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Saying before the stage that his legs were good, Tom Dumoulin put in a dogged, driven performance on stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana.
The Dutch Giant Alpecin rider attacked numerous times on the final climb, getting clear several times but then being hauled back. A surge with 1.7 kilometres remaining was more successful and while Tour de France champion Chris Froome (Sky) brought Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) up to him, then attacked alone, Dumoulin had enough left in the tank to get back up to the Briton and then grind past.
His rewards were twofold; he took the stage and also the red jersey of the overall leader. The previous wearer, Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge) weakened towards the summit and slipped backwards, eventually finishing 59 seconds down in 15th place.
Froome crossed the line second, two seconds back, while Rodriguez was a further three seconds behind in third. Fabio Aru (Astana) beat Majka for fourth but conceded 16 seconds; Majka was two seconds further back while Movistar teammates Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde dropped 20 and 28 seconds respectively.
“I felt very good during the stage, unlike yesterday when I did not have the best day, so I wasn’t really expecting it,” said Dumoulin. “But the stage worked out surprisingly well. My tactic for the final climb was to attack on the flatter part and hang on on the steeper part. I could never have imagined that I could win a stage like this, but I’m in the form of my life.
“I’m really happy with the first week and my form, as I didn’t know exactly what to expect at this Vuelta. I’m proud to be back in the leader’s jersey now, and I will see day by day how it goes from here. We are not on the big climbs yet, but my climbing is improving and I’m climbing well.
Once the win bonus was factored in, Dumoulin ended the day 57 seconds up on Rodriguez and 59 ahead of Chaves. Roche, Aru and Valverde complete the top six, with Froome now eighth.
“I am gutted,” said the latter. “I thought I had it for a second there. Dumoulin is showing incredible form in this race. Hats off to him, he has an incredible future.
“I gave it everything. I did try to ride more conservatively at the bottom to try to save something for an effort at the top if I had the legs. I am more happy just to be up there at the end and not lose time today.”
How it played out:
The 168.3 kilometre ninth stage ran from Torrevieja to Cumbre del Sol and was almost completely flat until 45 kilometres to go. The peloton then faced the second category climb of the Alto de Poig Llorenca (km. 126.4) and then the final category one climb, which was 4.1 kilometres in length and featured several steep sections.
Early on 14 riders got clear and established an advantage of over five minutes. Those present were Pieter Serry and Maxime Bouet of Etixx-Quick Step, Sky’s Geraint Thomas, Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo), Danny Van Poppel (Trek Factory Racing), Alexis Gougeard (AG2R – La Mondiale), FDJ’s Nikolas Maes and Lorrenzo Manzin, Yohan Bagot ( Cofidis), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka), Tony Hurel (Europcar), Pavel Brutt (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Omar Fraile (Caja Rural).
Behind, Joaquim Rodriguez’s Katusha team rode hard to try to limit the gains and thus ensure its captain would have a chance to try for the stage win. They were later joined by the Movistar squad, but the break was still clear on the Alto de Poig Llorenca (km. 126.4), where Fraile took top points.
With 25 kilometres left the gap was a minute and a half and continued falling. Then, with just over six kilometres to go, Orica GreenEdge hit the front to try to set Esteban Chaves up for what would be a third stage win.
The leading riders in the break were just 35 seconds ahead at that point and this prompted Bouet to attack. He was joined by Thomas and Brutt, but they were caught inside the final four kilometres.
The final battle rages:
With all the riders back in the field, both the stage win and the overall lead were up for grabs. Valverde and Quintana were the early aggressors on the final climb, but each of their separate surges were brought back.
Valverde attacked again with just over three kilometres to go but Aru led the others back up to him. Froome was out the back, although he later said that he deliberately backed off in order to prevent himself going into the red.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) was next to try and pushed ahead on a false flat with 2.6 kilometres left. Roche brought him back but the Dutchman surged again with two to go. Chaves covered this move and Valverde briefly got into difficulty. However a stall followed and the Spaniard got back up.
Dumoulin was feeling persistent and attacked yet again with 1.7 kilometres left. There was a stall behind, allowing him to build a gap on the flatter roads before the upcoming steep section.
Froome’s tactic had worked and he put in a high cadence attack with 1.2 kilometres left. The others covered him, prompting Majka to mount his own move under the kilometre to go kite.
Froome attacked again and bridged to Majka and then Dumoulin, with Rodriguez the only one initially able to keep up with him. Chaves, meanwhile, had been dropped and was suffering.
Rodriguez then played his card but wasn’t able to break the elastic to Froome, who bridged and then surged clear with 300 metres to go. Dumoulin was having none of it, though, and went past Rodriguez and then overtook the Briton, grabbing the stage and the race lead.
As for Chaves, the final kilometres ended his time in the red jersey but, providing he can recover, he will try to take it back in the days ahead.
The race continues Monday with the tenth stage, a 146.6 kilometre race from Valencia to Castellon. The roads rise almost from the start and peak atop the third category Puerto del Oronet (km. 29), then after the descent over 20 undulating kilometres follow.
The day’s intermediate sprint occurs after a long section of flat road and, after that gallop at Benicasim (km. 121.3), the second category Alto del Desierto de las Palmas (km. 129.5) rears up. This is likely to break up the field, although the 17.1 downhill and flat kilometres that follow may enable some regrouping to take place.
Vuelta a España (2.UWT) Torrevieja → Cumbre del Sol. Benitachell