CORTALS D’ENCAMP, Andorra — Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia won a stormy mountainous ninth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Sunday, and Nairo Quintana took over the race lead. Quintana earned a slim advantage on Team Jumbo-Visma leader Primoz Roglic, who was helped to third place on Sunday’s stage by Durango star climber Sepp Kuss.
“When I saw the weather yesterday, I was happy it was going to rain,” the 20-year-old Pogacar said. “On the ground section I went full gas. Today was a tricky stage, a lot of technical areas ... and also a hail storm. It was an incredible ride.”
Pogacar, who rides for UAE Team Emirates, finished the short but extremely challenging 58.6-mile stage in 2 hours, 58 minutes.
Quintana crossed the line next as the rider for Movistar took the red leader’s jersey from Nicolas Edet, who was dropped early in the stage.
The highly anticipated stage in the Pyrenees shattered the peloton with five summit climbs and a 2-mile gravel track near the end, which the riders reached amid heavy rain and hail.
The strongest of the favorites for the Grand Tour all finished within a minute of each other, leaving them in a tight bunch ahead of the first rest day.
Roglic overcame signs of weakness and finished in third, as the Slovenian moved to second overall at six seconds behind Quintana. Kuss was the fifth man over the Gallina climb and was charging hard up the climb when he dropped back to support Roglic, who had a wild day after he had a crash earlier in the stage when a motorcycle was in the wrong position in the middle of the road after a bend.
“It was a tough stage, and it had everything in it,” Kuss said in a Jumbo-Visma news release. “Especially the bad weather at the end made it very challenging. We were doing really well with three guys in the leading group. It’s better to send people ahead than to chase from behind. After all, you never know what happens behind. In the end, it was a matter of communicating well. It is a pity about the incident with the motorbike. Luckily we were able to limit the time loss.”
Kuss went on to finish the stage 16th after another powerful performance, and his strength at this year’s Vuelta has been praised by Roglic. He is 35th in the overall standings.
Contender Miguel Ángel López looked like he was going to deal a blow to his rivals after he dropped them with a powerful attack. But he fell on the gravel stretch when the weather was at its worst. The Colombian finished the stage ninth and is third overall at 17 seconds behind fellow countryman Quintana.
López said the stage should have been stopped because of the weather. A mountain stage was halted in the Tour de France in July when rain made the course impossible to ride.
“I have my arms scraped up,” López said. “It was very dangerous. At least there wasn’t a descent.”
World champion Alejandro Valverde, a teammate of Quintana, is fourth at 20 seconds back.
The racing will resume Tuesday with an individual time trial across the border in France. Roglic is considered the best suited of the top riders to make big gains on the 22.3 miles from Jurancon to Pau.
“The important thing was to try to take some time on Roglic, who should do well on the time trial,” said former Vuelta winner Quintana.
The Durango Herald contributed to this report.