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Sunday’s ninth stage of the Vuelta a España finished on gravel roads, in a thunderstorm, atop a mountain in Andorra, with Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) taking stage honours. The other winner on the day was self-pity: riders battered by hailstones, crashing in the treacherous conditions and shivering from the sudden temperature fluctuation.
And with a long transfer across borders to France still to come, the stage finish was just the beginning of the day’s misery. Especially for Jumbo-Visma.
Transfers are a necessary evil of Grand Tour racing, but some are better than others. There are two contributing factors to really bad transfers – distance, and getting down off a mountain. The transfer from Cortals d’Encamp to Pau had both. Four days later, Google Maps reckons with a clean run it’s a four or five hour drive. It’s fair to assume that would have blown out by at least an hour or two with the added bottleneck of tens of thousands of fans all trying to get out of a dead-end ski resort at the same time, on misty, twisty mountain roads.
Jumbo-Visma thought they had a better solution. On paper, they did.
The plan: charter a helicopter, fly over the gridlock, land in Pau an hour or two later, and get stuck into a rest day early. Imagine the levels of childlike glee this must have given the exhausted, shivering riders – dodging a massive, tedious drive, with the added novelty of a chopper ride! What a great idea – albeit with a certain Team Sky-like money-splashing, marginal-gains kind of flex to it.
That great idea only works if the helicopter can actually land, though. Which, thanks to similar weather conditions to those the team had just left behind in a neighbouring country, it was unable to do.
Back to Andorra, where the team bus was unfortunately already on its way to Pau. At 9.30pm, George Bennett tweeted that they were still in Andorra, in the back of a Mercedes Vito van, descending the Pas de la Casa in the fog toward the French border, with a couple of hundred kilometres still to drive.
While Jumbo-Visma’s helicopter plan spectacularly backfired on them, at least they could take some solace in the fact that everybody else had a crap transfer to contend with as well. As Mitchelton-Scott’s Sam Bewley tweeted, with tongue firmly in cheek:
Nonetheless, Jumbo-Visma’s late arrival didn’t seem to slow the team’s leader Primoz Roglic down much. After a well-earned rest day, the Slovenian former ski-jumper (have you heard…?) blasted around the 36.2km time trial course to take a commanding 1:52 lead in the general classification.
Now it’s just a matter of defending that until Madrid – and, hopefully, avoiding any further misadventure on the 350km transfer after stage 16.