Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) took the leader’s red jersey with an astounding victory over Chris Froome (Sky) in stage 9 of the Vuelta a España on Sunday.
Dumoulin was off the front in the final kilometer, having shed himself of race leader Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) after a flurry of attacks. But Froome was closing in on him with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in tow.
Froome swept round him and headed for the line … only to see the Giant rider rebound, shoot past and take the stage and overall lead. The Tour de France champion finished two seconds later with Rodriguez third at five seconds.
“Unbelievable,” said Dumoulin. “I could have never imagined this today. Yesterday, I had a really bad day. They told me, just to keep going, and see how it goes, and today it ended pretty well.”
“I’m gutted. I thought I had it for a second there,” said Froome. “But Dumoulin has shown incredible form in this race, hats off to him. I gave it everything.”
Dumoulin now leads Rodriguez on the overall by 57 seconds with Chaves slipping to third at 59 seconds.
“Dumoulin deserves it today,” said Chaves. “He was the strongest today, so that’s just the way it is. Today I wasn’t at my best, but that’s cycling. We’re not machines. I am very tired, but it’s a bit sad to lose the leadership. I would have liked to have kept it one more day.”
Top 10, Stage 9
- 1. Tom DUMOULIN, TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN, in 4:09:55
- 2. Christopher FROOME, TEAM SKY, at :02
- 3. Joaquin RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, TEAM KATUSHA, at :05
- 4. Fabio ARU, ASTANA PRO TEAM, at :16
- 5. Rafal MAJKA, TINKOFF-SAXO, at :18
- 6. Nairo Alexander QUINTANA ROJAS, MOVISTAR TEAM, at :20
- 7. Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE, MOVISTAR TEAM, at :20
- 8. Nicolas ROCHE, TEAM SKY, at :31
- 9. Domenico POZZOVIVO, AG2R LA MONDIALE, at :33
- 10. Louis MEINTJES, MTN-QHUBEKA, at :34
Top 10, GC
- 1. Tom DUMOULIN, TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN, in 35:22:13
- 2. Joaquin RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, TEAM KATUSHA, at :57
- 3. Johan Esteban CHAVES RUBIO, ORICA-AIS, at :59
- 4. Nicolas ROCHE, TEAM SKY, at 1:07
- 5. Alejandro VALVERDE BELMONTE, MOVISTAR TEAM, at 1:09
- 6. Fabio ARU, ASTANA PRO TEAM, at 1:13
- 7. Nairo Alexander QUINTANA ROJAS, MOVISTAR TEAM, at 1:17
- 8. Christopher FROOME, TEAM SKY, at 1:18
- 9. Rafal MAJKA, TINKOFF-SAXO, at 1:47
- 10. Domenico POZZOVIVO, AG2R LA MONDIALE, at 1:52
The 168km stage from Torrevieja to Cumbre del Sol featured a 14-man break: Maxime Bouet, Nikolas Maes and Pieter Serry (Etixx-Quick-Step); Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r La Mondiale); Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ); Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida); Yohan Bagot (Cofidis); Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo); Omar Fraile (Caja Rural); Tony Hurel (Europcar); Geraint Thomas (Team Sky); Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing); Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo); and Jim Songezo (MTN-Qhubeka).
The escapees still had some four minutes with 50km remaining.
The main obstacle of the day, summiting 42km from the finish, was the Alto de Puig Lloren. The first trip up was ranked as a category 2 climb, rising 3.3km with an average grade of 8.9 percent. After a descent to a finishing loop, riders tackled the climb for a second time — this time making a 4.1km, category-1 assault that averaged 8.9 percent and hit steeps of 19 percent on the way to the finish.
There were more crashes along the way. Among those caught up were race leader Chaves, Dumoulin and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). All remounted and rejoined the bunch, though Thomas Degand (IAM Cycling) later abandoned.
On the first trip up the Alto de Puig Lloren the break’s advantage evaporated to less than two minutes, and the break did likewise. Mountains leader Fraile took top honors at the summit, and a new lead group of nine formed up on the descent: Bouet, Serry, Thomas, Cattaneo, Fraile, Songezo, Brutt, Bagot and Tjallingii.
With 17km to race the gap was down to a minute with Katusha pushing the pace in the peloton. Tjallingii took the points in the intermediate sprint at Bahia de Javea (km 154), but the bunch was closing in, just some 45 seconds behind. He and Songezo then decided to call it a day.
Brut and Bouet got away from the others with 11km to go. Thomas bridged and it was a trio out front with 8.5km remaining.
With 6km to race and the final climb just ahead Katusha abruptly pulled the plug on the pursuit and Orica-GreenEdge took over for Chaves.
The three had just a handful of seconds over their old mates and little more over the peloton as they eached the foot of the day’s final obstacle.
Both groups were swept up — and Valverde launched. The other favorites quickly marked him. Then Dumoulin had his first go with less than 3km remaining. Chaves was isolated and suffering, but grimly hanging on.
Dumoulin attacked again and again, trying to rid himself of the race leader and the other contenders. And he finally did it, with just over a kilometer to go. And the steepest one, too.
Behind, Froome found his legs and started a chase with the other favorites. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) was next to go, but too late — as Chaves folded, Froome accelerated, taking Rodriguez with him and overhauling Dumoulin short of the line.
It looked like Froome’s stage to win. But Dumoulin found another gear at the end, came around the Tour de France champion, and took the stage and leader’s jersey. Froome hung on for second with Rodriguez third.
“I knew the form was the best I ever had,” said Dumoulin. “They were all looking at each other. I attacked on the flatter part. I just continued, I had some really good legs. I was really not believing it.
“I still hope to get some good results in the time trials. I am improving against the clock. I didn’t even dream about winning this Vuelta, because I don’t think it’s possible. These are just small mountains so far, because the big mountains are still ahead of us. I will just take it day to day.”
Froome was still hopeful, if not for himself, then for teammate Roche.
“No, not at all disappointed,” he said. “I am here to race, but I knew my condition wouldn’t be the best after the Tour.
“To be honest, I am happy with how I rode today. I came here off the back of the Tour, and my condition isn’t what it was at the Tour, and I will just give the best I can each day. Hopefully with the rest of the team protecting us, Nicolas Roche and I can stay up.
“It will be really difficult to win the Vuelta. I feel very good here in this race, with the people, the country, the race.”