Simon Yates may no longer be a stranger to leading a Grand Tour, having worn pink at the Giro d'Italia in May, but the Mitchelton-Scott rider says he was still ‘surprised’ to pull on the red jersey at the Vuelta a Espana after the mountainous finale to stage nine.

The 26-year-old started the day in fourth position overall, 51 seconds down on Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ), but a ninth placed finish on the stage, two minutes and 49 seconds down on the day’s winner Ben King (Dimension Data), propelled him to the top of the standings as the race pauses for its first rest day.

“I was just trying to follow the best guys in the race, so it is a bit of a surprise. A good surprise"

“It wasn’t expected for me to be in the leader’s jersey at the end of the stage today,” said Yates at the finish of the 200.8km stage from Talavera de la Reina to La Covatilla. “I was just trying to follow the best guys in the race and I was a little bit behind by a few seconds, so it is a bit of a surprise, but I am happy. A good surprise.”

It is the second time that Yates has led in a Grand Tour this season, following 13 days in the maglia rosa at the Giro d’Italia, and it’s a position the Bury-born rider is getting used to.

Ben King (Dimension Data) wins stage nine of the Vuelta a Espana 2018

“Being in the leader’s jersey is becoming a little bit familiar now and of course I am very happy," added Yates.

“It’s difficult to say what I learned from the Giro d’Italia because I still don’t know why I cracked and if I did I would have learned a very valuable lesson, but we don’t know yet and that’s OK because every race is different.”

Yates’ lead is slim – Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sits just one second behind, while the Spaniard’s team-mate Nairo Quintana is a further thirteen seconds back in third – but he is likely to hold the jersey until Wednesday’s hilly parcours at least, with stage ten in between one for the sprinters.

“As far as a game plan I will have to sit down with the team and discuss how we approach being in the jersey over the next few days,” concluded Yates.

Stage nine was the race’s first day of out-and-out climbing and saw the riders take on the first hors categorie climb of this year’s Vuelta – the 9.8km climb of La Covatilla, which has an average gradient of 7.1 per cent and peaks of 16.4 per cent.

Yates was part of an 11-strong lead group on the approach to the final climb of the day, but it was Ben King (Dimension Data) who pushed on with 19km to go. The American managed to make his break stick, securing his second stage win of the race in the process.

Vuelta a Espana 2018: stage nine - result

Ben King (USA) – Dimension Data – 5H 30’38”
Bauke Mollema (NED) – Trek-Segafredo – +48”
Dylan Teuns (BEL) – BMC Racing – +2’38”
Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (COL) – Astana – +2’40”
Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – +2’40”
Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Sunweb – +2’40”
Rigoberto Uran (COL) – EF-Drapac – +2’43”
Jon Izaguierre Insausti (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida – +2’46”
Simon Yates (GBR) – Mitchelton-Scott – +2’49”
George Bennett (NZL) – LottoNL-Jumbo – +3’02”

General classification after stage nine

Simon Yates (GBR) – Mitchelton-Scott – 36H 54’52”
Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – +1”
Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – +14”
Emanuel Buchmann (GER) – Bora-hansgrohe – +16”
Jon Izaguirre Insausti (ESP) – Bahrain-Merida – +17”
Tony Gallopin (FRA) – AG2R La Mondiale – +24”
Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (COL) – Astana – +27”
Rigoberto Uran (COL) – EF-Drapac – +32”
Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo – +43”
George Bennett (NZL) – LottoNL-Jumbo – +48”