2018 Vuelta a Espana
Dennis set a blistering time of 37 minutes 57 seconds over the rolling course in Cantabria to win his second stage of the race by 50 seconds over his American BMC team-mate Joey Rosskopf and the Spaniard Jonathan Castroviejo (Team Sky).
Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski (Team Sky) completed the top five – both coming home one second further in arrears.
Kruijswijk put in the outstanding performance among the general classification favourites, rising above Colombian duo Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) into third place in the battle for red, 52 seconds down on Mitchelton-Scott’s Yates.
Yates, not renowned for his time trialling ability but nevertheless no slouch, completed the course between Santillana del Mar and Torrelavega 1’28” slower than ace Dennis but seven seconds quicker than his nearest rival, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
The 26-year-old Yates now leads Spanish veteran Valverde by 33 seconds on GC with the impressive Kruijswijk up to third at 52 seconds.
Quintana, the 2016 Vuelta champion, toiled on a course suited to the powerhouse rouleurs, coming home more than two minutes down to drop off the virtual podium to fourth, 1’15” behind Yates. His fellow Colombian Lopez fared even worse – dropping out of the top five thanks to a gutsy ride by the Spanish youngster Enric Mas of Quick-Step Floors.
Mas, who posted the sixth best time of the day, now trails the race summit by 1’30” with Lopez four seconds further back. The gap back to sixth-place Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) is large, the French Stage 15 winner now 2’53” down on Yates.
A relatively disappointing effort from the European champion Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal) opened the door for Sky’s Spanish TT champion Castroviejo to move into the winner’s enclosure at the finish – but the local rider barely had time to make himself comfortable before Dennis powered over the line to take over the hot seat.
As soon as the statuesque Dennis rolled down the ramp looking resplendent in his Australian champion’s skin suit, there was never really any doubt as to who would emerge victorious.
Before the first time check at 10km Dennis had swept past the two riders who set out ahead of him – and that tally would rise to five by the time he completed what was always destined to be the winning time.
BMC team-mate Rosskopf, the American TT champion, put in a superb ride to match Castroviejo’s effort, while Poland’s Michal Kwiatkowski – who came within six seconds of Dennis’ winning effort in the opening 12km time trial in Malaga – was one second further back in fourth.
A brief scare came on behalf of Kruijswijk, the flame-haired Dutchman blitzing the opening third five seconds quicker than Dennis at the 10km intermediate check.
But it became quickly apparent that Kruijswijk had perhaps set off too ambitiously, the 31-year-old fading to 24 seconds behind Dennis at the 21.4km mark. Kruijswijk would eventually match Kwiatkowski’s time at the finish – not enough to come close to scaring Dennis, but sufficient to rise up the standings and keep the pressure on his GC rivals.
“I tried to control it at the start and finish and make my move in the middle section and it worked out perfectly,” said Dennis, who praised team-mate Rosskopf for his strong ride for second place.
“I knew I was on a good one just by looking at my power on the Garmin. But I didn’t know what Kwiatkowski and a couple of the later guys would do. All I knew was how Castroviejo was going and he’s always a good indicator of if you’re doing well or not. But the performance of the day, I’ll have to give it to Joey Rosskopf. He’s the best team-mate and easiest guy to be in the back of the bus with, and he got second so I’m really happy for him.”
“Everything’s looking good for the Worlds,” added the 28-year-old Australian, who confirmed he was now leaving the Vuelta to concentrate on preparing for the World Championships time trial at Innsbruck next month.
Expectedly poor time trials from the Colombian climbing duo Quintana and Lopez means both riders will have to go on the offensive in Wednesday’s hilly Stage 17 and in the two Pyrenean stages in Andorra later this week.
Yates, meanwhile, will be pleased at having defended a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour time trial for the second time this season. He will be aware, too, that his advantage over the likes of Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome following the corresponding Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia in May was considerably larger than the 33 seconds he now holds against his nearest rival in Spain. And we all know how things panned out for Yates in Italy.
As for Movistar, the Spanish team now have a big decision to make: should they back 38-year-old Valverde or keep believing that Quintana, who needs to make up a 1’15” deficit, will come good. To light a candle, they may have to burn one of their matches or risk both fizzling out.
Meanwhile, splitting the Movistar pair on GC is a rider quietly and convincingly going about his business in Spain. Kruijswijk finished a superb fifth in July’s Tour de France and is now, at less than a minute behind, an obstacle that Yates cannot afford to underestimate in his bid to become the third British rider to win a Grand Tour in 2018.
Tomorrow’s stage 17 takes the riders 157km from Getxo to Balcon de Bizkaia.
Off the back of the second rest day and the tribulations of the ITT, this Basque bonanza boasts a quintessential surf-n-turf Vuelta itinerary with tough climbs, inland loops and city-to-summit-to-sea views over the Bay of Biscay. Starting in Getxo, the hometown of Team Sky’s Jonathan Castroviejo, the route starts with a circuit around Bilbao before a stunning approach to the coast and a picturesque seaside segment.