Despite missing out on the number of Vuelta a España stage wins the team had accumulated at this point last year, Giant-Alpecin’s run in the red jersey of the Vuelta leader with Tom Dumoulin has done well to make up the deficit.
Team sprinter John Degenkolb, who won four Vuelta stages last year and five in 2012, has so far notched a goose egg in the Spanish Grand Tour, while Dumoulin has taken a stage and worn the leader’s jersey for two days heading into Wednesday’s mountainous stage 11. It’s a shift of fortune that has taken Dumoulin himself by surprise.
“I am very satisfied with the course of the race so far, as it has turned out far above my expectations,” he said on the first rest day in Andorra. “Especially my stage win was unbelievable and very special for me.
“Also the red jersey is great and a really nice bonus. If someone would have told me two weeks ago that I would win a stage with an uphill finish and have the leader’s jersey on the first rest day, I would have said he was insane.”
Insane or not, Dumoulin will have the difficult task of defending the race lead as the Vuelta heads into one of the hardest days in recent memory, the 138km test from Andorra la Vella to Cortals d´Encamp. The stage includes six categorised climbs and a summit finish.
“Tomorrow we will have the hardest stage of this Vuelta, and at the finish we will know more,” Dumoulin said if his chances to hang on for the general classification. “Normally I would say that it is too much for me, but stage 9 was also not typical, so we will see.
“We showed [Monday] and the days before [Monday] that we have a strong team that takes responsibility as well, and we can be proud of that. We will fight for it and go full gas to the finish line, and then we can draw conclusions.”
Giant-Alpecin director Addy Engels said the team will have to wait and see if Dumoulin can remain a contender for the overall as the race hits the high mountains.
“Tomorrow’s stage is hard to predict, as it cannot be compared to the stages we’ve had so far,” he said. “We don’t have the team to control the race on the climbs, and we’ll have to wait and see how Tom can hold on in the GC fight. The results so far give us confidence, and we will see how the race develops in the second week.”
As for Degenkolb, the winner of this year’s Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo has three podium finishes so far in this year’s Vuelta, but a stage win has eluded him. He finished third to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) during stage 3 and was second to Caleb Ewan (Orica GreenEdge) on stage 5.
With Sagan, Bouhanni and Ewan all abandoning the race later in the week, Degenkolb’s best chance for stage a win came Monday during stage 10, but he was upset in the finale when Italian Kristian Sbaragli (MTN-Qhubeka) got an early jump and held it to the line.
“"I’m a bit sad that my stage victory is still missing,” Degenkolb said on Monday. “I was really close a few times, but I am confident that the win will come. I am feeling better and better, which is also a good sign ahead of next month’s world championships.
“Now a lot of climbing is coming up, so I’ll just have to survive,” he said. “After that there will be some sprint opportunities as well, and we hope to win more stages. There will be opportunities until the closing stage in Madrid, which we won last year.”