After a tough opening week in Galicia, there was no respite on the Vuelta a Espana as the race entered the high mountains with back-to-back summit finishes over the weekend. On Saturday, Sergey Lagutin (Katusha) won from the break atop the Alto de la Camperona, while on Sunday, Carlos De La Cruz (Etixx-QuickStep) triumphed on the Alto del Naranco and took possession of the red jersey of race leader to boot.
Of the pre-race favourites, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) will arguably be most satisfied with their weekend’s work. Quintana put more than 30 seconds into teammate Alejandro Valverde and Chris Froome (Team Sky) when he attacked on the steepest section of the Camperona on stage 8, which put him into the red jersey on Saturday evening.
Contador, meanwhile, also jumped away from Froome and Valverde near the summit, an important psychological boost after early time losses and a nasty crash had marred the first week of his Vuelta. For his part, Froome was succinct at the summit of the Camperona. “I’m surviving,” he said.
The favourites finished together on the Naranco on Sunday, with Movistar content to cede the overall lead to De La Cruz, at least for now. "Losing the jersey is not a problem at all," Valverde insisted.
Ahead of Monday’s key stage to Lagos de Covadonga, De La Cruz was 22 seconds ahead of Quintana, with Valverde 3rd at 41 seconds and Froome 4th at 49. Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) lies 5th at 1:19, while Contador remains in the hunt, albeit 2:01 off the red jersey. The mighty Lagos de Covadonga will reveal more.
More on the Vuelta a Espana:
- Vuelta a Espana stage 8 report
- Vuelta a Espana stage 8 highlights - video
- Vuelta a Espana stage 9 report
- Vuelta a Espana stage 9 highlights - video
In Brittany, the final weekend in August is synonymous with the GP Ouest France-Plouay as the Morbihan department plays host to one of the great festivals on the cycling calendar. Oliver Naesen (IAM Cycling) emerged victorious as he out-sprinted breakaway companion Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac), while Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) won the sprint for third place, just five seconds back.
The 25-year-old Naesen described the victory as the biggest of his career, and it continues the recent run of success being enjoyed by the IAM Cycling team, which will disband at the end of the season. Naesen is on his way to AG2R-La Mondiale next season, where he will bolster the French squad’s Classics unit.
“I don't ride my bike to finish 50th. I like to win,” said Naesen.
Naesen and Bettiol were part of a four-man move that went clear with 40 kilometres to go, and although they shed Alexis Gougeard (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Guillaume Martin (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) before the finish, the pair managed to stave off the fast-closing peloton.
Winner last season, Kristoff had no complaints about his third place finish here as he builds towards the Doha World Championships. “The break was stronger today. I won the sprint from the group, but I really struggled on the climb,” said Kristoff, who beat Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange) into fourth.
On the same roads on Saturday afternoon, Eugenia Bujak (BTC City Ljubljana) won the GP de Plouay-Bretagne, the penultimate round of the UCI Women’s WorldTour, while Megan Guarnier (Boels-Dolmans) sealed final victory in the season-long classification.
Bujak emerged victorious in a tense 14-rider sprint, pipping Italian champion Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM) and Joelle Numainville (Cervelo-Bigla) to take the honours. Guarnier took fifth, just ahead of Leah Kirchmann (Liv-Plantur).
Guarnier has clocked up an unassailable lead of 342 points over Kirchmann ahead of the final event in two weeks’ time, the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta. World champion Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) remains third on the classification.
Armitstead rode in support of Guanier on Saturday, while their teammate Evelyn Stevens lined out for the final road race of her career. The American, who will retire at the end of the season, will also line out in the team time trial at the Doha Worlds.
French climbing talent David Gaudu sealed final overall victory at the Tour de l’Avenir on Saturday, while American Nelson Powless showcased his ability in the high mountains by soloing clear to win the final stage atop the Col de la Croix de Fer.
Gaudu is set to join FDJ next season and he enhanced an already lofty reputation (read Pierre Carrey's profile here) with an assured performance in a race that has proved a fine indicator of future achievement over the years. The Frenchman laid the foundations for his overall win with a stage win at Tignes earlier in the week.
Italy's Edward Ravasi placed second there, and the Italian had to settle for the same position on the final standings as he was unable to put time into Gaudu on the tough final leg. The highly-rated Adrien Costa (USA), who has only just turned 19, placed third overall, and will ride as a stagiaire with Etixx-QuickStep at the end of this season, though he is adamant that he will not move up to WorldTour level in 2017.
Reigning world cyclo-cross champion Wout Van Aert (Crelan-Vastgoedservice) made good use of his skill set to claim victory at the Schaal Sels race on Sunday, beating Timothy Dupont (Veranda’s Willems Cycling Team) and Stijn Steels (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise).
The race includes sections of gravel roads and cobblestones, and Van Aert chose his moment wisely in the finale. The 21-year-old surged clear with five kilometres remaining, but despite his win in the UCI 1.1 road race, he remains fully committed to his cyclo-cross career.
“Now I will be asked again whether I would be better as a road racer but I've already made my choice," Van Aert said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. "I want to shine in the coming weeks back in my rainbow jersey. I will do my cyclo-cross season. This victory is a good sign. It is a sign that my form is ready to go into the field and I want to shine again.”