Besides Peter Velits' token open day lead following BMC's victory in the team time trial dead rubber, the red jersey has changed shoulders four times between two riders since Marbella.
This duel between Esteban Chaves and Tom Dumoulin has been just one of the stand-out stories of the race so far, so without further ado let's take a look back as what the opening phase has taught us.

Organisers need to be reasonable

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Someone clearly thought it was a great idea to send each of the 22 teams over seven different road surfaces - including grit and temporary plastic tiling - during the opening 7.4km time trial on the Costa del Sol. But it was one bid for innovation too far and back-fired spectacularly.
Instead of a spectacle we had a procession of bafflement with some teams - including big-hitters Sky and Cannondale-Garmin - coming minutes, and not the expected seconds, down. Not that it mattered: all times were neutralised and so it didn't count anyway. What a farce.

Vincenzo Nibali

Image credit: AFP

It's time Nibali left Astana

It would be churlish to blame Astana for the incident that saw Vincenzo Nibali thrown off the race, but it was the latest development in a testing season for the out-going Tour de France champion that pointed at irreconcilable differences between him and his Kazakh-funded team.
Tension was already high between Nibali and team owner Alexandre Vinokourov after the Sicilian's lacklustre Tour, and despite three team-mates helping him out after his crash in stage two, Nibali still felt he had been "abandoned" in favour of fellow Italian Fabio Aru.
By holding onto his team car for 150 metres Nibali not only broke the rules he did so in full sight of a group of fellow stragglers, plus a fair few million TV spectators around the world. The race organisers had no option but to kick him out.
It will take more than some semi-contrite words on Facebook to reboot Nibali's career now. But a swift change of team may help speed up the process.

Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) a remporté la 6e étape de la Vuelta 2015.

Image credit: AFP

Dumoulin and Chaves are a breath of fresh air

No one expected the opening week of the race to feature an absorbing tussle between the peloton's Little and Large, but pint-sized Esteban Chaves and the rangy Tom Dumoulin emerged as the stars of the race by trading blow after blow in the battle for the red jersey.
If Chaves's double uphill stage salvo and his smiley, excitable post-race interviews in Eurosport's Vuelta Extra were a highlight of an absorbing first week, then Dumoulin's tenacity, selflessness and new-found climbing legs - all off the back of his Tour injury setback - were something to marvel.
Given the quite hellish route of Wednesday's stage 11 in Andorra, it would be highly unlikely if either rider were still a major factor in the general classification when the race heads back into Spain, but they deserve our praise for the leadings roles they've played so far with such gusto.

Tinkoff-Saxo Slovakian cyclist Peter Sagan celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win during the third stage of the 2015 Vuelta Espana cycling tour, a 158.4 km stage between Mijas and Malaga, on August 24, 2015

Image credit: AFP

Sagan can't stop making the headlines

The Tour proved that even when Peter Sagan's not winning he's still very much the talk of the town - and his Vuelta continued that stretch when the Tinkoff-Saxo rider somehow contrived to be the fastest individual rider in the team time trial to Marbella but still ended up on the second-place team.
A long-awaited Grand Tour stage victory - after 780 days in the winless wilderness - finally came in stage three before the Slovakian got back to business with second- and third-place finishes.
Sagan was riding in his trademark green jersey en route to an almost certain second stage win in Murcia when he became the latest rider to be knocked down this season by a passing race vehicle.
With the likes of Jesse Sergeant, Jakob Fuglsang, Greg van Avermart and now Sagan all on the receiving end of apparent road rage by race vehicles it's high time something was done to curb this alarming trend before it's too late.

Madcap rules and regulations are undermining the UCI

The universal reaction following Nibali's tow incident was that, while deeply unfortunate, the Italian could not have had too many complaints by being shown the door.
But the grey area was no better highlighted than by Nacer Bouhanni one day later after the Frenchman was also caught on camera receiving a 10-second sticky bidon by his Cofidis team car following a crash 40km from the finish of stage three (in which he would finish second behind Sagan).
Bouhanni received a larger fine than Nibali for his actions - but remained in the race, presumably because the acceleration of his team car was in no way as blatant as that of Alexandre Shefer behind the wheels of the Astana team car (like Nibali, the directeur sportif was also given his marching orders).
Fans were left further bemused when it emerged that Sagan himself was fined for his understandably heated remonstrations after being felled by a motorbike - but not as much as one rider was fined for wearing the wrong kit in stage two. Both these fines, incidentally, were more than Nibali's.
Surely someone at the UCI headquarters in Aigle will take a look at that and think it's about time to lead by example and court less controversy by applying a little bit of common-sense and logic.

Caleb Ewan (Orica-Greenedge)

Image credit: AFP

Neo-pros are having a ball

Australia's Caleb Ewan became the youngest rider in 30 years to win a stage on a Grand Tour in his maiden Vuelta for Orica-GreenEdge, while Italian youngster Kristian Sbaragli continued MTN-Qhubeka's fine season with a victory in Castellon in stage 10.
Throw in Ilia Koshevoy's fine ride for Lampre-Merida in stage 7 to La Alpujarra and Jasper Stuyven's win (with a broken wrist) in stage 8 and it's been a fine race for the neo-pros.

USA's Tejay Van Garderen rides behind the pack during the 161 km seventeenth stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 22, 2015, between Digne-les-Bains and Pra Loup, southeastern France

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Van Garderen will never win a Grand Tour

This may seem like a harsh conclusion to draw for a rider cruelly ejected from the race because of a fractured shoulder following a mass pile-up - but Tejey Van Garderen's latest set-back seems to have confirmed that the American is perhaps destined to be one of those riders jinxed by being caught out or caught short.
As promising as he is, Van Garderen lacks the explosiveness to beat the likes of Froome, Contador, Quintana, Aru and Nibali in a major race - and his admirable record of consecutive finishes has now gone down the pan with successive withdrawals in the Tour and now the Vuelta.

Kristian Sbaragli gewann die zehnte Etappe vor John Degenkolb

Image credit: Eurosport

Degenkolb's best form came in the spring

On paper, John Degenkolb was a shoo-in for Monday's stage to Castellon - but after doing the hard work and staying in touch over the final Cat.2 climb, the German found himself boxed in and missed out on glory.
His last win now came in May's Bayern Rundfahrt, suggesting Degenkolb has been on the wane since his monumental wins in Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix in the spring.
With Messrs Sagan, Bouhanni and Ewan all out of the race, Degenkolb still has a chance of taking the tenth Vuelta stage win of his career this September. But to do so he may have to wait until the final stage to Madrid - and the next week in the high mountains is hardly ideal preparation for the World Championships.

Great Britain's Mark Cavendish

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MTN-Qhubeka do not need Mark Cavendish

With Mark Cavendish's future at Etixx-QuickStep up in the air, a possible move to relative minnows MTN-Qhubeka has been on the cards. It's understood that figures high up in the African team's management are keen on the idea - although many of the staff and riders less so.
Put simply, MTN-Qhubeka have just enjoyed a highly successful Tour de France thanks to a stage win from Steve Cummings, Serge Pauwels' 13th place on GC and Daniel Teklehaimanot's run in the polka dot jersey. They also became the most successful Pro-Continental team this season with Sbaragli's win in the Vuelta on Monday.
But were Cavendish to join, a return of one single stage win per Grand Tour would be seen as a failure - while the opportunities of all the above riders would be greatly restricted. A sponsor would have to come on board to pay the Manxman's wages, the balance of the team would be lost, and all the hard work of the previous two years overturned.
That's unless you view Cavendish's arrival as proof of the team's success, as the next step in their growth and development. It's an argument to consider. But the paltry return of the likes of Tyler Farrar, Matt Goss, Theo Bos and even Edvald Boasson Hagen suggests that MTN-Qhubeka don't need another sprinter on a possible downward trajectory.

Giant-Alpecin's Dutch cyclist Tom Dumoulin celebrates on the podium keeping the red jersey after the10th stage of the 2015 Vuelta Espana cycling tour, a 146,6 km stage between Valencia and Castellon on August 31, 2015.

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The destiny of the red jersey is still anyone's guess

All will be much clearer after the six back-to-back ascents of Tuesday's stage 11 - dubbed the toughest in any Grand Tour in the past 30 years by Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué. As it is, all we really know is that Astana's much-publicised leadership conundrum has been solved: following Nibali's disqualification and Mikel Landa's implosion (the Spaniard shipped 14 minutes on stage 9), Aru is very much the main man.
Aru certainly looks like a podium place in waiting but who will join him there is uncertain. Alejandro Valverde has been fairly rampant (until his crash on Sunday) and with his stage win has certainly eclipsed Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana so far. The Colombian has been something of a silent enigma - and much like the Tour, he will surely get stronger as the race gets older.
As for Sky's Chris Froome, the Tour winner looked rather rusty on the first major mountain-top finish, struggling in the heat while the fresher Aru dictated play further up the hill. But just as he did in last year's Vuelta, Froome is getting stronger while sticking to what he knows best: riding his own tempo while his rivals tire themselves out with blistering accelerations.
It's a tactic that may well see Froome finally stand on the top rung of the podium in Madrid. Although only a fool would make any serious predictions before Tuesday. Indeed, should Joaquim Rodriguez manage a win on home soil then perhaps we'll have to take the Katusha veteran seriously too - after all, this could be his last chance of winning a Grand Tour.
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