Vuelta a Espana 2018: Rest Day 1 Recap

He perhaps wouldn't have wanted to take it quite this early in the race, given what happened at the Giro d'Italia, but Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) holds the red leader's jersey at the 2018 Vuelta a España as the riders enjoy the first rest day of the three-week race in Salamanca.

The nine days of racing have been keenly fought so far, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Ben King (Dimension Data) each taking two stage wins apiece.  

Early race leader Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) has already faded to 15th overall, 2:10 down on new race leader Yates. The Polish rider was never really expecting to battle for the overall title come Madrid, although he was keen to see how he would hold up after riding the Tour de France in the service of Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome. Like many on the Vuelta, Kwiatkowski also has one eye on the demanding World Championships road race in Innsbruck, Austria, at the end of this month.

The early indications are that BMC Racing's Rohan Dennis is on course for a very real crack at the time trial title at the Worlds on September 23. The Australian won the opening 8km time trial back in Málaga ahead of Kwiatkowski and Lotto Soudal's Victor Campanaerts, and it was Kwiatkowski who took over the race lead the next day on stage 2 from Marbella to Caminito del Rey.

What was billed as a flat stage by the race organisers proved to be anything but as the uphill finish saw Valverde get the better of Kwiatkowski, who nevertheless did enough to take the red jersey from Dennis.

Dennis, meanwhile, finished way off the pace – 13:31, to be exact, in the same group as his BMC leader Richie Porte, who claimed at the finish he was never going to have the form to be in the mix for the overall having crashed out of the Tour de France the previous month. Another Tour de France crash victim, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), also lost time, to the tune of four minutes, and ruled himself out of a top finish as a result.

A true sprinters' day on stage 3 saw Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) take the honours, and Ben King then took the first of his two stage wins so far when he won stage 4 ahead of Nikita Stalnov (Astana) on the race's first true day in the mountains.

If Kwiatkowski had begun to feel comfortable in red, and had begun to perhaps harbour thoughts of holding on to his jersey for a little while longer, it lasted only until stage 5 when EF Education First-Drapac's Simon Clarke led home a successful breakaway in Roquetas de Mar, bettering Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC).

Finishing just behind, and almost five minutes ahead of Kwiatkowski, came Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), who became the first Frenchman to wear the leader's jersey at a Grand Tour since Tony Gallopin at the 2014 Tour de France.

Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) went some way to redeeming his season with a sprint win in San Javier on stage 6, and then Gallopin – of all people – gave his AG2R La Mondiale team the win in front of world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), while Molard increased his lead after Kwiatkowski crashed in the last 10km of the stage.

On Saturday, Valverde – by now back up to second place overall – took his second stage win of the race, ahead of Sagan, who was second again, and pulled back 10 seconds on race leader Molard, with the gap just 37 seconds going into Sunday's stage 9.

It was all over for the Frenchman on the road from Talavera de la Reina to the summit finish at La Covatilla, where King took another impressive victory in front of Mollema, while Yates was the unexpected recipient of the red leader's jersey as the GC contenders came alive.

Valverde's Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana, Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez, Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb), Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) and Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) all leapt into action, followed by Yates, George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo), Valverde and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).

At the first rest day, with so much of the Vuelta still to race, Yates leads by just a second from Valverde, with Quintana third another 13 seconds back, while Lopez, Uran, Bennett and his LottoNL-Jumbo teammate Steven Kruijswijk are all within a minute on the GC.

It has been pretty warm during the Vuelta's opening week, and the racing is hotting up, too. Click on the links for each stage for a recap of all the action.

Stage 1: Málaga - Málaga, 8km (ITT)

Winner and leader: Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing)

 Rohan Dennis rocketed into the Vuelta's first red leader's jersey by winning the prologue time trial in Málaga.

Stage 2: Marbella - Caminito del Rey, 163.5km

Winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Leader: Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

While Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) took the stage win in Caminito del Rey, Team Sky's Michal Kwiatkowski took the race lead.

Stage 3: Mijas - Alhaurín de la Torre, 178.2km

Winner: Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors)
Leader: Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Italian road race champion Elia Viviani (Quick-Step) took the bunch sprint to win stage 3 in Alhaurín de la Torre. Kwiatkowski kept the overall race lead.

Stage 4: Vélez-Málaga - Alfacar. Sierra de la Alfaguara, 162km

Winner: Ben King (Dimension Data)
Leader: Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky)

Dimension Data's Ben King got the better of Nikita Stalnov (Astana) to win stage 4 on the race's first true day in the mountains.

Stage 5: Granada - Roquetas de Mar, 188km

Winner: Simon Clarke (EF Education First-Drapac)
Leader: Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) 

EF Education First-Drapac's Simon Clarke won stage 5 ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) from a breakaway that included Groupama-FDJ's Rudy Molard, who took over the race lead.

Stage 6: Huércal-Overa - San Javier. Mar Menor, 153km

Winner: Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis)
Leader: Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ)

A stage win for Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) was exactly what he needed in what's been a difficult season for the Frenchman.

Stage 7: Puerto Lumbreras - Pozo Alcón, 182km

Winner: Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale)
Leader: Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ)

Tony Gallopin (AG2R La Mondiale) got the better of Bora-Hansgrohe's Peter Sagan on stage 7, while Groupama-FDJ's Rudy Molard retained the overall lead.

Stage 8: Linares - Almadén, 195.5km

Winner: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Leader: Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ)

Movistar's Alejandro Valverde took his second stage win of the 2018 Vuelta in Almadén, while Molard kept hold of the race lead by just 37 seconds.

Stage 9: Talavera de la Reina - La Covatilla, 195km

Winner: Ben King (Dimension Data)
Leader: Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)

Ben King (Dimension Data) won his second stage of this year's race on stage 9's summit finish at La Covatilla. Behind him, the GC contenders fought it out for the race lead, with Mitchelton-Scott's Simon Yates taking the red leader's jersey by a second from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).

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