The second week of this year’s Vuelta a Espana saw Italian rider Fabio Aru take the race lead. He followed home Astana’s teammate Mikel Landa on the Queen Stage to secure the red jersey from Dutch rider Tom Dumoullin. However, Aru’s success came against a backdrop of crashes and withdrawals. A huge pile-up on Stage 8 saw several big names invalided out of the race while Tour de France champion followed a few days later.
If the first week of the Spanish tour belonged to the Orica-GreenEdge team then the second one was all about Astana. The team’s one-two finish of Landa and Aru on Stage 11 turned the Vuelta dramatically in their favour. The stage was rated one of the hardest ever to feature in any Grand Tour, featuring six categorised climbs through Andorra.
Landa was part of the day’s early break and skipped away from his companions on the final climb of the 138km stage to hang on ahead of the overall contenders. And chief amongst those contenders was Aru, who dropped everyone the final ascent to finish second on the stage and take the leader’s jersey from Dumoullin.
Aru ended the week leading Joaquim Rodriguez by 27 seconds with Dumoullin a further three seconds back. The Movistar pair of Alejandro Valverde and pre-race favourite Nairo Quintana are 1:52 minutes and 3:07 minutes in arrears, respectively.
Froome, who had come into Stage 11 with his overall ambitions reignited after a strong ride two days earlier, crashed on the first climb. He somehow finished, albeit eight minutes behind the leaders, with a fractured ankle that caused his withdrawal from the race the following day.
The Tour de France champion was just another in a list of big name casualties at the Vuelta after Stage 8 descended into chaos. A horror crash 48km from the finish saw General Classification contenders Tejay van Garderen, Dan Martin and French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni all forced out through injury while Kris Boeckmans stopped breathing temporarily and was rushed to hospital, where he is expected to make a full recovery.
Belgian rider Jasper Stuyven was caught up in the crash but climbed off the floor to win the sprint finish and win the stage. He then withdrew from the race with a broken wrist. Slovakian superstar managed to make it through the major crash and the final two climbs near the finish and was a favourite to take his second stage of the race. However a crash with a neutral service vehicle in the final 10km ended the Tinkoff rider’s chances of victory and forced him out of the Vuelta.
By contrast the week’s other four stages seemed remarkably straightforward. Dumoullin stunned everyone by beating off the climbers on Stage 9’s uphill finish to recapture the red jersey from Esteban Chaves. He held onto it through Stage 10 that saw MTN-Qhubeka’s Kristian Sbaragli claim the biggest win of his professional career. Dutchman Danny van Poppel won a hectic last-gasp sprint in Lleida on Stage 12 after an intense chase by the peloton caught the five-rider breakaway in sight of the finish line. But the following day the breakaway saw a success as Nelson Oliveira soloed to a maiden Grand Tour victory cleverly attacking on a long descent with just under 30km to go and holding his lead to the finish in Tarazona. #Cycling