Esteban Chaves’ hold on the Vuelta leader’s jersey looked considerably stronger on Friday after the Orica-GreenEdge rode through the first major mountain stage of the race in impressive style.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) had already shown alarm bells were ringing on Thursday in one top team at least when the Spanish veteran argued Chaves was not just ‘keeping the jersey warm” for the Vuelta’s pre-race favourites. Friday’s stage provided ample evidence to suggest that Valverde is right; Chaves is a dangerous contender long-term, given the Colombian crossed the finish line at Capileira in sixth place, seven seconds down on Aru but with la roja of the leader’s jersey still firmly in his possession.
“It was a very difficult stage, and extremely hot, but I was delighted I could be with the top names,” Chaves said afterwards. “I’m not looking any further down the line, though, I’m just taking this on the day by day. That last climb was hard, nearly an hour long, but I could be with the best.”
As happens every day in his leader’s press conference, the rookie Grand Tour leader thanked his team for supporting him so well and filling in the gaps in his experience.
Increasingly self-assured as he faces the TV cameras and in the process of becoming an overnight star back in Colombia as his lead of the Vuelta stretches into its second week, Chaves’ one moment of post-stage surprise came when he was asked to comment on Chris Froome (Team Sky) losing time.
“I hadn’t realised he’d been dropped,” he said. “That wasn’t expected at all. He’s the Tour de France champion, but in any case he’s somebody we have to keep in mind.”
Having got through the hardest test of his overall condition so far on stage 7, Chaves' next big challenge will be the Puig Llorenca climb on stage 9. But as the Colombian continues to punch above his weight day after day, there is no indication - yet - that Chaves is finding cycling’s third Grand Tour too hot to handle.
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