just be passed to Alejandro Valverde’s teammate, Quintana, who ends up wearing it come the end of the day. His team look solid at protecting him, and with more mountains along the way than Stage 6 and the need to recoup some time, they would be wise to back the diminutive Colombia the entire day rather than Valverde – though the finish looks ideal for a second win. Alberto Contador is expected to make his presence felt once again tomorrow as the terrain does play into his hands somewhat, and as Chris Froome commented the other day, Contador is back to his usual self already. Floating amongst the rest, we might see Adam Yates from Orica-GreenEDGE or even Chaves try his best to earn a high placing as he is believed to be focused upon the general classification at the Vuelta.
1st Quintana 2nd Contador 3rd Chavez