Slippery conditions shaking up 2014 Vuelta

Alejandro Valverde (right) of Spain wins 6th Spanish Vuelta stage, takes overall lead. (Laurent Cipriani/AP)

If there’s a recipe for shaking up the Vuelta a España, it’s “just add water.”

The rain and thunderstorms of Sunday’s Stage 9 broke the oppressive heat that characterized the first week of the Vuelta. Making roads slippery and dropping temperatures, the rain further complicated a stage already mixed up thanks to a 31-man breakaway that built up more than an eight-minute advantage.

The teams left in the main group were mostly uncooperative, letting Movistar lead the chase for most of the day. The tactics were understandable given Movistar riders started the day first and second overall. Team Sky and Chris Froome suffered most from the day’s unusual breakaway and pursuit.

The riders spent Monday enjoying the first of two rest days on the Vuelta schedule, so we look back on the lessons from the only rainy day of the 2014 Vuelta so far.

Stock Up: Winner Anacona (Lampre-Merida)

Winner Anacona of the Lampre squad was the biggest victor coming out of the 31-man break that escaped early from the peloton. The Colombian was part of a three-man selection that escaped from the bigger lead group. Over the final climb to the finish, Anacona was the only rider to hold a fast pace, riding solo through the final kilometres to a stage victory.

The attack served to elevate Anacona from 21st overall to fourth in the General Classification, only nine seconds back from the leader.

Stock Up: Nairo Quintana (Team Movistar)

Colombian Nairo Quintana won the first grand tour of the 2014 season in fine style. A slow start at the Giro d’Italia was chalked up to illness, but Quintana proved in the mountains exactly where his strength is best used. On the Vuelta’s Stage 9, Quintana did the same, chasing a lone break by GC rival Alberto Contador, along with Joaquim Rodriguez. 

Though Contador’s attack looked untouchable at first, Quintana and Rodriguez pulled the Tinkoff Saxo rider back. The Colombian rider took the red jersey from his Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde.

Stock Down: Chris Froome (Team Sky)

Chris Froome entered the Vuelta as one of the favourites in the GC. As the peloton approached the penultimate climb on Sunday’s Stage 9, Team Sky took over the lead of the main group. But the effort continued longer than seemed prudent, and over the final kilometres of the stage, it was clear there were no matches left to burn. While Contador and other GC riders sprinted away, it seemed Froome had no answer.

However, the British rider may have been thinking ahead to the time trial on Tuesday. Still only 28 seconds back from Quintana, the Brit should have little trouble catching the Colombian in the race against the clock.

Stock Down: Alejandro Valverde (Team Movistar)

Valverde dropped from the red jersey on Sunday to rank third in the GC eight seconds back from the leader. It’s not a big time gap for the experienced rider. The loss of the jersey to his teammate may prove more troubling for the Spaniard.

Coming into the Vuelta, Movistar seemed content to call Quintana and Valverde both team leaders. The decision is part of a generation changing of the guard inevitable in sport as new young talent rises through the ranks. The veteran Valverde isn’t yet ready to be pushed out of the leader’s spot, and every day he retained the red jersey was proof to team management that he has the ability to be the best. He’ll have to attack on the time trial to show he deserves the team leadership.

Up Next: Tuesday’s individual time trial will be a do or die for Froome. The 36.7 km effort leads alongside the Moncayo nature reserve before heading up and over a category three climb. The route is all downhill from the summit, finishing on the main road into Megallón, the final 15 kilometres will reward those who can meld power and bravery in a downhill thrash to the finish. The forecast calls for temperatures into the 30s, with clear skies over the Spanish countryside.

Froome could pull out a minute or more over some of his GC rivals, and the pressure to do so is rooted in his hopes to don the red jersey. By contrast, Quintana will aim to minimize inevitable time losses, anticipating the next mountain stages where his skills are strongest.

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