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The Vuelta a España’s 9th stage didn’t disappoint.
The soaring climb up Alto de Velefique is Spain’s answer to l’Alpe d’Huez, and on Sunday the climb’s switchbacks saw a major battle between the GC stars. After Ineos Grenadiers flexed its muscles in an attempt to squash Jumbo-Visma, Jumbo’s leader Primož Roglič attacked alongside Enric Mas (Movistar), and the move dropped Ineos’ star Egan Bernal. The GC picture was upended, yet again, however the strongest riders at this year’s race definitely showed themselves.
There were attacks. There were regroupings. And there was heartbreak. Here’s what the stars had to say after the stage 9 battle up Velefique.
Enric Mas (Movistar), 3rd at 1:06
Mas vaulted onto the shortest list for the battle for red during Sunday’s stage 9 battle, and he was the only rider capable of accelerating with Roglič on the slopes of Velerique. Mas marked the Slovenian for the entire climb, only losing his wheel in the final push to the summit. He vaulted to 2nd place on GC, just 28 seconds behind Roglič.
Mas was ecstatic with his ride.
“I don’t feel like I had Roglič on my knees. We were full-gas, both of us, and even if my turns were stronger, I think it was down to the fact that I needed to put a gap on my rivals,” Mas said. “He’s the race leader, he doesn’t have to pull with me, yet he still cooperated, and it was good for both of us. I’m happy to have been, at least, on par with Roglič over that climb.”
Mas is now Movistar’s likely leader for the GC push, with teammate Miguel Ángel Lopez in third. The 1-2 punch puts Movistar in a good position to attack, he said.
“We must fight to try and take that red jersey at some point – it’s just what we must do in such an important race for the team, racing at home,” Mas said. “We didn’t knock Roglič out today, but we will try for the remainder of the race. Did I expect to see these gaps? I don’t know to what extent. It was the first long, big climb after so many previous efforts in the same day, and in that scenario, we needed to take advantage against as many rivals as possible. Now it’s all about the rest day – we’ll try to take advantage from it!”
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), 9th at 2:10
Bernal couldn’t match the pace when Bernal and Mas attacked up the road, and while he leapfrogged from 6th place into 5th place overall on GC, Bernal did not have a good day. He lost more than a minute to Roglič, slipping to 1:52 down on GC. Adding insult to injury was Bernal’s bad legs came after Ineos Grenadiers rode aggressively the entire day to put Roglič and Jumbo-Visma under pressure on the Velefique climb. It didn’t work.
There wasn’t much to say afterward.
“We decided to give it our all,” Bernal said. “The idea was to put in a hard tempo during the stage and then try it on the last climb.”
Felix Grosschartner (Bora-Hansgrohe), 20th at 4:16
Austrian rider Felix Grosschartner was the big loser of Sunday’s battle. He came into the stage as the 2nd rider on GC, and he tumbled seven spots to 9th overall. Grosschartner looked shaky when the attacks began to fly on the bottom section of the climb, and while he muscled his way through the field, he was never able to regain the front group after Adam Yates put in his big attacks.
“The whole day I felt pretty good. It was brutal going into the last climb and for the first 3km I was always right up there, but then I think I must have over extended myself a bit and really suffered from the heat afterwards,” he said. “Nevertheless, I gave it my best. I am happy that I am still in the top 10. Now I will aim to recover as well as possible on tomorrow’s rest day. It’s still a long way to the last stage and a lot can happen in that time. The positive thing is that now there are opportunities again with groups to fight for a stage win. The goal here at the Vuelta is top 10 overall and a stage victory, and from that point of view I think the situation is not so bad.”
Jack Haig, 4th place at 1:44
You gotta hand it to Jack Haig — just a few months ago he was lying on the tarmac in France with a broken collarbone after crashing during the race’s opening week. On Sunday Haig hung with the big guns to finish 4th overall, and to vault into 4th place on GC. It’s a huge result for the Australian, who looked like his 2021 was over. After the race Haig posted his thoughts on his Instagram page.
“I had a really good ride and a lot of support from the team, which allowed me to move up to 4th on GC and 4th on the stage. In the peloton we had super hard racing from the start today, the breakaway took a very long time to go. Once it did there wasn’t much rest before Ineos and Jumbo started pacing,” he said. “I’m super happy to be heading into the rest day with a good performance like today. I worked super hard to arrive at the start of La Vuelta with my best possible condition after [the Tour de France], I really wasn’t sure how I’d perform. But I knew if I tried my best I could come away with something nice. So let’s see how the next 2 weeks go and let’s make something good from a bad situation/crash.”