Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida) soloed to victory in a contentious, rain-soaked stage 9 of the Vuelta a España on Sunday as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) replaced teammate Alejandro Valverde in the overall lead and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) slipped into second.
Anacona, Bob Jungels (Trek Factory Racing) and Javier Moreno (Movistar) had broken free of a much larger escape in the final 20km of the 185km leg from Carboneras de Guadazaón to the mountaintop finish at Aramón Valdelinares.
Jungels was first to fade, and then a quick kick from Anacona dispatched Moreno, and he set off alone after the stage win and the leader’s red jersey.
But when Contador lit it up out of the much-reduced GC group, followed by Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), all bets were off. And while Anacona hung on for the stage win, it was Quintana who rescued the leader’s jersey for Movistar.
“I’ve had some great wins, but this one is special. I’ve never won a grand-tour stage before, and I had some tears in my eyes when I was crossing the line,” said Anacona.
Valverde praised Quintana for keeping the jersey in Movistar’s grip.
“The most important is that the leader’s jersey remains on the team,” he said. “Nairo had good legs, and he was able to go. I was on the wheel of Froome, but I couldn’t follow either, in the end, I sprinted to see if I could get a few seconds. The weather wasn’t great for me, so all things considered, I am content.
“We were never hiding anything, Nairo has always been the leader, and I am there. We are there, first and third, and the hardest part of the Vuelta is still to come.”
The stage packed a lot of climbing into the tail end of the stage: the category-3 Puerto de Cabigordo, 61km from the finish; the Cat. 2 Alto de San Rafael, 13km out; and the finishing ascent of the Cat. 1 Aramón Valdelinares, an 8km climb that averaged 6.6 percent with stretches of 8.5 percent.
A huge break went early, containing 31 riders, among them Anacona, who was siting 21st overall, just 2:50 down on red jersey Valverde, and quickly became the race leader on the road.
With 20km remaining and the rain falling once again, the break came apart, leaving Anacona, Jungels and Moreno off the front. The trio quickly built a half-minute on a chase of a dozen or so, while Sky was on point in the bunch with 15km remaining and the gap just under six minutes.
Ten kilometers out the rain began bucketing down, but the leaders held a five-minute edge over the GC group, which had Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) on the front, trying to give Rigoberto Uran a head start on the final climb.
Ahead, Anacona and Moreno shed Jungels and soldiered on. And then the Lampre rider dropped Moreno, chasing the stage win and leader’s jersey. Behind, the peloton had closed to within four minutes and counting.
Five kilometers from the line Anacona was toughing it out in the rain as Sky drove the shrinking GC group ever closer. On the final steep ramp, 2.5km from the finish, he held 3:40 over the chase.
Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) tried a move, but Katusha quickly shut it down. Then Contador shot away, quickly prying open a huge gap over the other contenders. Quintana then followed with Rodriguez.
They would not catch Anacona, who hung on to take the win — but his overlong celebration may have cost him in the end as the GC contenders fought their way forward.
Rodriguez and Quintana closed in on Contador in their final dash to the line, slicing through the remnants of the break and the crowds lining the final ascent.
Contador rode to 12th on the stage, nearly caught at the line by Quintana and Rodriguez. Valverde finished 16th, taking a second or two on Chris Froome (Sky).
And when the overall was calculated, the Vuelta had a new leader. Quintana donned the red jersey with three seconds over Contador, while Valverde slipped to third at eight seconds. Anacona now sits fourth overall, a second behind Valverde.
“I also knew I had a chance to gain the leader’s jersey, but I regained some time, and that’s most important for me,” said Anacona. “Maybe I can stay in the top 10, but I would prefer to win stages that focus on everything on the GC.”
The new race leader, meanwhile, said he hopes the team has the jersey when it counts — at the finish.
“We’ll try to keep the jersey, but if we don’t have until the last day in Santiago, that doesn’t matter, either,” said Quintana. “I am not a [time trial] specialist. I was suffering a bit in the heat of the first days. If it’s me or Alejandro who wins, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the team wins. The objective is to try to reach the podium, to have a podium in all three grand tours, and next year, return to the Tour.”