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.
Another so-called Vuelta sprint stage – this time with over 2,500m of vertical gain from the Moorish grandeur of Granada down to the coast. Victory came from a three-up sprint for the line between riders who’d initially been part of the day’s large break. Simon Clarke (EF-Drapac) prevailed ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC) to take his team’s first WorldTour win of the season. The trio’s cat-and-mousing in the final kilometres meant they were almost caught by the threesome in red-hot pursuit, which contained Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) who crucially finished 4:47 ahead of race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Sky), sufficient to take the race lead and red jersey by 1:01. It’s the first time in 13 years that an FDJ rider has worn a race leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour. Break out the champagne!
Headwinds and high temperatures appear to have sucked the life out of the first three stages of the Vuelta. Would it spark into spiciness on today’s summit finish in Alfaguara? Yes, but only on the slopes of the final climb where there were two races for the line. Ben King won the stage from a long-range attack ahead of two of his eight former breakaway companions, Nikita Stalnov (Astana) and Pierre Rolland (EF All the Words), sprinting away in the final 150 metres from the former to record his maiden WoldTour victory. Behind, the GC was stirred rather than shaken with Michal Kwiatkowski just managing to hang onto the leader’s jersey.