After days of double-figure breakaways, only four resolute souls could be found to defy the peloton in today's 198.4-kilometer stage from Coín to Tomares in 37-degree Celsius heat.
Trek-Segafredo's Koen de Kort saw the brief breakaway formation process in a stage that was always going to suit runaway Green Jersey leader Matteo Trentin (Quick-Step Floors).
“I think it's been very hard pretty much the entire Vuelta, with very long, fast starts before the breakaway has been able to leave," said de Kort. "I guess [Trentin's team] Quick-Step [Floors] made their intentions clear pretty early on by showing themselves at the front. Everyone knew it was going to be pretty tough for the breakaway to make it to the finish line, and then I guess a lot of guys just wanted a bit of an easier day.”
Five riders darted away from the main group inside the first eight kilometers of the stage. Mountain jersey wearer Villella took the points at the only categorized climb of the day, then waited for the bunch. The remaining four stuck to the task and built a lead that never touched five minutes.
De Kort continued, “From that point it was just to ensure that Alberto saved as much energy as possible, which means I spend my day in the wind, riding half a meter out the side and making sure that he is always in a good position and always out of the wind so he can recover as much as possible for the hard days that are coming.
“It's definitely still teamwork in these sorts of stages too, with everyone going back to the car for water, ice, sports drink, gels, all that sort of stuff, and rotating in the wind a little bit as well.”
The last of breakaway riders was Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), who resisted until seven kilometers to go. As the peloton approached the crux of the stage at four kilometers to go, Alberto Contador was perfectly positioned towards the front.
He explained after the stage:
“We rode at a really high pace dictated by riders paid to move a lot of watts, but the team was fantastic and protected me all the way. By radio, our directors explained the finish. We knew we had to keep close together. Even (Edward) Theuns, our sprinter, worked for me because there was the danger of losing time, but in the end, the day passed without problems.”
De Kort's account was more colorful:
“Yeah, it was pretty crazy. We knew the final few kilometers were going to be very tricky, and obviously, everybody had the same information. Wherever you were with 4km to go, you were going to be pinned in place. We made sure we were in a really good position. Everyone did their fair share of work to keep Alberto near the front. A special mention for Edward, who did really well.
“Alberto ended up sprinting himself, and I guess we should call that a good day, all in all.”
Contador rode the stage firmly focused on the two stages to come, both of them culminating in grueling mountain finishes. Tomorrow's is at 1,830 meters above sea level on the Sierra de la Pandera, and Sunday's is at 2,510 meters atop an exceptionally long climb extending 19.3 kilometers up the Alto Hoya de la Mora.
In Contador's analysis, "Tomorrow's is not a short stage [at 175km], and we have to see how I recover from my efforts so far, which I can still feel in the legs. Of the two stages that come, one is more explosive – to La Pandera – and the other is a stage in which, if you have a bad day, you can lose all hope, not only of the podium but of a top ten finish. There are always a few brave souls with the audacity to attack, but hey, we will go day by day.”