Gruelling climbs, heavy rain, faltering favourites, the Vuelta truly kicked off this weekend, with plenty of drama unfolding. The race is now perfectly poised entering the rest-day, so here is what we learnt from the weekend's nail-biting racing.
Movistar are the strongest team
The Valverde & Quintana double-pronged attack is undoubtedly working at the Vuelta. Whilst at the Tour Movistar's tactics were heavily criticised, this time around the Spanish team are riding like a cohesive unit. Marc Soler waiting for Quintana on the final climb, rather than pursuing personal glory, was a significant step in the right direction for a team that in the past has had confused ambitions.
Along with World Champion Alejandro Valverde's repetitive jabs at the front, Movistar are clearly able to soften the legs of Roglič and Lopez on the big climbs. With Quintana's climbing form also looking good, Movistar are now strong favourites for the overall win.
Pro cyclists love to play PlayStation
Stage 5 winner Ángel Madrazo (Burgos BH) was presented with a Playstation 4 at the start of Saturday's stage, after his girlfriend refused to buy him one because it was too expensive.
After lighting up the race, it is a deserved prize for the pro-continental rider, especially after his team-car almost wiped him and his breakaway companion out earlier in the race!
The Spanish tour isn't always sunny...
Stage 8 was contested in biblical rain with a large breakaway sprinting for the win in Ingulada, looking more like a one-day classic than a grand tour. As the race approached town, the heavens opened, with a TV motorbike crashing on a roundabout in the final kilometres. Tobias Ludvigsson (Groupama-FDJ) narrowly avoided crashing into the back of the moto and luckily no other riders were caught up in the mayhem.
The incident with the motorbike is just another reminder of how treacherous wet roads can be, for the race vehicles as well as the riders!
Young-gun Pogačar makes his mark
Just 20 years old, Tadej Pogačar has already taken the Tour of California and Volta ao Algarve titles in 2019 and has now added a grand tour stage victory to his palmarès. The Slovenian rider was able to ride with the best in the business, attacking to win on the final climb and riding himself into 5th on GC.
Along with the likes of Remco Evenepoel, Mathieu Van Der Poel, Wout Van Aert, Egan Bernal and Giulio Ciccone to name but a few, cycling is quickly becoming dominated by the young generation. Pogačar is just another reason to get excited about the bright future of professional bike racing.
Roglič limiting his losses for the time-trial
Whilst not dominating this race, Roglič is riding superbly to keep him in contention for the overall race lead. He was dropped on the final climb of stage 9, but fought back to finish 3rd on the stage, just 25 seconds behind Nairo Quintana.
The Slovenian is now sitting in 2nd on GC, being in a good position to take the race lead on stage 10's 36-kilometre individual time-trial. To be in with a chance at winning the race, Roglič has to produce the TT that he knows he is capable of.
Lopez and Roglič have an encounter with the gravel
The weather continued to play its part on stage 9 with Lopez and Roglič coming down on the much-anticipated gravel section on the final climb. Crossing the line Roglič looked relatively unscathed, compared to Lopez who was wearing some nasty scrapes.
Both riders will be thankful for the rest day, where they can regroup and prepare for the 2nd week of the race.
The race isn't over
Any fear that the Vuelta would have been already over thanks to a tough opening week can be put to bed. The top four riders are separated by just 20 seconds, with the time-trial on stage 10 set to shaken things up further. Predicting a winner at this point is impossible, with so many twists and turns set to come.
Perhaps one downer on this year's Vuelta is the number of early abandonments. Unfortunately, Hugh Carthy, Steven Kruijswijk, and Rigoberto Uran have had to quit the race due to nasty crashes and injuries. Hopefully they all recover well and we'll see them back racing in a grand tour soon!