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The unseen crashes that defined a wild Stage 9 at the Vuelta a España

Joseph Delves
2 Sep 2019

Roglic and Lopez both came off, while Chaves suffered a mechanical requiring multiple bike changes. Photo: Astana

Riders at the Vuelta a España are enjoying the first rest day following a short but brutal Stage 9. Sticking to the increasingly popular model of cramming in multiple climbs into a minimum of distance, the 94km route proved challenging enough to jumble up the General Classification.

First of the big names to suffer was Mitchelton-Scott's Esteban Chaves. He was beset by mechanical problems on the Coll de la Gallina, the second of the day’s three climbs. Forced to swap bikes with teammate Damien Howson, at 24cm taller than Chaves, his bike proved a poor fit.

Choosing to again swap, this time with the slightly shorter Tsgabu Grmay, the result was a loss of over four minutes come the finish line.

He wasn’t the only GC man to suffer though. As hail battered the riders, the going proved too wild for TV, with coverage cutting out for several kilometres during the gravel section midway up the final climb. It was to be a decisive, if unseen, section of the stage.

Having looked strong, and with teammates up the road, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) attacked and gained 30 seconds over his immediate rivals, only to crash on the loose surface.

However, soon things were going almost as badly for another favourite. Following behind, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) hit a stationary motorbike that had stalled coming around a corner. Having also been in a strong position, by the time coverage resumed like Lopez he was also having to chase back up to the leaders.

With Movistar’s riders making the most of the chaos, Roglic was eventually able to bridge over to Alejandro Valverde. However, with Nairo Quintana now further up the road, he lost 25 seconds to the Colombian, who overhauled him to take the race lead by six seconds.

Now further back, Lopez was faring even worse. Having earlier been virtual leader on the road, instead of consolidating his position he was forced to instead use energy to chase back on. This effort saw him going backwards in the later stages, meaning he finished a bloodied 9th, a minute behind stage-winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates), and leaving him to finish the day third overall on a stage where he had looked set to take the lead.

Afterwards, Lopez suggested that the organisers should have considered curtailing the rain-affected stage.

'I was pushing as hard as I could, and everything was OK until the moment I crashed,' he explained. 'It was very hard to handle the bike under that heavy rain on a gravel sector. Fortunately, I did not get any serious injury, but I lost time.

'I continued working hard, trying to stay in that group, but gravel and mud had damaged my bike, and there was nowhere to change it. All I could do was just to try to stay with them as long as possible.

'At the end of the day I lost some seconds. Anyway, I’m still happy with my form.'

With today to lick their wounds, Tuesday's stage is a 36.2km time-trial. The only day competing individually against the clock at this year’s Vuelta a España, Roglic is expected to be the strongest of the current leaders.

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