Vuelta a Espana 2017
Trentin, 28, took his second win of the race – and Quick-Step Floors’ fourth – after proving the strongest of a 20-man break that eventually animated the 164.4km stage from Caravaca de la Cruz to Alhama de Murcia.
The Italian powerhouse showed his climbing abilities by cresting the summit of the day’s big test – the first-category Collado Bermejo – in a four-man counter before riding clear with Movistar’s Rojas on a succession of switchbacks ahead of the finish.
After Rojas opened up the final sprint in his native Murcia, Trentin showed the sprinting skills that took him to an earlier victory in Stage 4 – pushing out a resigned Rojas at a relative canter to double his tally and move into the lead in the green jersey points classification.
The remnants of the breakaway arrived in dribs and drabs before BMC’s Roche capped a fine display by coming home 29 seconds ahead of the main field to draw level with second-place Colombian Estaban Chaves (Orica-Scott) in the overall standings.
Italian Stage 3 winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) had piled on the pressure on the descent but it was former Sky rider Roche who eventually managed to establish a gap over his old friend in red, Froome.
“It was a good day,” Roche told the media. “It wasn’t really a plan to go on the descent until I saw Vincenzo [Nibali] open up a small gap. But I was there with him and said, ‘Let’s go and see what happens’.”
Heavy rain greeted the remaining 179 riders back to the race after Monday’s rest day – and despite numerous attempts, no breakaway formed over the flat opening half of the stage until the showers ceased with around 80km remaining.
When the break formed, it had pedigree – with the likes of Alessandro De Marchi (BMC), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Valerio Agnoli (Bahrain Merida) and Alexandre Geniez (AG2R-La Mondiale), as well as Movistar duo Marc Soler and Rojas, and Quick-Step pair Trentin and Niki Terpstra.
With the best-placed rider some 12 minutes down, Team Sky were content to let the break go – and the advantage quickly ballooned to five minutes accordingly, with the leaders having averaged a whopping 52.3km/h over the first two hours.
Trentin – in green by default – cut his deficit to Froome in the points classification to just three points in the intermediate sprint before South African Jacques Janse Van Rensburg gave some tonic to his ailing Dimension Data team with an attack on the first of two deciding climbs, the Cat.3 Alto del Morron de Totana.
Van Rensberg held a small advantage over the summit but was caught by Rojas, Trentin and Jaime Roson (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) at the start of the final climb, the Collada Bermejo. Behind, a group containing Sanchez, Soler, De Marchi and Geniez led the chase around 30 seconds in arrears.
It was Rojas who crested the summit of the 7.7km climb on the front of the four-man leading group while four minutes further down the mountain, Nibali was being paced up by his Bahrain Merida team-mate Franco Pellizotti.
When Nibali did finally make his move near the summit, the big favourites – including Froome, Chaves and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) – all had it covered.
On a highly technical descent, Van Rensberg and Roson were dropped by the leaders, while Nibali opened up a small gap over his rivals. But in the battle for red, it was Roche who took the upper hand – the Irishman passing the Sicilian before skipping clear of Froome et al.
Trentin predictably got the better of Rojas in the final sprint outside the ElPozo Alimentacion warehouse before Spain’s Roson zipped clear of Van Rensberg for third place, slamming his handlebars in frustration on crossing the line.
Frenchman Geniez – who was forced to unclip from the pedals on several occasions during the hazardous descent – pipped Soler to complete the top five, while local rider Sanchez cut a forlorn figure as he came home alongside De Marchi some 2’22” in arrears.
After a second win in less than a week, Orica-Scott-bound Trentin said: “I really wanted that victory. I had been thinking about this stage for a while. The climb was hard but it was even so I know that’s something I can handle really well. I knew the downhill was super technical. It was good for me having (Jose Joaquin) Rojas with me because he was really good in the downhill. We could distance all the other riders and then I dominated the sprint.”
There was no significant change in the general classification despite Roche’s 29-second gain on his rivals – the Irishman straying in third place but drawing level with Chaves, 36 seconds behind Froome. Nibali and the American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) complete the top five.
Despite the time loss to Roche, Froome was pleased to have survived a potential banana skin of a stage without having to take any unnecessary risks.
“I am in a good position in the GC and there was a lot of roads from the bottom of the climb to the finish,” he said. “We took it easy with my teammates and kept everything together. Nico (Roche) wasn’t a big worry for me. As I said, I was happy to stay safe, but he obviously did a great ride. He’s in fantastic shape in La Vuelta, so congratulations to him.”
If little changed in the battle for red on Tuesday then expect Wednesday’s Stage 10 to spark a flurry of movement: the 187.5km ride from Lorca to the observatory at Calar Alto concludes with back-to-back Cat.1 ascents including the race’s first summit finish above 2,000 metres.