Today’s stage 9 to La Covatilla’s summit was supposed to be on the upper Scoville scale for heat and spiciness but high temperatures and long transfers initially seemed to have sucked the life out of the peloton. Thankfully it sparked into life en route to the final climb with a race for the line and another for GC. Ben King (Dimension Data) took his second Vuelta stage, on yet another summit, from another long-range attack, dropping his breakmates 20km from the line and, despite being in the pain cave, magnificently hanging on to solo across the line ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Dylan Teuns (BMC). As anticipated, the GC was shaken and stirred with Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) seizing the lead by a single solitary second from the evergreen Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) with his teammate Nairo Quintana 14 seconds back in third.
Rider(s) of the Race
There’s candidates aplenty for today’s honours and you’ll understand why when I quickly summarise today’s stage. The early 11-man break quickly built an impressive lead with Ben King becoming, at one point, the virtual leader on the road. King, who’d already won atop Puerto de Alfacar on stage 4, bided his time. He attacked 20km out on the steeped cobbled climb of Candelario, which looked so much like the Strade Bianche run into Siena, and maintained his advantage all the way to the summit of La Covatilla despite a determined head-bobbing chase from Bauke Mollema who finished second again, just as he did here in 2011. But the chase was valiant and Mollema managed to get within 15 seconds of King before running out of gas.
As the road flattened and stretched out, King got a second wind in the final kilometres, looking totally shocked (and exhausted) as he raised his arms in victory for the second time this week:
To get one stage win was a dream come true. I made winning a Grand Tour stage a major career goal, so today was really nice to show that first one wasn’t a random thing.
I’ve never suffered that much in my entire life, I’m still a little foggy in my mind, but I’m sure it will sink in soon what an accomplishment this is.
Unsurprisingly, King is again my Rider of the Race, with a special mention for Mollema.
The GC battle behind
Back in the bunch, Sky and Movistar had upped the pace on the final climb and, as anticipated, race leader Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) was dropped (he’s now 17th) along with other contenders, such as former race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), who was powerless in the face of late attacks by some of the other contenders.
A quintet of Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) attacked in the dying kilometres and put time into new race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). Yates started the day in fourth place, missed the decisive move but, by dint of his nine second finish behind the Superman group, and 15 seconds ahead of Movistarlet Alejandro Valverde, took the lead by a single second.
Simon Yates is my final Rider of the Race and will need to be on his game if he’s to maintain his slender lead. Aftr all, there are 14 riders within two minutes of the top spot!
Thank heavens for rest days
Loic Chetout (Cofidis) and Mikael Cherel (Ag2r La Mondiale) went down early in the stage, leaving most of their kit on the ground, yet were able to ride all day with the hot sun blazing down on them. Lucky tomorrow is a rest day – these two are going to need all the rest they can get after today. Heal up quickly, guys!
1 Ben King (Dimension Data) 5:30:38
2 Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) +0:48
3 Dylan Teuns (BMC) +2:38
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +2:40
5 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) same time
1 Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 36:54:52
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:01
3 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:14
4 Emanuel Buchmann (BORA-hansgrohe) +0:16
5 Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) +0:17
6 Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:24
6 Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky) +1:06
7 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +0:27
8 Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) +0:32
9 Steven Kruiswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:43
10 George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:48
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
Points jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Climber’s jersey: Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis)
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Team classification: LottoNL-Jumbo
Header: © Vuelta/GomezSport