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Just as it seemed that Froome would make a big comeback by winning stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana, Dumoulin made a late surge to pass the Brit; the Dutchman took both the stage win and the overall lead

Photo: Sirotti

CHRIS FROOME

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JOAQUIM RODRIGUEZ OLIVER

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TEAM SUNWEB

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TOM DUMOULIN

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VUELTA A ESPAÑA

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30.08.2015 @ 18:32 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) defied gravity when he won stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana that finished at the top of a brutal wall with 26% gradients in the final kilometre. After the Dutchman had launched several attacks, it looked like Chris Froome (Sky) would take the win when the Brit passed him and dropped Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) but Dumoulin made a final sprint to pass the Brit just metres from the line. Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) could only manage 15th and so Dumoulin takes the overall lead.

 

Going into the Vuelta a Espana, no one had mentioned Tom Dumoulin as a GC contender, not even the Dutchman himself as he was just aiming for stage wins in the classics stages. However, the Giant-Alpecin rider has continued to impress and after today’s 9th stage of the race, he now finds himself in a position where he can realistically aim for the win.

 

Many had tipped today to be the day when he would lose time as the stage finished at the top of a very steep wall that had 26% gradients. On paper, it should be way too steep for a big guy like Dumoulin but the Dutchman was simply flying and came out with a surprise win after a big battle between the best riders in the race.

 

At the bottom of the final 4.1km climb, a six-rider break with Pieter Serry, Maxime Bouet (Etixx-QuickSte), Yoann Bagot (Cofidis), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida) and Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo) was just metres ahead of the peloton that was led by Esteban Chaves’ Orica-GreeEDGE team. Daryl Impey set the pace on the lower slopes while Bagot and Serry tried to keep the break alive, with the rest of the group sitting up.

 

The main contenders came out swinging right from the bottom as Chaves made an immediate acceleration, followed by Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez. They immediately passed the fading front duo before Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), Daniel Moreno (Katusha), Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and Fabio Aru (Astana) joined them. Dumoulin was the next to make it across but suffered as Valverde made a short-lived attack.

 

Nicolas Roche and Sergio Henao joined the group for Sky and later Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) made the junction too. Chris Froome was riding his own tempo and made it back with 3km to go, alongside Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural).

 

Dumoulin used a flatter section to take off and was joined by Goncalves while Roche tried to bridge the gap. Chaves knew that Dumoulin was dangerous do he brought the Irishman back and made it up to the leaders with Rodriguez and Quintana on his wheel. However, Aru brought it all back together.

 

Dumoulin accelerated again and only Chaves, Quintana and Rodriguez could match him. Aru, Majka and Valverde joined them and later Froome also got back after Aru had made a short-lived attack.

 

Roche, Meintjes, Goncalves, Pozzovivo and Henao were the next to make it back just as Dumoulin went clear again. This time he got a significant advantage as Chaves was unable to respond.

 

This is when Froome made the first acceleration but Rodriguez, Aru, Valverde, Chaves, Majka and Quintana managed to respond. The Pole made a counterattack and as they passed the flamme rouge, he got an advantage.

 

Roche joined the group and set the pace for a little while before Froome kicked again. Only Rodriguez and Quintana could match his pace and when the passed Majka, Quintana dropped off. Meanwhile, Chaves nearly came to a standstill.

 

Froome, Rodriguez and Majka caught Dumoulin when Rodriguez made his trademark acceleration. However, he was unable to drop Froome who countered the move and seemed to be riding away with the win.

 

Surprisingly, Dumoulin still had something left and with just a few hundred metres to go, he started his sprint. He managed to come around Froome to take the win while the Brit had to settle for second, followed by Rodriguez, Aru, Majka, Quintana and Valverde. Riders crossed the line one by one as the climb made the group explode.

 

Chaves cracked in the final part and could only manage 15th, meaning that Dumoulin takes the overall lead. The Dutchman now has a 20-second advantage over the Colombian as he goes into stage 10 which should be significantly easier. An early category 3 climb will test the riders and then the terrain is mostly flat until they get to a category 2 ascent which summit 17.1km from the finish from where it is downhill and flat to the line.

 

A brutal wall

After yesterday’s dramatic stage, it was time for the next big battle between the GC contenders when the riders travelled over 168.3km from Torrevieja to a summit finish on the Alto de Puig Llorenca in Bentatxell. The first part of the stage was completely flat as the riders travelled along the Mediterranean coast until they got the finishing city where they would tackle the final climb twice. At the first passage, they would not go all the way to the top though and instead they would do another 41.9km before they reached the finish. The final time they would climb all the way up the 4.1km wall that averaged 8.9% and included incredibly steep ramps of 26% inside the final kilometre.

 

It was a bit less hot than it has been in recent days when the riders gathered for the start in Torrevieja. Two riders were absent as Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Jasper Stuyven (Trek) who both crashed yesterday, were forced to retire due to their injuries.

 

A big group gets clear

As expected, the race got off to a very fast start but it didn’t take long for the early break to be formed. After 3km of racing, 10 riders got clear and after another three had bridged the gap, it was a 13-rider group that took off.

 

Nikolas Maes, Pieter Serry and Maxime Bouet (Etixx-Quick Step), Geraint Thomas (Sky), Lorrenzo Manzin (FDJ), Mattia Cattaneo (Lampre-Merida), Yohan Bagot (Cofidis), Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo), Omar Fraile (Caja Rural), Tony Hurel (Europcar), Danny Van Poppel (Trek), Pavel Brutt (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Songezo Jim (MTN-Qhubeka) were the riders to get clear and they had to work hard to build an advantage. The gap was relatively stable at around 30 seconds for a while and this allowed Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r) to try to bridge the gap.

 

Katusha lead the chase

The peloton lost the battle and so the gap had gone out to 1.08 at the 15km mark. At this point, Gougeard was still 32 seconds behind.

 

Things didn’t look good for the Frenchman who was 1.12 behind after 23km of arcing where the peloton had been distanced by 3.14. The main group completely sat up and so the gap went out to 5.38 before Katusha started to chase.

 

A big crash

Unfortunately, a big crash split the field and involved several big names like Fabio Aru, Mikel Landa, Samuel Sanchez, Domenico Pozzovivo, John Degenkolb, Giovanni Visconti, Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin and Alessandro De Marchi. The peloton slowed down to wait for them and this allowed Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) to easily get back following a mechanical.

 

Impressively, Gougeard was getting closer and at the 40km mark, he joined the leaders. Meanwhile, Marcel Aregger, Rinaldo Nocentini, Valverde and De Marchi got medical attention while Katusha had gone back up to speed and reduced the gap to 4.32 as they entered the final 125km of the stage.

 

The gap is stable

While Adam Hansen (Lotto Soudal) had a mechanical, Katusha kept the gap stable at around 4.30 before they started to lose ground. When Thomas Degand (IAM) abandoned the race after the crash and Amets Txurruka (Caja Rural) dropped back to the medical car, the gap was again more than 5 minutes.

 

The gap was stable for a while but as they entered the final 80km, Katusha had managed to reduce their deficit to 4.55. Vladimir Isaychev and Gatis Smukulis had been given the task to do the early work and it started to pay off as the gap was down to 4.10 when they entered the final 70km. 10km later, it was still 4.05 though.

 

Movistar come to the fore

That was the signal for Katusha to up the pace as Tiago Machado and Angel Vicioso took over the pace-setting. Their work had an effect as the gap was down to 3.40 with 50km to go.

 

That’s when Movistar also came to the fore and with a big acceleration, Rory Sutherland, Francisco Ventoso and Imanol Erviti shaved 1.40 off the advantage before the got to the climb. At this point there was a big fight for position.

 

The front group splits up

Fraile set a fast pace as they went up the climb and this was too much for Hurel, Maes and Gougeard who were dropped. As they hit the steep section Serry accelerated hard and only Cattaneo and Bagot could match his pace.

 

Cattaneo was the next to accelerate and that was too much for Bagot who fell off the pace. Meanwhile, Fraile was in lone pursuit behind the three leading riders.

 

Poljanski does some damage

Cattaneo dropped Serry who fell back to Bagot and Fraile that had combined forces. The Caja Rural rider did everything right to accelerate hard and pass the fading Italian to take maximum points at the top. Serry sprinted past too and so managed to take second while the Lampre rider and Bagot were next.

 

As the peloton hit the climb, Pawel Poljanski took over the pace-setting for Tinkoff-Saxo and at this point the strong work by Movistar had brought the gap down to just 2 minutes. The strong tempo from the Pole made the group explode to pieces and when he stopped his work, only around 60 riders were left. From there not one took the initiative and all the big riders just made sure to stay near the front as they reached the summit 2.40 behind Serry.

 

A regrouping takes place

The Belgian decided to wait for Bagot, Cattaneo and Fraile who were back together as they went down the descent while Thomas and Bouet were chasing 15 seconds behind.  Meanwhile, Movistar took control in the peloton with Andrey Amador.

 

Thomas and Bouet rejoined the leaders and after Bouet had made a brief attack, they started to work together. The front sextet entered the final 35km with an advantage of 2.20.

 

Tjallingii attacks

Katusha went back to work with Machado and Vicioso while Tjallingii and Jim and later also Brutt rejoined the leaders. They brought van Poppel, Maes, Hurel and Gougeard back and slowly brought the gap down to 1.35 with 25km to go.

 

Three kilometres later the gap was only one minute and moments later things got worse for the escapees when Luis Leon Sanchez started to work for Astana. Meanwhile, Tjallingii accelerated to win the intermediate sprint and he continued his attack while Serry, Thomas and Brutt took off in pursuit, crossing the line in that order.

 

Lots of attacks

With 14km to go, the gap was only 45 seconds and the entire front group came back together as they hit a small climb. Here Serry went full gas and this was too much for Tjallingii, Jim and Fraile who were dropped.

 

Brutt and Bouet made the next attack and seemed to have made the difference before Thomas impressed by bridging a 20-second gap. At the same time, the peloton had lost ground and were now 1.05 behind.

 

Orica-GreenEDGE take control

Fraile, Jim and Tjallingii were brought back as Machado took one final turn before Orica-GreenEDGE took over with Jens Keukeleire. His fast pace meant that the gap melted away and it was only 25 seconds with 5km to go where Bouet made short-lived attack.

 

Serry, Cattaneo and Bagot refused to give up and while Cameron Meyer took over the pace-setting in the peloton, they made it back at the bottom of the final climb. However, Impey led the peloton onto the ascent just 5 seconds later, setting the scene for the final battle.

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