Vuelta Skelter: The joy of six for red hot Dutchman Dumoulin
Our daily sideways glance at the ups and downs of the Vuelta a España features a gutsy Gougeard, a determined Dumoulin and a sly slingshot from sneaky Sanchez that may put anguished Aru in hot water.
On a day Tom Dumoulin was expected to be put under pressure it was the Dutchman who himself put a stamp on the race to double his lead over main rival Fabio Aru of Italy to a joyous six seconds with just two days remaining.
With cobbles and crashes on the agenda for both the main protagonists of the race there were a fair amount of ups and downs in stage 19.
But our round-up starts with the man who stole the show from the break – and in so doing became the first French stage winner of this race...
UP- ALEXIS GOUGEARD
The 22-year-old Rouen rouleur showed maturity beyond his years as he staved off the cream of the breakaway crop to stay out ahead and win in the shadow of the Medieval fortress of Avila.
Gougeard, the 2011 Paris-Roubaix junior champion, had clearly read the roadbook prior to the stage and knew all about that cobbled climb.
Judging by this performance, he should prove a pretty tidy rider in the Tour of Flanders too – provided Belgium has a hot spring, that is.
And you can always tell when you’ve arrived on the Vuelta a Espana when you get the race’s resident funnyman, Senor Fiestina, working his magic with your name.
DOWN- FABIO ARU
The Sardinian was, quite literally, down early on after a mini pile-up involving a lot of his Astana team saw him hit the deck as speed.
Delayed TV images showed that Aru was either extremely disorientated from the fall – or took advantage of the lull to answer a call of nature on the side of the road.
Twice Aru had to drop back to see the race doctor to look at a graze on his elbow.
Aru’s day then went from bad to worse when Dumoulin attacked on the cobbled rise to the finish.
Having seen his deficit doubled by dastardly Dumoulin, Aru was in no mood to chew the fat with any journalists or attend any formalities.
But the loss of the white jersey, coupled with his fall and the cobbled climax, was perhaps not the only reason Aru had to take a leaf out of team-mate Vincenzo Nibali’s book and flee the scene in a baby blue Astana VW Passat estate.
Unlike in certain track events, slingshots in road cycling are banned and could incur a 10-second penalty.
With TV images inconclusive because of a tree blocking the path of view, let’s hope the commissaires don’t have to make up their mind by looking at this close-up – which looks like some kind of abstract oil painting more than something from the telly box.
UP- TOM DUMOULIN
At first it was reported that the Dutch race leader had himself come down in the Aru incident early in the stage. His Giant-Alpecin team later confirmed that he was merely held up by the fall-out.
Either way, Dumoulin showed his class by waiting for Aru to make it back into the peloton before checking his rival was ok.
And when Dumoulin threw down the hammer with his cobbled attack, it looked like the officials were so impressed both with his sense of fair play and his huge cojones that they awarded him a 10-minute bonus.
Lucky that someone had their stopwatch out, then, to rectify matters.
DOWN- ARNAUD CORTEILLE & STEPHANE ROSSETTO
It’s always cruel when your race ends so near to the finish, so spare a thought for the French duo who got in a tangle on the final climb before being forced to retire from the Vuelta.
For Rossetto it was particularly heartbreaking: he was on schedule for a top 20 finish in his maiden Grand Tour. Get well soon, boys...