Thomas De Gendt enjoyed wearing the KOM jersey on stage 5 of the Vuelta a Espana on loan from Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), but will wear the blue and white jersey Monday after his efforts on stage 9. It's the second time in 2016 the Lotto Soudal rider has lead the KOM classification at a grand tour following his efforts at the Tour de France in July.
"I had a really good day in the breakaway today. One rider of the team had to be in the breakaway today because we knew that there was a big chance that a rider in the breakaway could win. We got away pretty early in the stage even though some teams tried to neutralize the breakaway because Frank or De La Cruz could endanger the GC," De Gendt said.
The 30-year-old crossed the Alto del Naranco finish line in eighth place for his first top-ten result of the Vuelta and explained that he knew the finale would be too tough to contend for the victory.
"I was in a really strong group of riders that are all capable of riding uphill. That's when I knew pretty fast that it would be hard to win the stage. On one of the climbs, where I took some points for the mountains classification, I saw I had a little gap and I kept going," De Gendt said. "I was thinking about going solo to the intermediate sprint. Anyhow, I arrived on this big road with headwind. I was alone and I knew that the finale of the stage was going to be hard so I slowed down and was reeled in by the chasing group. The second last climb of the day was too steep for me and the other escapees could show themselves better.
De Gendt and Geniez are tied atop the KOM standings on 19 points with the Belgian unsure how long he can hold onto the jersey but will continue to ride aggressively.
"Being on top of the mountain classification is a good consolation prize," he said. "It's a good intermediate goal in a Grand Tour. If I will keep wearing the polka dot jersey is still a question. Tomorrow there's already a hard stage with an uphill finish, so I might lose it there already. However, this will be the way to win a stage here in the Vuelta. Maybe I can try and win a stage with a flat finale. Or maybe not because there aren't so many flat finals… But we'll see where I can get my chances."
Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) on the attack during stage 9 (Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
Chaves in fifth ahead of decisive Lagos de Covadonga stage
Esteban Chaves finished in the general classification group on stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana but drops down a position to fifth as stage winner David de la Cruz moved into the red jersey. The Orica-BikeExchange rider was 17th, squeezed between Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador at Alto del Naranco, 2:56 minutes behind de la Cruz.
"It was a tough final 60kilometres today," said Chaves. "Up and down all the way and the leaders were moving really fast, the team did really well to hold a good position as we went onto the final climb and the legs felt ok today."
Since stage 3, Chaves has switched between fourth and fifth overall to remain in contention for the podium when the race concludes September 11. While there have been several summit finishes that has seen Quintana, Alejandro Valverde, Chris Froome and Chaves emerge as the front runners for the victory, the Lagos de Covadonga climb is expected to see further gaps open up on the GC
"We will see what happens tomorrow because it is going to be difficult stage with a hard finish but we are always positive and we will see how the legs are on the climbs," said Chaves.
Sport director Neil Stephens added that as he was pleased with the day's racing and is looking ahead to the important stage 10.
"As far as that's concerned it was a positive a stage today, we achieved our objective and the guys rode with intelligence so we can look forward to tomorrow and bide our time for when the right opportunity arises," said Stephens.
Moreno Moser gets close to breakthrough win for Cannondale-Drapac
Having come within metres of claiming a debut grand tour stage at the Giro d'Italia, Moreno Moser notched his and Cannondale-Drapac's best result of the 2016 Vuelta thus far with third place into Alto del Naranco.
The Italian, who will move to Astana from next season, spent the day in the breakaway alongside teammate Simon Clarke.
"It was my first day in the break in this Vuelta, so I didn't know what to expect with my condition. With me in the breakaway, there were a lot of super good riders because we escaped in the climb. I tried to stay well-positioned all day and not waste any energy," said Moser.
On the penultimate climb, the stage winning move was made by Davide de la Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) with Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling) joining the Spaniard. Moser sensed the stage was gone but made a move in the finale to secure third place, 33 seconds down on de la Cruz and six seconds down on Devenyns.
"Everyone was looking at each other when the two guys attacked," said Moser. "It was a smart move. We lost a lot of time behind, so I knew I was thinking about third place. I followed wheels and then attacked in the last kilometer."
The Italian, who turns 26 on Christmas Day, added that he will continue to fight as Cannondale-Drapac look for its first grand tour stage win of the 2016 season.
"It was a pretty good day," said Moser. "Of course the win was the goal, but there are a lot of stages left to try."
While Moser missed out on a visit to the podium, Clarke was awarded the fair prize award from the race jury.