Bittersweet stage for Dumoulin as he remains Vuelta leader while Degenkolb misses out

'We needed all the guys to chase down the breakaways, so there was nobody left for the lead out,' Dutchman says

Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) admitted to strongly mixed feelings on Monday as he remained Vuelta leader for another day but his team’s hard work culminated in a narrow defeat for their sprinter John Degenkolb.

Dumoulin also recognised that he did not think that he could win the Vuelta, but the Dutchman is notably more upbeat about his chances overall than as recently as last Tuesday, when he told Cyclingnews he was not interested in the overall classification.

“I’m both happy that I’m still leader but disappointed for John,” Dumoulin told reporters. “The plan was to go for the win with John, unfortunately he got second. That’s a shame but that’s cycling. We needed all the guys to chase down the breakaways, so there was nobody left for the leadout.

“At least we got the sprint we had looked for, and we can be very proud of how the team rode and worked today. But it didn’t work out for the win.”

Dumoulin himself was notably active in that work in the latter part of the stage, chasing down one attack by a Lotto-Soudal rider and driving on the descent at the head of the 40-strong lead peloton as they chased down a three-rider break. Apart from urging other riders to collaborate in that pursuit with waves of his hand as he pulled off the head of the line, Dumoulin also stood out of the saddle to gesture at a TV motorbike to move ahead. [The motorbike had come so close to a lone break at one point the rider might have used its slipstream, risking the chances for a bunch sprint that Dumoulin and Giant-Alpecin wanted so badly.]

Discussing the huge early move on stage 10 with some 40 riders up the road, Dumoulin said, “We anticipated a long fight for the break, because there are not so many sprinters' teams here - or at least not so many sprinters’ teams who still have a sprinter here.”

Indeed, Caleb Ewan, racing for Orica-GreenEdge, made a planned abandon during the stage. The day before, Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) had quit injured, and on stage 8, Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) exited after several crashes.

“We at the team have the best sprinter here so it was up to us, but there’s only nine riders in any one team. I expected a long fight, but it was actually an advantage having so many riders ahead in the break. Much better 40 than for example 10 riders in the break who would have worked well together. The 40 guys started attacking each other and that helped us in chasing them down."

Asked if he had used up too much energy working for a sprint, Dumoulin played down his role, saying, “I mostly pulled on the downhill [leading off the the final climb to the finish], accelerating out of corners. It wasn’t so much.”

Clearly recovered from winning on stage 9’s summit finish, Dumoulin said the heat has been very humid. "I felt that more than yesterday, but on the [final second category] climb, I was not on my limit. I still feel good.”

The next big mountain challenge, following Tuesday’s first rest day, will be Andorra - and not just the stage’s six classified climbs and summit finish. Even as Dumoulin finished his press conference, raindrops were beginning to patter down on the press truck roof, and after a week of intense heat, a major drop of temperature and heavy rain is forecast for the days to come in the Pyrenees.

The situation could be similar to the 2013 Vuelta, in fact, when after a first week of heatwaves in Andalucia and on Spain’s eastern coastline, the Vuelta went into Andorra - and the weather promptlly worsened considerably. On the Vuelta’s stage that year in the Pyrenean mini-state, no less than 14 riders abandoned, most because of the freezing temperatures.

“We’ll see how it goes,” Dumoulin said when asked to discuss the Vuelta’s next chapter. “It’s going to be hard for everyone with this kind of weather change. It’s something huge when you go from 35 degrees [like on Monday] and humidity to, for example, 10 or 15 degrees, everyone will have problems with that. But I don’t expect it to be worse for me than anyone else.”

As for the rest day, the Giant-Alpecin rider’s plans are simple. “We have a very long transfer now [up from the Meditteranean to Andorra, ed.] and I don’t think we’ll get there until around midnight, so the idea is to rest.”

The crunch question, of course, is whether Dumoulin thinks he can win the Vuelta and how he will tackle the Pyrenean climbs on Wednesday’s difficult stage. “I don’t think I can win it, but I will definitely try to defend my position on the GC and then we’ll see,” Dumoulin said.

“I also didn’t think I could win yesterday [Sunday], so maybe," he added with a grin, "I should stop thinking and just go for it. That’s what I did on Sunday and that’s what I’m going to do on Wednesday.”

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