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Sunday was a day of highs and lows for Ineos Grenadiers.
Carlos Rodríguez held on to his fourth place overall on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España, giving up 46 seconds to a rampaging Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) but remaining inside the top five of his first grand tour.
Pavel Sivakov improved two places, going from 12th to 10th.
As for Tao Geoghegan Hart, he had a more difficult time, crashing close to the start of the final climb and limping in 3:57 behind Evenepoel.
The tangle with Chris Harper (Jumbo-Visma) saw the 2020 Giro d’Italia winner yield seven places in the general classification, slipping to 12th.
He’ll feel very disappointed, having started the day fifth, but the team will be relieved that Rodríguez remains so prominent.
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“It was a pretty tough finish, I think more than I expected,” the 21 year old said. “I started very strong early on the climb, and then the climb just felt like it was never going to end. We lost valuable time to Remco, but we were also very close to our other rivals.
“Those four kilometers up to Les Praeres were crazy hard, but at least we had a lot of fans to support us which makes the climb that bit more enjoyable. I went from empty to feeling good to feeling empty again.
“We had to adjust a bit today, and I didn’t go at the optimal pace because I was too busy at the beginning wanting to go with the best. That made me push more than was necessary, but I’m happy to have stayed with them and now we look towards the second week.”
It's another superb ride from young @_rccarlos!
He takes a top 10 on the stage to remain in fourth place overall at the second rest day. Unfortunately @taogeoghegan was caught up in a crash on the approach to the final climb and loses time on stage nine. pic.twitter.com/lWQJvcLzJK
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) August 28, 2022
He is in his third season with the team but his youth means he still has a lot of experience to build. He showed his stage race flair last year with a stage win plus second overall in the Tour de l’Avenir, as well as victory in the mountains and best young rider competitions.
The Vuelta is another matter, though, and so he’s on a voyage of discovery at the race.
“We don’t know how far we can go [in the general classification], but we have to be ambitious and do our best. Being on the podium in a Grand Tour would be a dream come true… but if I crash and come last I also have to be happy, as long as I have given it everything I have and come out of it unscathed. Things are going well.”
He would of course have hoped for a better day for Geoghegan Hart, and had words for his teammate. “Today Tao was unlucky, taking a fall. I hope he recovers well, and that not much damage has been done.”
Another Ineos Grenadiers rider, Richard Carapaz, had earlier lost time in the Vuelta. He tried to play the long range break card on Sunday, being very active early on. That didn’t work out, and he rolled in 56th.
“I tried to get into the breakaway,” he said. “It wasn’t possible, but we had Dylan [Van Baarle] up the road, and he did a great ride for us.
“We have Carlos in the GC, and he’s a good kid, and he has good legs. We have to take advantage of it.”
The Vuelta now moves into the next phase of the race, with a rest day Monday prior to Tuesday’s individual time trial. Ineos Grenadiers had hoped to use its collective strength to pull off a big results in the race but, with Rodríguez increasingly shaping up to be the GC contender to back, the team strategy may change to a focussed one behind him.
Rodríguez is not getting ahead of himself, taking things day by day.
“Remco Evenepoel is quite a few steps above the rest,” he admits. “But we all have to continue on, and just do the best we can, even if he is on another level.”