It was a successful day for Chris Froome, he did initially drop out of the front group after the initial acceleration from Ruben Fernandez on the front of the group of favourites.  

"The climb can definitely catch you out if you start too fast," said Froome.

"It's easy to think that at only 1.8km you can get a bit carried away at the bottom and I think a few guys fell into that trap and paid for it in the final 500m. I was quite happy with how that went for me."

"I was trying to ride at my own pace. At the bottom I got gapped a bit from the leaders but kept pedalling away, trying to get back to the front. It's seven minutes long, but for a short climb... you know about it. It's similar to the Mur du Huy, but longer I guess."

"Staying out of trouble, choosing my moments, and hopefully ride into the race a little bit. Obviously the time trial at the end is going to be a key stage for me. That's a stage I'm focusing on. For now, I'm just trying to stay out of trouble."

After crushing his opposition in the two Tour de France time trials, Stage 19 will loom on the horizon for the other favourites who now that they'll need to put significant time into the British rider before the 'race of truth'.

Tuesday 23 Aug 2016

Movistar had a tremendous stage, not only taking the leader's jersey with Ruben Fernandez but also keeping Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana in good position after the first real test of the climbing legs of the general classification riders.

Geniez conquers the heat and brutal gradients to win, Fernandez moves into red
Temperatures over 30 degrees and a brutal finishing climb left many riders zig-zagging their way up the climb but it didn't stop early breakaway rider Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) from taking the win atop the Mirador de Ezaro. Ruben Fernandez attacked from the peloton to take second on the stage and move into the overall race lead.

Valverde is now second overall, only seven seconds behind Fernandez and four ahead of Froome, whilst Quintana is a further six seconds back, after not being able to follow in the final kick to the line. Fernandez had been given the all-clear to go for the stage win by his two leaders, who felt that they could handle Froome and Chaves.

"We knew Rubén was in great form leading up to this race, and he proved it today," said Valverde. "I'm so happy to see him taking over the lead. He's a young man, but we all know what he's made of.

"The work he did at the front to take us closer to Geniez was excellent; we couldn't have battled for the stage either if he hadn't worked, and that's why I feel he rode perfectly.

"He dropped all of our rivals but Chaves when we three went ahead, and later on, we could keep a steady pace to keep the gaps and avoid the late push by Froome taking us out of his wheel.Alberto lost a bit of time, but there's a lot to happen yet in this Vuelta.

Valverde has become increasingly a team player in his veteran stage of being a rider, but will still be right at the pointy end of the competition if he has his way.

”About me? Well, I didn't feel bad at all - let's hope I can keep it up through the next stages.

"We are in good shape, we showed that in the time trial and it is great that Fernandez gets to wear this jersey. We dropped both Contador and Froome, although finally the Englishman (Froome) caught us again."

Quintana again praised Fernandez before lamenting his lack of legs after a hard Tour de France.

"Well, everyone could see Rubén has come fresh to this Vuelta," said Quintana. "His climb was phenomenal, he's a young boy full of talent.

"He was really strong today. He stepped up the pace for the race leaders and then he went and got the lead himself. It's a very good result."

”When it comes to myself, I could feel the wear and tear of the Tour. Froome was a bit ahead, Alberto lost some ground... yet I feel like these gaps won't matter much at the end of the Vuelta. Let's keep going day-by-day; the legs are feeling all we went through in the Tour at the moment.

Neither possess the time-trialling ability of the British rider and will have to use their strength in numbers to take a big buffer into that stage to ensure that one of them will be standing on the top step of the podium in Madrid.

It's also worth noting that Daniel Moreno is also still inside the top 10 for Movistar, a position he has finished in four times previously in La Vuelta a Espana.

Steven Kruijswijk slipped off the GC radar with a poor performance, losing over two minutes on the stage. Lotto NL-Jumbo Sports Director Jan Boven spoke after the finish.

“We didn’t start this Vuelta perfectly because Steven Kruijswijk got sick after the Olympic Games," said Boven. "The team time trial went surprisingly well when you’re looking at it from that point of view, but the heavy stages like today and tomorrow come a little bit too early for him.

"Steven wants to compete with the best, but after his preparation, it’s all about limiting the damage to be as little as possible."

“We’re fed up with this, but we still have 18 stages to go.”

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, today. He shouldn’t have lost much fitness, anyway, because he has been able to complete preparation up through the Olympic Games. He just lost his top form after being sick. From now on, he has to make sure that he improves during this race.”

Kruijswijk had come into the race with high hopes after looking to be the best in the race at the Giro d'Italia and personally disappointed after the stage.

“I started this Vuelta with ambitions, so you want to finish among the best riders on the first summit finish,”  said Kruijswijk. “I wasn’t able to do that, today, clearly.

"I didn’t feel strong. The only reason I can give is my illness in the past weeks, which was the reason that I haven’t been able to train a lot.

"I slipped back a little bit and I have to make sure that I’m able to improve in this race to make the most of it. I’m confident about tomorrow in some way because I feel fit and healthy again. I’m not in my best shape, but I’m expecting to improve in the upcoming days.”

“It wasn’t a good day overall but as I said before, the Vuelta is far from over and the time differences still aren’t very big,” Contador said after the stage. “I am not satisfied, but I feel that my form will improve in the coming days.”

Contador was visibly struggling as Fernandez forced the pace on the climb and was dropped, coming in 28 seconds behind his major rivals for GC. With the result he moved up the leaderboard to 12th overall (overtaking non-climbers) and is now sitting a minute and 31 seconds off the red jersey.

DS Steven De Jongh gave his thoughts on the day.

“In the final Alberto didn’t have the power to follow but he really feels confident for this race and is motivated for the what's to come, so he’s not down after today. The rest of the guys rode well again today, and in the final we had Jesús (Hernández), (Ivan) Rovny, and (Yuri) Trofimov there until late on, so the team worked really well. We have to continue going step by step.

“Today it was crazy steep at the finish, but it was a hard day with the heat as well and a lot of people suffered – I saw lots of guys white with salt on the penultimate climb. Tomorrow is a shorter day but will also be quite hard, but not as bad as today.”

Sammy Sanchez (BMC) confirmed his leadership of the BMC squad for the Vuelta a Espnana with a solid performance up the Mirador de Ezaro. He currently sits 46 seconds off current leader Ruben Fernandez.

“Today was not the hardest stage of the Vuelta a Espana," said Sanchez, "but it was the first stage that could really make a difference in the race. It was a really, really, super hard uphill finish.

"On the first two climbs I was feeling good and worked on defending my position as we approached the final climb. I tried to stay up there with the Movistar Team riders, that, and I was not too far behind when I crossed the line in eighth place.

"I am now sixth overall on GC so I’m happy. The Vuelta a Espana is a long race and we are only on stage 3, so I’ll take things day by day.”

BMC DS Max Sciandri explained what had happened to Tejay van Garderen on the day's stage, after the American lost just under eight minutes after fading on the penultimate climb.

"Tejay van Garderen was going to see what he wanted to do with about 30km to go," said Sciandri. "He wasn’t feeling 100 percent so rode with the main bunch, which will set him up nicely for stage wins in the next two weeks.