Recent Vuelta a España history replayed itself on stage 9 of the race as Movistar once again lost the overall lead, for the second time in less a week - and once again minimized the importance of ceding the top spot overall.
In what was effectively a re-run of the stage 4 scenario to San Andres de Texeiro that saw breakaway Darwin Atapuma (BMC) take over the lead from Ruben Fernandez (Movistar), five days later David De La Cruz (Etixx-Quick Step) gained enough time in a break to a summit finish to oust Movistar's Nairo Quintana from the top spot overall.
Strengthening the comparison, just like in San Andres de Texeiro, the favourites powered up the final ascent of Naranco at speed, but grouped without any significant attempts to blast out of the pack. Just like on the Galician climb, there was even, once again, a solid attempt by Peter Kennaugh (Team Sky) to break out of the pack, presumably once again to put pressure on Movistar.
But the end result was exactly the same: Movistar losing the lead with the clear expectation that it would return to the Spanish team's clutches in the not-too-distant future and all the top favourites crossing the line together. The only difference, perhaps, was rather than a Colombian taking the jersey away from a Spaniard as happened with Fernandez and Atapuma, this time the roles were reversed and a Spaniard removed the lead from a Colombian.
"Losing the jersey is not a problem at all," Alejandro Valverde, third overall, said afterwards. "You could even say we wanted it given how the race played out."
Indeed, Movistar tapped out a solid rhythm behind that kept the gap at five minutes rather than the eight new leader David De La Cruz said he had hoped for, but there was never a ferocious acceleration by the men in dark blue of the type that could have seen the gap come down quicker.
Valverde, seemingly unaffected by racing in his third Grand Tour of the season, remains a de facto Plan B for Movistar, but was cautious about his chances of staying in contention.
"I'm taking this pedalstroke by pedalstroke. I'm fine, but this is a very long race," he added.
Teammate Rubén Fernandez pointed out that given Etixx-Quick Step will presumably defend the lead as best they can.
"It's not so bad for us, of course we would have liked to keep the leader's jersey but the race is still long.
"We know that we've got many days remaining, we knew it would be complicated. Today the breakaway went in the end, they were very strong and they were quick but tomorrow will be very hard and very different. So let's see what happens."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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