Stage 15 of Vuelta 2018 was just before the rest day. While the GC contenders had their eyes on each other, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was concentrating on the win. He took off on a 6km solo attack to take victory at the summit of Lagos de Covadonga. Behind there were many attacks but very little stuck. The GC order remains the same, although the gaps are a little different.
Rider of the Race
The last time we saw Thibaut Pinot so prominently in a Grand Tour stage, he was hanging over his handlebars and retching. It was the day his Giro d’Italia attempt came to a heartbreakingly, sickly end.
Today he was more alive. The Frenchman went unnoticed for most of the race, keeping himself to himself inside the peloton. And as the group thinned on the final, cloudy slopes of the Covadonga he remained anonymous. Ahead the attention was on the first flurry of attacks flying in from the main contenders.
And then he attacked. The red-white-and-blue-clad figure took off just over 6km from the finish line and Pinot’s “lowly” position on the Vuelta’s GC meant there was no reaction from the others. But this wasn’t a win that was granted, it was earned. You don’t get a 28-second gap on the Covadonga through patronage alone.
Every time the camera cut to the FDJ rider, you could see the power he was putting through the pedals. Stomp, stomp, stomp. The stomping was only punctuated on flatter sections of the climb. On these Pinot took deep, deep breaths, taking in as much oxygen as possible before the next high-gradient ramp.
Today’s marvellous win puts Pinot in that elite club of riders who have won stages at all three Grand Tours so while today might not be a stepping stone to overall Vuelta victory, it’s certainly significant.
I wanted to enjoy this climb. I was no danger and I knew there could be a chance. This is great, I had an obsession to win stages on all three grand tours. Now I’ve done that so this is a huge win for me.
Attack, attack, attack (or not)
On the mist-shrouded Covadonga slopes, there were countless attacks from the GC favourites. At points Enric Mas (Quick-Step), Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) all tried to go clear only for the group to gather up again after a few seconds. At times, both Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk were dropped but tempo-ed back on.
The only constant was Nairo Quintana. He neither attacked nor faded. He was just there. Never in trouble, never in danger. Just there.
The final shape of the GC battle was formed in the closing couple of kilometres when Lopez went clear. He’d looked lively all day and full of intent. However, in the final run in, he was only two seconds ahead of Simon Yates – he would have wanted so much more.
Tellingly, Nairo Quintana finished last of this bunch of contenders.
Yates vs Quintana
For a good couple of years now, cycling fans around the world have been shouting at Quintana to attack. It’s good to know that sometimes the pros find themselves in the same boat as the fans. Fed up with the Colombian sitting on his wheel for most of the climb, Yates let rip and left Quintana in no doubt about his feelings. Opinion was divided on Twitter – he had a man up the road, he wasn’t going to pull; it was the red jersey’s responsibility to chase down the attacks – but one thing is for sure. You don’t win Grand Tours by sitting on the leader’s wheel to the finish. Because they’re still ahead of you …
We’ve now had three summit finishes back-to-back. Quintana had the advantage on the first, Yates on the second and Lopez today. This Vuelta is still poised on a knife edge. And what of Valverde? Despite not setting any stage on fire this week he’s still in second place, 26sec behind Yates. [I still think he’ll come away with the whole thing, almost by stealth – ed]
Ride of the race
Today’s exclusive ride of the race award goes to the sunglasses of Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida). How’s that for balance?
1 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) 5:01:49
2 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +0:28
3 Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:30
4 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:32
5 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) same time
1 Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 64:13:33
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:26
3 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +0:33
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +0:43
5 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:29
6 Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) +1:55
7 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) + 2:10
8 Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) +2:27
9 Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) +3:03
10 Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-hansgrohe) +3:15
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
Points jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Climber’s jersey: Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis)
Combined jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Team classification: Bahrain-Media
Header image: ©GETTY/Velo/Michael Steele