Aggression: (adjective) ready or likely to attack or confront.
It’s a rare sight in cycling, but it happens. A rider mistakenly celebrating in the belief they won the stage, when in fact there was another cyclist ahead. Simon Clarke at the Giro d’Italia 2015 is a recent example, with both Simon and today’s second finisher Ruben Fernandez managing to style out the celebration post-race claiming they were celebrating taking the leader’s jersey. (Well, they could have been?) With Simon he was “keeping the pink jersey in the Orica team”, while Fernandez took the red Vuelta jersey and Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) took the stage win.
The finish on the Category 3 Mirador de Ézaro climb was short (1.8km) yet steep with an average gradient of around 14% while some parts reach 30%. In 2012, Rodriguez won on this climb ahead of Contador and Valverde while in 2013, the climb was featured during stage 4 of La Vuelta, with Daniel Moreno (Katusha) taking the win ahead of Cancellara and Matthews. An attack during the Mirador de Ézaro would certainly take the red jersey. The first attack of the stage came from a group of 7 riders. This was devised of Selig (Bora-Argon 18), Arroyo (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) Cousin (Cofidis) Serry (Etixx-Quick Step), Geniez (FDJ), Pellaud (IAM Cycling) and Smukulis (Katusha) and with 150km to go had developed a lead of 1m50s. Pellaud was the highest placed rider in GC, 62nd place and 1m13s back. By 90km to go, the gap had been controlled by Sky and Tinkoff at 4 minutes. Tinkoff would be right to keep close to Sky and the front of the peloton, as any more lost time would be damaging to Contador’s GC hopes.
Just before the Alto de Lestaio ascent, Bevin (Cannondale) and Bonifiazio (Trek) crashed, yet were able to continue. Barguil (Giant) is one man who abandoned just prior to the crash with sinusitis. Ahead, Cousin (Cofidis) and Pellaud (IAM) attacked while Serry (Etixx) and Geniez (FDJ) chased and caught them. This kind of move away from the ‘big sponsored teams’ is ideal for the sponsors of somewhat smaller teams who need to gain airtime before the GC battle in the mountains. Pellaud distanced and took the KOTM points, equal at the top of the standings. The King of the Mountains jersey in the Vuelta is white with blue polka dots, sometimes referenced to as the ‘polka dot jersey’. Contenders can usually relate to GC hopefuls, yet consistent breakaway riders are also able challenge the overall KOTM win due to the lack of GC focus. Last year saw Fraile (Caja Rural) and the year prior saw Froome take the jersey, while this year they face contention from De Gendt (Lotto), Chaves (Orica) and Atapuma (BMC) to name a few.
Pellaud continued to power ahead of the 6-man break for an hour, until he was finally caught by Serry and Geniez after Team Sky upped the pace with Movistar on their wheels, 3m40s back. Pellaud had raced himself into the combativity award today, (also known as the most aggressive award) and hopefully into the eyes of other teams. IAM Cycling failed to find a co-sponsor for 2017 and will fold at the end of the season, with their 28 riders having to compete with Tinkoff’s 26 riders who have also been looking for new teams. Yet Pellaud refused to give up and fought back to Serry and Geniez on the Alto das Paxareiras descent with 11km to go. A new team is not an issue for Geniez, who has signed a two year contract with AG2R.
An unfortunate note for this next section of road: It had been made of concrete and roughened to give vehicles extra grip according to Cycling News. Which was unfortunate, as it was here Lopez (Astana) crashed, bleeding profusely from his lip. It was later revealed he had broken 3 teeth and an exposed nerve, and had lost over 13 minutes in GC.
Red jersey wearer Kwiatkowski led the peloton to the foot of the final climb while ahead Pellaud was dropped and Serry followed him. Geniez struggled ahead to take the stage win for FDJ while behind some in the peloton struggled to hold on. The peloton had split and Contador was behind Froome – who finished 4th. Quintana and Valverde had allowed Fernandez to chase for 2nd, giving him the red jersey.
The biggest disappointment of the day was possibly held by Contador – who finished 54s behind the leader and 28s behind Froome, Chaves and Valverde.