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Two of the Vuelta a España’s two big pre-race favourites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, have both suggested that today’s big summit finish of Aramón Valdelinares may have a limited effect in determining the final overall winner of the race.
While the final climb is a first category ascent and is 1445 metres above sea level – and thus more significant than anything which has come before during the race – both riders have downplayed the likely effects of the climb.
Froome is fourth overall, just 20 seconds behind the race leader Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). He is five away from the rider in second, Valverde’s team-mate Nairo Quintana, and just two adrift of Contador (Tinkoff Saxo)
Speaking at today’s start, Froome said that he would be willing to wait to take the race lead. “I’m not thinking of taking the red jersey either today or after the time trial. I’d like to have it at the end of the Vuelta, though.
“Today I just hope to follow the others uphill. I don’t know anything about the climb. I haven’t done reconnaissance of the route of the Vuelta. It’ll be interesting to see if it’ll be a selective race today or quite controlled. The race is gonna tell.”
As for Contador, he too waters down expectations of large time gaps. “I don’t think Valdelinares will make big differences,” he said. “I’ll pay attention to all the moves. I’m more worried about the time trial on Tuesday.”
It is likely that both are however more intent on gaining time that they let on. If either or both feel strong, they are unlikely to hold back. Each know that the rider in red in the time trial will have the advantage of time checks and so there is a clear benefit to holding the race lead after stage nine.
Meanwhile two other big names, Cadel Evans and Fabio Aru, both gave their thoughts at the start of the stage. Evans has had a mixed race thus far and is sitting 38th overall, eight minutes and 38 seconds back. His BMC Racing team-mate Samuel Sanchez is a solid twelfth, one minute and 11 seconds off the race lead.
Evans makes clear that he will ride for the latter. “I’m here for Sanchez,” he insisted. “My job is to deliver him fresh at the bottom of the last climb and give him confidence for the remaining part of the Vuelta. History has showed that he comes good in the third week of the Grand Tours. Hopefully it’s going to be the same again.
“As for my personal ambitions, I’ll see if an opportunity comes for me to win a stage later in the race.”
Aru won stage 15 in the Giro d’Italia and finished third overall in the race. He had a break afterwards, then started the Vuelta for the first time in his career. He’s impressed by what he has seen thus far.
“I’m amazed to be racing here with so many champions. Except from Vincenzo Nibali, it seems like almost everyone is here at the Vuelta,” he said.
“It’s a good experience for me. It’s the first time I’ve been racing two Grand Tours the same year. I’ve done well so far at the Vuelta but I prefer to continue my progression slowly. Today it’s a stage with about 3000 metres of difference in altitude. I don’t know what I’m able to do…”