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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Monday, August 29, 2016

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It is plain indeed that in spite of later estrangement Hobbits are relatives of ours: far nearer to us than Elves, or even than Dwarves. Of old they spoke the languages of Men, after their own fashion, and liked and disliked much the same things as Men did. But what exactly our relationship is can no longer be discovered. - J. R. R. Tolkien. Science clearly has a lot of work to do.

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Vuelta a España Stage 9 team news

Here's the report from race leader David de la Cruz's Etixx-Quick Step team:

For the fourth time this season, an Etixx – Quick-Step rider sits at the top of a Grand Tour's general classification.

Three days after renewing his contract with the team, David De La Cruz put in a masterful display on stage 9 of Vuelta a España (Cistierna – Alto del Naranco, 164.5 kilometers), soloing to the win and the red jersey, after being part of the 11-man escape which animated the day. Riding his home race for the third time, the Spaniard infiltrated himself in the big group that slipped away soon after the start and laid down an important workload on the front of the group, helping it take its lead north of five minutes, despite various skirmishes of other riders, who tried several moves.

At one point during the stage, with around 30 kilometers remaining, attacks flew from the front group and the advantage began to come down; David didn't let himself get drawn into these games and patiently bided his time, deciding to go on the final descent together with Dries Devenyns (IAM Cycling). Together, they built a gap of 30 seconds on their former breakaway companions, which they extended on Alto del Naranco (5.7 kilometers, 6.1% average gradient).

Despite doing some long pulls at the front, David De La Cruz still had enough left in the legs to attack inside the last kilometer, speeding towards the finish and notching up his maiden pro victory. The 86th home rider to win a stage in the Vuelta a España since the inception of the race, the 27-year-old was over the moon after producing the most astonishing performance of his career, one which netted him a success he'll never forget.

"After being injured and sidelined due to health problems many times in the past two years, this victory repays me for all the hard work and the team for the confidence showed. The key moment was when I was with Devenyns and found out that we have a consistent gap on the guys chasing us. Then I knew I can do it."

David de la Cruz

David de la Cruz wins Vuelta stage 9

It's incredible to ride in a race against the best in the world – riders like Froome, Contador, Valverde or Quintana – and take this beautiful win. "Alto del Naranco is a fantastic climb, which I know very well from the Vuelta a Asturias, and to be on top here gives me a great and unique feeling", said David after the dust had settled and he celebrated the result with his teammates, who came behind the podium to congratulate him as soon as they completed the stage.

Following his triumph on one of Spain's most iconic ascents, David De La Cruz garnered more than one trip to the podium. As he finished three minutes ahead of the peloton – from which Gianluca Brambilla attacked in the closing meters – the Spaniard moved to the top of the overall standings and will now start stage 10 to Lagos de Covadonga in the red jersey, thus becoming the fourth Etixx – Quick-Step rider to lead a Grand Tour this year, after Marcel Kittel, Gianluca Brambilla and Bob Jungels all topped the Giro d'Italia GC.

"I can't believe I'm the leader of the Vuelta a España! At the start of the day, when I went in the break, I was thinking of taking the win. During the stage, I wasn't aware I can seize the jersey, it was only in the final two kilometers that I got this info from the team car. To lead my home race is the icing on the cake and I'll savor every moment. I want to thank to my all my teammates and to sport director Jan Schaffrath, who kept me informed on what was happening during the stage and motivated me. The confidence of the team and of the guys was crucial and says a lot about how united and determined this team is."

Etixx – Quick-Step concluded the first week of the Vuelta a España with three distinctive jerseys (red, green and white), three stage victories and as leader of the teams classification.

Here's Tinkoff's Vuelta report:

After a reassuring return from his crash yesterday, climbing ahead of several of his GC rivals to the line to move up to seventh on GC, Alberto Contador again showed he’s working his way into this race with a confident ride on the final 5km climb to finish on stage 9 at La Vuelta.

Today was the second of three consecutive mountain-top finishes, with five categorised climbs along the rolling 164.5km route – the last of which being the climb to the line. After yesterday’s steep gradients, the finishing ascent today was more forgiving, with a maximum gradient of 11%. However, the fast pace set to the line still saw a thinned out GC group finish together, with Alberto amongst them.

Looking back at this performance, Alberto said after the finish: "It was a race that started fast but was relatively calm in the group. The climb was probably a bit hard for me but in the end we finished without any trouble and I'm happy. Let's see whether we improve tomorrow.

“For the moment we will stay focused and, obviously, if there is any opportunity for the GC we will take it. However, right now I have to give my body some time and don't rush things."

The day’s breakaway, forming after 10km, consisted of 12 riders – a powerful looking break from the off. Despite a hard push by certain teams to bring them back initially, they broke clear and build up a healthy lead as the chase settled behind. The day’s first climb came after 60km, with the final four in the last 50km. With 60km to go the break held 4’30” and this gap remained nearly the same until the base of the final climb where the GC favourites pushed clear.

Ahead the break fought out the stage, with the day’s winner also assuming the race leader’s red jersey, while behind a fast pace was set to negate any big attacks, with the favourites coming over the line together 2’56” behind the stage winner.

Sport Director Steven De Jongh told us after the finish: “It was a high speed all day but the peloton gave some freedom to the guys in front and it looked like the leaders were happy to give the jersey away. Then on the final climb, Alberto just followed the moves and he did this well. During the stage we spoke and he said he was feeling better so this is a good sign.

“Tomorrow we have a harder climb so let’s cross our fingers for a good day there and then we can go into the rest day to recover a bit and focus on the second week.”

Stage 10 tomorrow takes the riders 188.7km to Lagos de Covadonga, one of the most fearsome climbs of the race. The final ascent to the line covers 12.2km at an average gradient of 7.2%, with ramps of up to 12%. One final test before the riders have the chance to recover on Tuesday’s rest day.

LottoNL-Jumbo sent me this Vuelta update:

George Bennett arrived with the classification stars in the ninth stage of the Vuelta a España today near Oviedo. Team LottoNL-Jumbo’s New Zealander, supported by Robert Gesink for a long time, placed 28 but in the same time as the race’s big guns. Spaniard David De La Cruz (Etixx - Quick Step) won the stage and took the overall lead.

“It felt good today,” Gesink explained. “I started this Vuelta without expectations. The most important thing is to finish a grand tour, looking forward to next year.

“It’s going well so far. The first nine stages weren’t easy and it was a little bit painful sometimes to notice that I don’t have the level to fight for top results. It’s going in the right direction, I’m reaching my old rhythm and I’m satisfied about that.”

Team LottoNL-Jumbo also wanted to be part of the breakaway in the ninth stage, but the four riders marked to do so were unable. “Victor Campenaerts, Koen Bouwman, Martijn Keizer and Bram Tankink tried,” Sports Director Jan Boven said. “They weren’t strong enough to go along with the eventual breakaway, unfortunately. A strong group of riders rode free and we immediately felt that they were going to fight for the stage win.

“We changed plans quickly to work for George Bennett. That went quite well. I enjoyed watching Robert Gesink deliver such good work for George. He was in a good position for a long time.”

Lampre-Merida's Bretagne Classic report:

The dual captains of LAMPRE-MERIDA, Rui Costa and Diego Ulissi, made the necessary attempts to select the group in the final part of the Bretagne Classic-Ouest France, World Tour race which in 2016 had a new name (previously known as Gp Plouay) and a new course of 247 km, however they did not succeed to reach the arrival in the top ten of the race classification.

The blue-fuchsia-green colors had already been in the front of the race for a long time thanks to the Slovenian Matej Mohoric, who succeeded in spending once again the Sunday in the main breakaway, as he had already done one week ago in the Cyclassics Hamburg.

In France too, LAMPRE-MERIDA's rider went clear from the peloton with other 7 cyclists and under the rain they led the race in the hilly 232 km of the course, which anticipated the final 13,9 km on the circuit which hosted the World Championships in 2000.

When this action was neutralized after 191 km in the race, four riders tried a counter-attack which gave to two of them (Naesen and Bettion) the opportunity to reach the arrival and to fight in a restricted sprint which was won by Naesen.

Race finish

Oliver Naesen wins the Bretagne Classic Ouest-France

Behind them, when the bunch entered in the final circuit, Rui Costa and Ulissi made their attempts of attacks, however they could not complete successfully their action and the peloton sprinted for the third place, which was obtained by Kristoff.

LAMPRE-MERIDA, whose sprinter Cimolai had been dropped at -4 km, obtained the 30th position with Rui Costa.

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