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Vuelta a Espana

Extreme weather, crashes costly to López, Roglic

Race altering storms leave some wondering if the hail-soaked stage should have been shortened, as two GC favorites hit the deck.

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ANDORRA (VN) — Nairo Quintana (Movistar) snatched the red jersey on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España on Sunday, but the outcome could have been dramatically different.

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and Miguel Ángel López (Astana) both went down in separate crashes on a wet, rain-soaked gravel sector midway up the day’s final climb that proved costly to both.

López crossed the finish line at Cortals d’Encamp with both arms scraped up from the fall, with one elbow bleeding. The Colombian star said he touched wheels with countryman Sergio Higuita (EF Education First).

“With about a mile left on the gravel sector, I came in very fast into a corner,” López said. “My bike slid out and I went to the ground. I’m a bit scraped up and I could continue on. It could have been a lot worse.”

Hail, rain, and wind from an afternoon thunderstorm turned the final 30 minutes of racing into hell for the leading riders Sunday, creating race-altering outcomes. Some were wondering if organizers should have shortened the stage.

López crashed under extreme conditions when he was on a forward attack and later ended up ceding time on a day when he looked to be pressing the advantage.

Roglic also hit the deck on a late-stage gravel sector and lost time instead of possibly riding into the race leader’s jersey. Jumbo-Visma officials confirmed Roglic went down due to what it called a “bad move from a motorbike.”

“Primoz crashed on the gravel due to a stationary motorbike. That is not okay and should not happen,” said Addy Engles, the team’s sport director. “All in all I think that, given the situation at one point, we have done some good business GC-wise. We are in a good position before Tuesday’s time trial. Although we will never know what would have been possible without that crash.”

Both incidents had significant outcomes. López was leading by about 30 seconds the GC favorites, paced by Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang, when he crashed. The Colombian later could not keep pace and finished 1:00 behind stage-winner Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates) and settled into third overall at 17 seconds behind Quintana.

López said organizers should have considered stopping the stage when a downpour of rain, wind, and hail walloped the peloton on the final climb.

“Maybe so. I still have my arms as if they’ve been shot,” he said. “It was very dangerous. At least [the storm] didn’t hit us on the descent. There was a lot of hail, and my bike was sliding, but I could get through it.”

Forecasted afternoon storms turned into hail and momentarily forced a relay-helicopter to land as clouds shrouded the final mountain climb. Without the helicopter flying overheard, producers were unable to transmit TV images from the motorcycles to a helicopter to a transmitter, leaving the race without TV images just as the leaders were hitting the gravel sector.

Once the TV images returned, both Roglic and López were trailing behind Quintana, Pogacar and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Roglic later chased back on to finish third, and moved into second at just six seconds behind Quintana.

Movistar ended up with the red jersey, but Roglic and López are still in the hunt going into Monday’s rest day ahead of Tuesday’s important time trial stage.

“The most important thing was to try to gap Roglic ahead of the time trial on Tuesday,” Quintana said. “We agreed to work together [Movistar] and each of us could go as best we could.

“These conditions put the body at the limit,” Quintana said of racing in the harsh conditions. “But we were right in the middle of the race and it’s something that doesn’t cause too much damage. What causes more problems is doing interviews like this, when I end up getting cold.”