The first week of this year’s Vuelta a Espana was a fairytale for Esteban Chaves, whose career, little more than two years, was almost ended by a horror crash. The Colombian rider dominated the first week of cycling’s third Grand Tour of the year in Spain. He won two stages, wore the ‘maillot rojo’ for all but one day and put Tour de France champion Chris Froome in the shade on the first proper mountain stage. Now he will have to hold off the challenge of some of the world’s best cyclists to hold that lead.
The first stage of this year’s Vuelta was a poorly thought out opening team time trial, that was eventually removed from the general classification. So hostilities opened in earnest on the second stage and it was Chavez who stormed past countryman Nairo Quintana, Dutch sprinter Tom Dumoulin and Team Sky’s Nicolas Roche to take victory on an uphill finish.
It was the Colombian’s first major solo victory since suffering a serious crash at the 2013 Trofeo Laigueglia, that nearly ended his career. But, it would prove a taste of what was to come later in the week.
Chavez held onto the red jersey throughout the next two stages, which saw a couple of big names come to the fore. First, Tinkoff-Saxo’s star Peter Sagan finally ended his long run of near missed by winning the high-speed sprint into the centre of Malaga to take Stage 3. Then Spanish hero Alejandro Valverde triumphed on another uphill finish to take Stage 4.
It was Chavez’s Orica-GreenEdge teammate Caleb Ewan who claimed his maiden Grand Tour stage win the following day. The young Australian was led out perfectly by his Orica-GreenEdge teammates before sweeping by John Degenkolb in the closing 50 metres.
Unfortunately for Chaves, he found himself on the wrong side of a late split, leaving Dumoulin to secure the race lead by a single second. The Dutchman held the lead for only 24 hours though as Chavez struck back on Stage 6. On a gradient similar to the one where he had triumphed on Stage 2, the Colombian attacked just over two kilometres from home and Dumoulin was unable to overhaul him, finishing five seconds back in third with Irishman Dan Martin taking second on the stage.
The seventh stage of the Vuelta saw the race move into the high mountains for the first time and Dutchman Bert-Jan Lindemans was first over the line following a successful breakaway. However, Chaves held onto his race lead as Froome saw his hopes of winning second Grand Tour dealt a blow after he was distanced by his General Classification (GC) rivals.
The British rider is 1 minute 22 seconds behind Chavez and 25 seconds behind the leader and also trails main contenders like Valverde, Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez by over 20 seconds. One name missing from the top of the GC is Vincenzo Nibali, who was disqualified after taking a tow from an Astana team car after being delayed by a huge crash in the peloton.The Italian apologised for his actions but was expelled from the race leaving Fabio Aru to lead the Astana team. Aru sits in eighth place on GC 57 seconds behind the leader.
The second week of this year’s Vuelta will see the road continue to rise with a mammoth day of climbing through Andorra to come on Stage 11. If Chavez is still in red following that summit finish, he will be hot favourite to make it all the way to Madrid in red. #Cycling