It has been a hectic opening week of the Vuelta a España with the general classification battle breaking out on four of the opening six days, from the Alto de Arrate to Aramón Formigal. Stage 7, however, was an exception insofar as the big guns didn’t come out to play on the Puerto de Orduña.
A return to the Basque Country after three days away in the northern reaches of Castilla y León and Arágon saw some minor names make gains, however, that could prove useful in the days to come.
Jumbo-Visma climbing domestique George Bennett gained 43 seconds on the peloton after finishing among the chasing breakaway group behind stage winner Michael Woods of EF Pro Cycling. The New Zealander, who was accompanied by teammate Sepp Kuss in the move, vaults up to 10th on GC, 2:39 behind race leader, Ineos Grenadiers’ Richard Carapaz.
Kuss said after the stage that the gains will only help the team in the hard days to come, with another threatening option besides team leader Primož Roglič a valuable tool in their battle against a host of teams with one only real GC option – Ineos, EF and Israel Start-Up Nation.
“I think the closer we can get George up there, the better for the mountain stages to come,” said Kuss after the stage. “Like we saw today, the more guys you have high up on GC, you can put a lot of pressure on the other teams.
“I think it was definitely a crazier day that we expected. We knew it would be hard, but we definitely didn’t expect it to be a bunch of GC riders in the break. It was a bit tough. It was such a big group and a lot of jumping but it was good that we got George closer.”
Roglič echoed the sentiment, thought less loquaciously than his American teammate. “It’s not bad, eh? We’ll see in the next few days,” was the sum of the Slovenian’s comments at the end of the stage.
Kuss had jumped away in the ‘early’ move of the day, the 16-man group only establishing themselves after 55 kilometres of racing. He would soon be joined by Bennett, as well as two other men on the fringe of the top 10, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and Mitchelton-Scott’s Mikel Nieve.
While the gap back to the peloton was never great – Valverde at three minutes back only ever flirted with the virtual lead – there were still gains to be had, and that was Jumbo-Visma’s main focus as Ineos worked behind.
“There were a lot of big groups going and it wasn’t super under control,” said Kuss. “At the beginning I was part of a group or about 15 and that seemed like it was going to be the break and then all of a sudden when we hit the first climb a bunch of strong guys came over – including George – and a bunch of Movistar riders came over and were riding flat-out.
“It was a tough one to win, I think,” he added, congratulating Woods on the stage win. “There was so much headwind coming back. For George and myself, we were more marking Valverde and I think either way we were going to be followed a lot on that final climb. For guys like George and I it’s hard to win on a finish like this so it’s good to get him up on GC and have that card to play.”
Another day of hard racing, then, and the Dutch squad will have come away happy even if there was no opportunity for Roglič to snatch back some of the 42 seconds he lost on Formigal.
There will be another chance on Wednesday, though, with the tough test of the Alto de Moncalvillo, an eight-kilometre summit finish with an average of 9.2 per cent and several sections of double-digit gradients. Roglič was, once again, succinct in his evaluation of the upcoming racing.
“In cycling nothing is for free, so it doesn’t matter how things are going. We always have to focus on outselves and do our best,” he said. “We tried to race really active and we’ll try to do that in the next days.