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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, September 13, 2019

Back to news and opinion index page for links to archived stories | Commentary | Our YouTube page
2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much. - Blaise Pascal

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Vuelta a España stage 18 reports

We posted the organizer's report with the race results.

Here's the report from stage winner Sergio Higuita's EF Education First team:

Every morning during the team meeting on the EF Education First bus, sport director Juanma Garate outlines the team plan to his depleted Vuelta a España squad. Only five riders remain from the eight starters. Hugh Carthy, Rigoberto Urán, and Tejay van Garderen were forced out of the race win injuries in the first week.

The crashes took whatever plans the team had and threw them out the window. The five riders left in the race, without their team leaders to look after, were tasked with stage hunting across Spain, Andorra and France. No small ask.

“Everybody knew that we had a really nice opportunity today, but where do you find the motivation for the guys when you are saying more or less the same thing for two weeks?” wondered Garate. “I felt that. I know they did. This was the last opportunity to win a stage. I told them that, and I told Sergio, his life would change if he did.” 

Sergio Higuita. The 22-year-old neo-pro who got his WorldTour call up in May. The Vuelta is his maiden Grand Tour, and in Becerril de la Sierra on Thursday, Higuita scored his first WorldTour win. 

Sergio Higuita

Sergio Higuita wins a big one. Sirotti photo

“It’s a dream to be at the Vuelta, riding a Grand Tour,” said Higuita. “And now, winning a stage, it’s very important. It’s the biggest win of my sporting career.”

“To win one stage in a big Tour, it is really special,” Garate said. “Especially when you are 22-years-old, especially when everyone is talking about you and what you can do in the future. He’s a big guy even if he’s really small.”

The Higuita Monster, as team boss Jonathan Vaughters affectionately dubbed him during the first week of his tenure with the team, emerged victorious from the early escape on Thursday. The stage 18 177-kilometer route featured four category one climbs. Higuita forced clear on Puerto de Cotos, the second of the four climbs, with a group of six riders. 

Wout Poels (Ineos) was the lone leader at the time, and, after Higuita’s group had linked up to Poels, more riders bridged across, making it a baker’s dozen up front. The group of 13 had five minutes over a reduced peloton on the third climb, the Puerto de la Morcuera.

Higuita launched his race-winning attack over the top, 52-kilometers from the finish, with Garate in his ear, urging him forward. “I asked him to go,” said Garate. “It was the only chance we had. Go back, breathe, then go. Right after the top, he had to go. He did it. He dropped everyone. It was so cool.” 

Gap gained, Higuita next had to hold off his chasers – the breakaway riders and the general contenders who were throwing attacks in his wake. 

“I had to maintain a high rhythm because the big favorites were fighting behind me,” said Higuita. “My director told me I could keep an advantage over them. I had to ride with my heart until the last five kilometers, to handle the pain because this team needed this victory in this moment.”

Higuita hit the five kilometer marker with a 34-second advantage and the red jersey leading the chase. Higuita didn’t dare look over his shoulders until he had the finish line in sight, and when he saw the clear road behind him, he smiled broadly and threw his hands in the air to celebrate across the finish line. 

“During this Vuelta, I learned to never give up. After the bad moments that you have during a Grand Tour, each day is a new day and any day you can finish with a victory,” Higuita added. “I showed resiliency because yesterday I had a very, very difficult day and today I won the stage. I took it as it came and turned a bad situation into a good one.” 

The Vuelta has been a rough road, no doubt — but it’s in the moments when things aren’t perfect that a team finds out what it truly is, and what it can be.

“The truth behind someone never surfaces when things are good but instead when hard things hit,” said Vaughters. “Today, we saw the truth behind Sergio.” 

Here's the report from GC leader Primoz Roglic's Jumbo-Visma team:

The red jersey of Primoz Roglic was never in danger in the eighteenth stage of the Vuelta a España. In Becerril de la Sierra Roglic claimed second place. With that result, he took two extra seconds on the new number two in the GC, Alejandro Valverde.

Primoz Roglic

Primoz Roglic just beats Alejandro Valverde for second place. Sirotti photo

With Neilson Powless in the breakaway, Team Jumbo-Visma was able to take control more easily. Miguel Angel López put in some attacks with sixty kilometres to race, which was what started the action in the stage. Team Jumbo-Visma parried almost every attack. Only Sergio Higuita managed to stay in the front. The Columbian rider took the win with a brilliant solo.

Sports director Addy Engels was happy with the performance of his team. “Everything went right today. Neilson was in the dangerous break. The other guys did also a tremendous job. We always had control of the race. On the last climb, Primoz showed us that he still has all of his good shape. Teamwork of the highest level.”

Roglic was also satisfied with his team. “It was a hard stage again, with a difficult final. The team was really good. Moreover, I felt good as well. We have to be focussed until Madrid, because the real finish line is there. Probably, I am my own biggest competitor. Again, It was all about the team today."

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

After yesterday’s grueling stage, caused by crosswinds and high speed, today’s stage did not given the riders any possibility for a rest. Four category one climbs were on the menu of stage 18 of La Vuelta, which took the riders from Colmenar Viejo to Becerril de la Sierra over 177 kilometers.

Right from the start attacks were flying at the front of the race, with BORA – hansgrohe paying attention to the moves. The race faced the second climb of the day as 13 riders managed to open up a gap of three minutes over the La Roja group, in which all BORA – hansgrohe riders remained. On the descent after the second climb of the day, Rafał Majka still had his two main helpers with him. Once again Felix Großschartner and Pawel Poljanski did an extraordinary job to support and protect their captain.

Approaching the penultimate ascent of the day, the GC contenders launched some attacks out of the reduced bunch but BORA – hansgrohe rider Rafał Majka was able to follow and at one point the polish rider set the pace and dropped some of his opponents.

After some kilometers of racing the La Roja group with Rafał Majka were able to close the gap to the front group, and now 21 riders headed onto the last climb of the day.

The final climb of the day, 27km ahead of the finish, forced another selection and the increasing pace saw Rafał, Roglic, Valverde and Lopez riding 45 seconds behind the soloist. Rafał put in an incredible effort, staying at the front and making his way back to sixth overall.

With 15 seconds gap, the soloist made it to the finish before Rafal’s group crossed the line. Rafał, who celebrated his 30th birthday today, finished today’s stage in fourth place which brought him into sixth overall.

Rafal Majka

Rafal Majka finishing stage eighteen. Sirotti photo

From the Finish Line:
‘’It was my mistake yesterday not being in the breakaway therefore I wanted to make it up today. My teammates work so hard for me and I want to give it back to them with a good result. It was another hard stage but I went with the other GC contenders on the attack and I was able to move up one position.’’ – Rafał Majka

‘’I think we showed today that we learned from our mistakes yesterday. Rafał and his teammates paid attention to all moves and on the decisive part of the race Rafał was up there making his way towards his GC position. Finishing inside the top 5 was for sure a nice birthday present. The Vuelta is still not over and therefore we keep on fighting.’’ - Patxi Vila, Sports Director

Tour of Britain stage six reports

We posted the organizer's summary with the results.

Here's the report stage winner Edoardo Affini's Mitchelton-Scott team sent me:

23-year-old neo-pro Edoardo Affini had a phenomenal ride today to claim his first professional individual time trial victory, on stage six of the OVO Energy Tour of Britain.

The Italian was the first rider down the ramp for Mitchelton-SCOTT and spent almost the entire stage waiting nervously in the hot-seat, with many experienced race favourites unable to beat his time.

Affini showed maturity beyond his years to pace his effort well and produce a faster second-half than many others, which proved crucial to claiming the stage win, with his closest rival finishing seven-seconds slower.

Teammate and fellow Italian Matteo Trentin started the day in the race leader’s jersey, but Mathieu van der Poel  (Corendon-Circus) stole back the overall lead by producing a time nine-seconds faster. Trentin now sits in second place overall just six-seconds down on Van der Poel with two-stages remaining.

As the 12th rider to start the stage, Affini blasted around the flat 14.4kilometre TT course, pacing his effort well to cross the line with a time of 16minutes and 39seconds. Despite riding on the front of the bunch during the previous road stages to defend the leader’s jersey, the youngster headed straight into the hot-seat and watched on, as riders completed the distance but seemingly unable to better his time.

British champion Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin) was the first rider to really threaten his lead, heading through the intermediate time check one-second faster. Many other riders then started to beat Affini’s intermediate time split, but by the time they reached the finish line, their times were all slower, with Affini proving to have a stronger second-half.

Another stage favourite, Australian champion Luke Durbridge, completed the distance with a time of 16minutes 47seconds, which was good enough for fourth place and then the wait began for the final rider Trentin to start.

Trentin began the day with a three-second buffer over his nearest rival and gave it everything, eventually crossing the line with a time of 17minutes. Van der Poel went nine-seconds fast which was just enough to steal the race lead back from the Italian, as the leader’s jersey swaps shoulders for another day.

Matteo Trentin

Matteo Trentin winning stage two of this year's Tour of Britain.

Edoardo Affini - Stage Winner:
"It is a really special victory and I am really happy with it. It was probably more stressful to wait in the hot-seat than to do the TT. There are strong riders here, more or less we know each other and we know who is really strong in the TT event, but I managed to do a good TT and pace myself well.

"I was really able to give everything on the way back home and I am really happy to win.”

Matteo Trentin - Second Place Overall:
“I think I did the best I could, I was expecting to lose a little bit and six-seconds is not the end of the world but it is going to be hard to take it back. There’s two-days to go and it is getting harder and harder everyday."

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