Another summit finish and another roll of the dice at the Vuelta a España for the Movistar team as they looked to open up the general classification further with a show of force on Les Praeres. Ultimately, the tactic didn't work but the Spanish team saw Alejandro Valverde join Nairo Quintana in a podium position after race leader Jesus Herrada cracked on the Asturian climb.
It was Valverde, assisted by Richard Carapaz, that put the pressure on first as he tracked down an early attack from Steven Kruijswijk. With the Dutchman safely returned to their clutches, Quintana launched his own attack. The Colombian was full of confidence after distancing all the other general classification riders on La Camperona the previous day and no sooner had he been brought back was he on the attack again, taking compatriot Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) with him.
The pair got a gap but were brought back by Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) with just over a kilometre to go. At first, it looked like Quintana might be able to bridge back to the Brit but he would cede seven seconds to him in the end – two more than he’d gained on La Camperona. Quintana was pragmatic about the loss, saying he had to have a go.
"On stages like this, you've got to take a shot to win it, and you can either hit your target, like I sort of did yesterday, or miss it, like today. I wasn’t in my plan to lose time today," Quintana explained. "López didn't dare take a turn when we attacked. He may have been doubting his real condition and just trying to keep that pace. It's a choice you make in the end, and it's nothing I can argue about. He just chose to continue behind my wheel, and in the end, he also put some seconds on me."
Despite moving up the standings, Valverde was left with a slightly bitter taste, believing that he could have taken his third stage victory of this year’s race. The Spaniard has already won on Caminito del Rey on stage 2 and in Almaden on stage 8. He looked strong on the final climb on Saturday but admitted afterwards that he got his timing wrong.
"If I'm honest, I'm a bit sad because I've got the impression I could have won this one," Valverde said. "Sometimes you’re doubtful about your own chances, about being able to keep up with the others’ pace to win. It was hard for me to know that I made a mistake today because I had the energy to go for it but mistimed my final efforts.
"I didn't know the climb that well, I thought the final slopes were going to be harder — don't get me wrong, full credit has to go to Simon, who deserved this victory. It was just that I waited for too long, thinking those slopes were going to be more difficult, but when I wanted to pick up the pace into that 'sprint', I was already too far back.
Valverde is now sitting in second place at 20 seconds behind Yates while Quintana remains in third place and is now 25 seconds behind the Mitchelton-Scott rider. Lopez in fourth place is also inside a minute behind the red jersey with the top nine still within two minutes of the race lead. Quintana believes that Les Praeres didn't give away too much in terms of the fight for overall, but sees Yates as the biggest challenger.
"We could see that the other contenders are really strong, and also that yesterday’s result didn’t mean anything when it comes to race hierarchy," said Quintana. “There’s a strong man, which is Yates, who we’ll have to fight against. However, we’ve got a strong advantage in Alejandro and our strategy to defeat him must be based on making him nervous. He just was a bit stronger than us in this specific case, in a very particular stage with difficult descents, splits, accelerations – and an explosive final climb, which might not be the best for me. We’ll see how things go tomorrow."
The second week of the Vuelta will end on Lagos de Covadonga where Quintana won in 2016, en-route to taking the overall title.
"Tomorrow's climb is quite different; I think it suits me better. Lagos brings me some good memories, it's beautiful for me to go back, and I hope to be victorious again. It will be a crucial day for those like us, who are aiming for victory in La Vuelta," he said.