Stage 7 may prove to be a defining moment in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana for UAE Team Emirates as the cream of the General Classification rose to the top – with Fabio Aru and Tadej Pogacar asserting themselves as serious contenders by taking top 10 positions in the race, and the overall GC, behind stage winner Alejandro Valverde.
The 183.2km route, which started in Onda, featured five categorized climbs and finished with a punishing ascent up the Mas del la Costa. A select group of riders, including Aru and Pogacar, hit the bottom as a unit but began to splinter as the ramps pitched up to gradients in excess of 20%.
Both UAE Team Emirates riders fought their way up the climb valiantly and crossed the line together to claim 7th and 8th spots, just 51” behind the Spanish World Champion.
Their efforts also put both riders firmly into the General Classification top 10, where they now sit at 6th (Pogacar) and 10th (Aru).
Speaking to his performance, Pogacar said: “It wasn’t just the last climb that was tough, it was the whole day. It was really fast right from the start making this stage the hardest of the week. I am feeling in good shape at the moment, so we will have to wait and see about tomorrow – and then we have our rest day.”
Aru added: “I definitely felt better than the last few days but the left leg is not 100% yet. Today I had a lot of fatigue, but at the same time I did the last climb better than I expected. I hope to be back at 100% soon.”
Stage 7 also proved to be a memorable one for Sergio Henao as he climbed his way up the Mountains Classification – where he now sits in second. The race was, once again, fast and furious from the off – with multiple early breakaways being closed down by the peloton.
After 60-minutes on the road the average speed was just shy of 50km/h – but that didn’t deter Henao and a small group of companions trying and succeeding to create a gap ahead of the first categorised climb up Puerto del Marianet. Henao was the quickest over the top, picking up his first set of mountain classification points.
The trend continued as he worked with the breakaway to crest three more summits, take maximum points and jump up to his current spot.
On Saturday La Vuelta heads from Valls to Igualada for stage 8. The hilly route is just 166.9km long and with only one categorised climb along the way it will either be a day for the breakaway or one for the sprinters to contend.
Stage 7 results:
General Classification after stage 7:
Know more about Sport360 Application
After the disappointment of the high speed crash on Saturday, UAE Team Emirates came back to animate the closing kilometres of the Stage 2 arrival from Benidorm to Calpe on Sunday.
A group of four riders moved away in the early stages but would be reeled in as the peloton neared the final ascent. When the riders crested the final climb of the category 2 Alto de Pulg Llorenca (8.8 per cent) it was world champion Alejandro Valverde who forced the pace, reducing the bunch to a select group of 20 riders.
As they took the final descent former Vuelta a Espana winner Fabio Aru slipped away in a group of six riders which would build an advantage of over 30 seconds on the chasers. With the line drawing closer, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana slipped away to claim a solo win with Aru sprinting home to fifth in the group of chasers five seconds behind.
Tadej Pogacar, the youngest rider in the race, came home at the head of the second group on the road to claim eighth, 37 seconds behind Quintana.
Aru said: “This morning I woke up with pain due to the fall yesterday, especially at the beginning of the race my knee was bothering me, then as the kilometers went by the situation improved.
“Also in the coming days the aftermath of the fall will be felt, but I will face them with an excellent morale that comes from today’s good performance. In the end I had some cramps as the day was very hot. Quintana made the perfect move to take the win.”
Monday’s Stage 3 should be a day for the sprinters with just two category three climbs and it will take the riders from Ciudad del Juguete to Alicante (188km).
Stage 2 results
1 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team
2 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb
3 Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma
5 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates
8 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates
1 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Team Sunweb 5:26:12
2 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 0:00:02
3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Education First 0:00:08
14 Fabio Aru (Ita) UAE Team Emirates 0:01:08
23 Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates 0:01:40
UAE Team Emirates have a double bill of racing in Germany next week, starting with one-day WorldTour race, the EuroEyes Cyclassics Hamburg (August 25), which is swiftly followed by a four-day race around the country, the Deutchland Tour (August 29-September 1).
Hamburg is one for the sprinters and the seven-man squad will ride in support of Alexander Kristoff, who has not only won the race, but been on the podium a further three times. They will be guided by sports directors Allan Peiper and Neil Stephens.
Joining Kristoff will be his fellow Norwegians Sven Erik Bystrom and Vegard Stake Laengen, as well as Italy’s Roberto Ferrari, Portugal youngster Rui Oliveira, rising Belgian star Jasper Philipsen and Australian veteran Rory Sutherland.
Pieper said: “We will be at the start of the race focusing on Alexander Kristoff. The team has been put together to give him adequate support and to be at the heart of the action during the race and in the final.”
The Deutschland Tour will see the Emirati outfit opt for a mix of climbers and fast men, under the guidance of Simone Pedrazzini and Bruno Vicino. Kristoff is again included, as is Stake Laengen. They will be joined by Italian duo Diego Ulissi and Simone Consonni as well as Ireland’s Dan Martin and Belarus’ Aleksandr Riabushenko.
“With Kristoff we will try to be up in the mix in the sprints on stages three and four,” explained Pedrazzini. “Martin and Ulissi will aim for the general classification, with Consonni, Laengen and Riabushenko working in support.“