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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Sunday, September 16, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

The hardest thing to explain is the glaringly evident which everybody had decided not to see. - Ayn Rand

Current racing:

Latest completed racing:


Vuelta a España stage 20 reports

We posted the race organzer's stage summary with the results.

Here's the report from stage winner Enric Mas' Quick-Step team:

Prodigious climber Enric Mas is set to become the youngest rider in the last 15 years to finish the race in the top three.

Mas went all-in on the penultimate day of the Vuelta a España, throwing caution to the wind with more than 20 kilometers to go and displaying an aggressive and bold performance on the shortest mountain stage of the race this century, from Andorra. Escaldes-Engordany to Coll de la Gallina, which put on the table an insanely hard course numbering no less than six classified climbs, all crammed in the space of just 97 kilometers, at the end of which Mas stretched his arms and celebrated the most beautiful victory of his career.

Fourth at the start of the stage, Enric overturned the deficit he had on both Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) after marrying imagination and adventure in attacking on Coll de la Comella together with race leader Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) from a drastically reduced peloton, bridging on the descent to the front duo and immediately opening a 40-second on the chasing group.

On the grueling Coll de la Gallina, an ascent averaging a staggering 8.1%, Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) danced clear of their companions, establishing a hefty gap and moving themselves onto the virtual overall podium. By the time they rode under the red kite, it became clear the two of them will contest the win, and in the end it was Enric who prevailed, after using his local knowledge to accelerate before the final corner and fend off the challenge of his Colombian opponent.

Enric Mas

Enric Mas wins stage twenty. Sirotti photo

Emotional and struggling for words after going deep on the final mountain stage of La Vuelta and pulling off the audacious move which capped off three remarkable weeks, Enric took us through the final kilometer of Saturday's stage: "I watched last week the video of the 2012 stage that concluded atop Gallina, so I knew I had to be at the front before the last bend and that's why I kept the speed high and accelerated 150 meters from the line. Taking my first Grand Tour stage win is something beautiful which I will always remember."

It was for the first time in 61 years that the race remained in the Pyrenees so late on and the stage – stacked with climbs – didn't disappoint, with the peloton battling hard on every inch of the road of the relentless up and down course which really took the sting out of the riders' legs, leaving only a dozen men in contention on the second-to-last ascent.

At all times attentive and unfazed by the numerous skirmishes between the GC contenders, Mas played it smart and cool all the way to the top of Coll de la Gallina, as many of his rivals crumbled and lost ground, and delivered the 87th Grand Tour stage victory in the history of Quick-Step Floors, one which catapulted him to second overall.

"I can't tell you how happy I am to be in the top three, but at the moment I still don't want to think about this, because there's still one day to go and only in Madrid I will truly savour this achievement. It's the first time that I am in this position and hopefully it won't be the last time. After the penultimate weekend, I began thinking I could finish in the top five or even on the podium, and helped by a great Quick-Step Floors team, I took it day by day and continued to rise in the GC, culminating with this beautiful result, for which I worked hard and made a lot of sacrifices, that today paid off", said Enric – first rider from the Balearic Islands in over four decades to claim a stage win at the Vuelta a España and the first in 70 years to surge onto the overall podium – after the final mountain showdown.

GC leader Simon Yates' Mitchelton-Scott team sent me this update:

Simon Yates and Australian team Mitchelton-SCOTT are on the verge of creating history at La Vuelta a Espana after the 26-year-old finished third on the penultimate and decisive stage in Andorra to once again extend his lead in the Spanish Grand Tour.

With one-minute 46seconds separating him and second place, just a ceremonious stage in Madrid stands between Yates and his first Grand Tour, and the first Australian men’s team to win a Grand Tour in history.

Simon Yates

Simon Yates finishes stage twenty with a smile on his face.

With six climbs in just 97km of racing, Mitchelton-SCOTT were prepared for a difficult day defending and they were up to the task. As a non-dangerous break was a couple of minutes ahead, the team still had all eight riders at the front of the bunch as they began the middle climb of Coll de Ordino, despite a heavily reduced peloton.

Astana Pro Team were the most aggressive team of the day, putting down the pressure later on the same climb to bring the race back together and leave just the group of favourites to fight it out.

Set up by his team, Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) attacked over the second passing of Coll de Beixalis but Adam Yates remained steady to chase him back for brother Simon.

The penultimate climb saw more attacks with Lopez once again moving, this time taking Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) with him. After over 20km on the front in support and just 17km remaining in the stage, Adam Yates told his brother he was on his last legs and Simon Yates immediately attacked, with Enric Mas (Quickstep Floors) in tow, over the top of the penultimate climb to have the upper hand in the valley to the final climb.

Yates and Mas quickly bridged to the leading duo of Lopez and Quintana on the descent and the duo joined Lopez in shouldering the work on approach and up the final climb.

Quintana dropped back to support teammate Alejandro Valverde before Yates lost contact with the remaining pair just inside seven kilometres to go. As he cleverly paced himself up the challenging Coll de Gallina to finish third on the stage, Yates continued to gain time on the chase group. Mas won the stage to finish second overall with Lopez’s second place also moved him onto the final podium for Madrid.

Simon Yates:
“Finally. I think it’s still sinking in. I’m incredibly proud, of the team also. They have carried me through this entire three weeks. It’s the first Grand Tour for the team, it’s just unbelievable.”

“Adam was running out of legs on the penultimate climb and I didn’t want to be in a position where I was riding through the valley to the final climb, that could have been the worse situation possible.

“I knew that Lopez and Quintana were up the road and Lopez especially had something to gain so I knew that he would maybe work with me, so as we say, sometimes attack is best form of defence. On the last climb I was OK, I was really at my limit and Lopez and Mas they were both incredible in the final and I just tried to ride my own rhythm and that was it. I gave everything that I had and thankfully it was enough.

“I feel much better now that we have finished, it was a really crazy day and fast. Once again, I want to thank the team. Everybody really stepped up, even the big guys who you didn't expect to be there on the climbs. They were just unbelievable, a really incredible day.”

Stage twenty made for a bad day for team Movistar. Here's their stage report:

After an extremely consistent and courageous race by Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana and the whole Movistar Team in the 2018 Vuelta a España, their hopes to claim a good overall result vanished in the 97km stage twenty, featuring more than 4,000m of elevation gain and six rated climbs between Escaldes-Engordany and the Santuario de Canolich / Coll de la Gallina.

Despite the Telefónica-backed squad seeking at all times to make the race hard for its rivals -putting Nelson Oliveira into a much-fought early break and, most notably, sending Nairo Quintana on some significant attacks through the first climb of Beixalis and the second ascent to La Comella-, the Blues’ designated leader struggled from well afar from the finish. The work by Richard Carapaz kept Valverde’s podium chances alive against the attack from Miguel Ángel López (AST). However, the final climb, which ‘Bala’ started half a minute behind, came true suffering for Alejandro, supported by Quintana all the way -the Cóndor dropping back from a leading trio with Yates (MTS), López and eventual stage winner Mas (QST)-.

In the end, it was a three-minute loss at the summit for Valverde, who slips down to 5th overall. Still, the efforts by the Movistar Team all race didn’t go empty-handed, the Eusebio Unzué-led squad securing on Saturday its victory in the team classification -barely a month and a half after equal success in the Tour- and all but claiming the Points jersey with Valverde himself, winner of two stages other than a relentless competitor.

Alejandro Valverde

Alejandro Valverde cracked on stage twenty.

REACTION:

Alejandro Valverde: “You’ve got to stay happy when you give everything you’ve got. You must accept defeat – when you win, it’s all fantastic, but when you lose, you’ve got to recognise your rivals are better than you and move forward. I’ve been up there all Vuelta long and I can only be happy about that. Also because of the teamwork, my two stage victories, this green jersey and the team GC, which will get everyone on the podium. These final days haven’t been the ending I hoped for, but you’ve got to accept things like they happen. It hurts to be out of the podium, but when you leave everything on the road, you can’t really ask for more.

“At the second climb of Beixalis I was struggling a lot, I wasn’t comfortable at all, and I wasn’t able to turn things around in the remainder of the stage. After that, it was just suffering. You sort of surrender and don’t perform the same way; it’s the same for you to lose 1’30” or three minutes. The whole team was phenomenal all Vuelta long, and Nairo proved again to be an excellent team-mate, supporting me all the way to the finish. I thank him for that.

“Now it’s time to rest up and face what’s coming up at the Worlds; let’s see what we can do there. These two days weren’t the best for me, but I think there’s enough time to let the body rest and get back to my best form before Innsbruck. I’m so happy about Enric Mas, he did an excellent race. Yates was a well-deserved overall winner.”

And Rafal Majka's Bora-hansgrohe team sent me this report:

On the second day in Andorra, it was here that the 2018 Vuelta a España would be decided. Today was going to be pivotal in so many ways, and was a worthy Queen Stage, given the impact it was going to have on the entire race. There was relentless climbing from the very start of the day, as riders traversed no fewer than six climbs squeezed into the race’s shortest road stage. In the end, after working to keep the escape energised and pushing hard to get them to increase their lead, Rafał Majka found that his breakaway compatriots just didn’t have the legs to stay out in front until the finale, and after being caught, dropped back to work with Davide Formolo and Emanuel Buchmann to scale the Coll de la Gallina and finish in the day’s top twenty.

The Stage
On this penultimate stage, the race organisers had clearly saved the best until last – or the worst, if you weren’t a climber. On the Vuelta a España’s shortest road stage, at just 97.3km in length, today’s parcours was bursting at the seams with categorised climbs. There were six climbs in all, most of which were either first or second category, amounting to 35.4km of climbing over the day. To round things off, the last summit finish of the race was the Categoría Especial Coll de la Gallina which, while only 3.5km in length, would see maximum gradients of 11% and an average gradient of 8.7% for the riders to contend with. Those looking to take the stage win would have to cross all five of the day’s other climbs and still have the power to attack here – and with the entire GC field looking to take some time on what would be their last opportunity to do so, you could be sure that the stage and the whole race would burst into life here. The descent from the summit of the penultimate climb could prove to be where the stage, and perhaps the race, would be decided.

The Team Tactics
Not only was this the last mountain stage of the Vuelta a España, it was undoubtedly the most difficult of the race. This Queen Stage would be the race’s most unpredictable, given that so many riders would be looking to make an impact, whether claiming the final mountain stage or tearing the GC race apart. For BORA-hansgrohe though, the aim would be to get Rafał Majka in a break and to push for the win, but it was clear that this would prove hard given how explosive the GC race was set to be. For the rest of the team, it would be a matter of simply getting through the hardest parcours of the entire race unscathed – for Emanuel Buchmann to finish safely on this demanding day, and for the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, to be able to challenge for the stage when the race rolls into Madrid tomorrow.

The Race
Two races would be taking place today – the GC contenders would plan on taking time or else trying to limit their losses, while the climbers would be taking every opportunity they could to go for the win on what would be their last chance in this race. As expected, the climbers were queuing up, eagerly anticipating the drop of the flag to start the day and jump in the break. After several attempts from several riders to make the escape, a group of fifteen formed, and once again, Rafał Majka had shown the attacking spirit that had got him into several of the Vuelta’s breakaways, helping his group to build a time gap that reached two minutes, before a smaller group of eight broke off the front, led by BORA-hansgrohe’s punchy Polish climber, building up their lead to three minutes. The amount of climbing and descending was so high that it was hard to keep an accurate idea of their lead, with the peloton reducing the gap on the descents and the lead growing again on the climbs. Having taken some points in the King of the Mountains contest, Rafał tried to re-energise the break as the peloton drew near, attacking with 35km to go, but with only one rider willing to meet his efforts, it was all back together again a couple of kilometres later, it being clear that the GC riders wanted to decide both of the races taking place today as they went on to blow the stage to pieces on the Coll de la Gallina with attacks and counterattacks. With the stage and the race being decided among the GC riders, the stronger BORA-hansgrohe climbers – Rafał, Davide and Emanuel – stuck together to come into the finish as one group.

From the Finish Line
"In this last tough stage we tried to ride offensively and go for the stage win with Rafał, but it was difficult since other teams put on a big effort, so we couldn't reach that goal. Overall, Emu did a good job and we aren't disappointed. We missed our goal of a top ten in the GC by a small margin but, all in all, it was satisfactory." – André Schulze, Sports Director

"Another stage with a fast start. I gave it a try and went into the breakaway group but as it fell apart, I waited for Emu to support him and, together with Davide, we finished the three of us together. We are now on our way to Madrid for the final stage of this year's Vuelta." – Rafał Majka

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