Esteban Chaves has even more to smile about

Today’s stage could have appropriated the title format of one of those sensationalist ITV filler programmes and called itself When Race Leaders Attack.

It was one of the Vuelta’s typical short, erratic climbs to the finish. When it was steep, little Esteban Chaves attacked. When it flattened out, big Tom Dumoulin followed him. It was a lesson in power-to-weight ratios in the space of a few hundred metres. At first it seemed like both of them had gone too soon, but it didn’t pan out that way, even if Dan Martin managed to pass Dumoulin late on to take second on the stage.

Chaves smiles when he loses the race lead, so it was to be expected that he’d also smile when he got it back. It’s a smile so broad, you fear him winning overall, lest the two corners of his mouth meet round the back and the top of his head drops off. Even if that happened, he’d doubtless be delighted. His incorrigible grinning balances out Nairo Quintana’s expressionlessness, I suppose, keeping Colombia as a whole facially even.

Things get more serious now though. Tomorrow’s final climb is near enough 20km long and that’s a different sort of thing altogether. There’s no saying Chaves won’t cope with it, but there’s also no saying he will. The same goes for Dumoulin, only with a different probability (lower). Expect the bigger names to show their faces because it’s basically the race’s Big Mountain Sort-Out.