Today marks the first rest day of the 2014 Vuelta a España bringing an end to nine days of racing that have seen it all. The peloton has had to cope with several extremes so far, including searing 40°C heat, buffeting crosswinds and yesterday’s torrential rain. At all times, Katusha and Movistar Team have been at the fore and now three Canyon riders feature inside the top six in the general classification.
After losing the leader’s Red Jersey on Stage 3, Alejandro Valverde won it back in fine style after the race’s first proper uphill finish during Stage 6. Valverde set a suffocating tempo up the long, steep and straight drag to Cumbres Verdes, yet had enough power left at the end to answer his rivals’ accelerations and take the win on the line to extend his lead in the overall classification.
Stage 7 may have looked straightforward on paper, yet when the wind picked up towards the finish Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team succeeded in splitting the race into echelons. Nairo Quintana was one of the main contenders to get caught out by the strong gusts before the field came back together before the finish. Fortunately for Quintana, no damage was done.
Coming just before the first rest day and with a finish line up at 1975 metres above sea-level, it was clear that Stage 9 to Valdelinares would produce fireworks in the GC. Rain cascaded down on the peloton as car and motorbike headlamps lit the way in stark contrast to the blazing sunshine from earlier in the week.
On the final climb, it was Contador who was the first to break away from the group of favourites. Nevertheless, Joaquim Rodríguez set off in pursuit and made contact with teammate Eduard Vorgonov from the day’s breakaway with Quintana in tow. Together, the trio raced through the final kilometre to catch Contador just before the line, with Valverde coming across 23 seconds later to relinquish the leader’s jersey to his Columbian teammate.
Heading into the second week, the 2014 Vuelta is still too close to call with less than 90 seconds separating the top ten. Quintana sits in first with a slender three second margin over Contador and teammate Valverde back in third place. Rodríguez leads the charge for Katusha in sixth place and just 30 seconds separating him from Quintana.
The standings won’t stay the same for long with another GC shakeup on the cards after tomorrow’s 36.7 km Individual Time Trial followed by one of the race’s toughest summit finishes the day after.
So far the Vuelta a España is turning out to be perhaps the most exciting Grand Tour of 2014, and Canyon is once again right in the mix for the title…