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Road Racing

Vuelta a España stage 9: Tadej Pogačar wins a chaotic, stormy, high-mountain stage in Andorra

Nairo Quintana came second on the stage to take the red jersey, while Roglic withstood a barrage of attacks to take third on the day and second overall. López crashed late in the stage and drops to third on the GC.

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Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) rode away from a stellar fleet of climbers and GC riders to win the punchy, mountain-packed stage in Andorra on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España.

The 20-year-old Slovenian, the youngest rider in the race, bided his time as the four GC riders piled attacks on each other, before riding his way through several of them to take a 23-second win over Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who moves into the red jersey.

The final 5 kilometers of the race was set on the hail-drenched, high altitude grind to Cortals d’Encamp, and saw Miguel Ángel López (Astana) crash on the stormy roads and finish 1:01 down, having attacked throughout the final phase of the race. Conversely, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma), who was isolated through much of the finale, also hit the deck in the finale before rallying to take third place, making it a Slovenian one-three on the podium.

Roglic came to the line with Alejandro Valverde on his wheel, and having briefly looked at risk of losing time, managed to limit his losses to Quintana to just 25 seconds.

With López’s time-loss, the GC shuffles again, with Roglic now six seconds behind Quintana, and Lopez third, 17 seconds behind. Valverde sits in fourth at 20 seconds.

“This was incredible,” said Pogačar. “I was looking at [this stage] since the race started. When I looked at the weather yesterday and saw there would be rain, I was pleased, for me it’s quite good. I followed the attacks and then on the gravel section,  just went full gas, and from there it just went great.”

The red jersey again changes hands. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The 99.4km stage featured five categorized climbs, two of which peaked at just under 2,000 meters, and the final grind to the finish at Cortals D’Encamp topping out at 2,095m. As if the 3,400m ascent in such short a stage wasn’t enough, a 4km gravel section in the final 15km added something extra for riders to think about.

With the race pointing uphill from the gun, attacks flew from kilometer zero. Two large groups formed on the road on the first climb, with Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) going solo for several kilometers.

It wasn’t until the second pass, the HC Coll de la Gallina, that the race calmed and a breakaway settled, with around 30 riders going up front, including Jakob Fuglsang and Gorka Izagirre for Astana, Antonio Pedrero and Marc Soler of Movistar, and Robert Gesink, Sepp Kuss, and Neilson Powless of Jumbo-Visma.

The GC group of Pogačar, López, Valverde, Roglic, and Quintana was around 5 minutes back, and was driven at a fierce pace by Movistar and then Astana. The intensity dropped many, including red jersey Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) and Estaban Chaves (Mitchelton-Scott) just as the Colombian suffered an unfortunate mechanical.

With the pace so high, Chaves struggled to bridge back across, even with the help of a teammate, and was left chasing, several minutes behind his GC rivals.

The final phase of the day was made up of three consecutive climbs, split up by short plateaus, including the brief stretch of gravel. The back-to-back passes made for over 22km of almost constant climbing.

A group of three made up of Geoffrey Bouchard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data) and Geoghegan Hart went clear of the breakaway and started the climbs out front, with the GC group around three minutes behind the lead trio.

A flurry of attacks went in the GC group at the bottom of the climb, with López and Valverde repeatedly accelerating. López eventually made a move stick, and bridged to Astana teammate Fuglsang, who had been in the break. The pair soon started growing a gap over the GC group, which was now down to seven riders, with the Movistar pair, Pogacar, and Roglic still together. Despite briefly bridging to Kuss from the breakaway before the young American was dropped, Roglic was isolated, and had to weather successive attacks from Valverde and Quintana.

As the race moved toward the tricky gravel section that fell before the final climb to the finish line, the thunderstorms that had been threatening all day long broke, and golf-ball sized rain soon turned into hail.

The Astana pair of López and Fuglsang soon built a gap of nearly one minute on the GC group, and they soon latched onto the back of the lead group of around 12 riders, which had come back together after O’Connor, Geoghegan Hart, and Bouchard’s move was caught.

With 5km to go, Valverde and Quintana dropped Roglic, who had been clipped by a race motorbike in the poor visibility bad weather, and they joined López and the lead bunch, which included Movistar man Soler.

Just as the Movistar leaders looked to have gained a vital support man, the domestique attacked and gained ground to lead the race, before visibly showing his anger at being told to wait for Quintana, who accelerated from the group to bridge across to him. Meanwhile, López had also crashed and was off the back of the GC group.

With Quintana going off alone having used up Soler, Pogačar attacked, and went past Quintana to go into the lead of the race.

Roglic rallied as the weather improved, and started storming past the riders up the road, distancing López, and then catching Valverde.

Quintana went off in solo pursuit of Pogačar, leaving his teammate Valverde marking Roglic, who continued to time trial his way to the top of the climb. Despite a strong chase from Quintana, Pogačar’s attack was so fearsome that the 20-year-old soon gained 20 seconds, and held strong to the finish line to take a win in his first grand tour.

The peloton takes a well-earned rest day tomorrow, before heading to France for a 36.2km time trial in Pau on Tuesday. As the only individual time trial of the race, the test could play a large part in the story of the GC battle. Having held off so many attacks from the climbers today, Roglic is in a strong position to take the red jersey after the time trial thanks to his proven strength against the clock.

Results will be available once stage has completed.

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