Just when you think it couldn’t get better … Stage 19 was the first of two Andorran stages – and the second-to-last chance for riders to put some serious time into their rivals. A lot of speculation was that it was going to be Alejandro Valverde‘s day – he’s been threatening the red jersey for days now. But the Spanish rider was nowhere to be seen as Thibaut Pinot crossed the finish line for his second stage win in this Vuelta, Simon Yates took over a minute on his Spanish nemesis and Steven Kruijswijk bumped Enric Mas off third overall to take his place on the virtual podium. Boom!
Rider(s) of the Race
Movistar threw the gauntlet down early – not letting a break go for ages and then ratcheting up the pace when they thought there could be echelon action 34km from the finish (there wasn’t – but it woke everyone up). In fact, they threw everything at Mitchelton-Scott, hoping to break Simon Yates. But instead, he broke them. (Rider of the Race No 1)
There was no defensive riding for the red jersey once the peloton hit the climb to the finish line. With Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo riding a fierce pace on the steep start of the 17km climb, Yates kept his cool while most of the other riders in the main peloton went straight out the back and into the Sagan-led gruppetto. Nairo Quintana finally looked lively and was the first to get a gap with 13km to go, taking George Bennett and Steven Kruijswijk with him. (Rider of the Race No 2)
Once Bennett dropped back, Thibaut Pinot bridged and it was a Pinot Trio. (Rider of the Race No 3). It was then that Simon Yates sensed some hesitation from the others and took his Vuelta destiny in his hands as he effortlessly bridged to the Trio. And there was no reply – NO REPLY – from Valverde, Enric Mas, Miguel Angel Lopez … Yates rode strong and confident, doing a lot of work on the front to keep those seconds piling up, while Quintana dropped back to see if he could help his teammate minimise the damage. He could not.
By the time Lopez and Mas decided to stop looking around at the other handful of riders left to chase (they did that a lot – lost so much time faffing around) and actually started riding, the Pinot Trio was under the flamme rouge and had become the Pinot Pair, with Yates still riding on the front until Pinot kicked to take the stage in some style. Yates came in second and Kruijswijk kept it together for third on the stage, moving up to third in the overall.
Left behind was a struggling Alejandro Valverde, losing over a minute to the red jersey. Now 1.38 in arrears in the GC – and Kruijswijk breathing down his neck with only 20sec between them – Valverde’s plan for the day didn’t come off. But hell, you can’t blame the guy for trying.
Just one more climb (or 6)
You can’t help but love the Vuelta organisers’ sense of humour – they categorised today’s stage as flat. Tomorrow’s stage is mountains. And looking at this jagged profile, this race is not over yet.
Yes, Yates looks stronger than a strong thing from Strong Town and Valverde has lost his umph. Will that still be the case tomorrow? A Cat2 climb right from the get-go, three Cat1s in a row, a small respite with a Cat3 and then the summit finish on the HC Coll de la Gallina. Oh, and the entire stage is only 97km long.
Can we assume anything tomorrow? We can assume that it’s going to be fast and furious – not least from riders on teams who fear leaving empty handed and desperately need a stage win (or a heroic on-camera attempt at one). The jockeying to rearrange the top 5 of the GC will be intense and with Mas and Lopez looking strong (and hopefully having learned their lesson about that faffing crap), there should be scraps at every opportunity. How will it end up? Who knows! Which is why this Vuelta is officially the best Grand Tour of the 2018 season.
There are no guarantees tomorrow except one. Thomas De Gendt will be in the breakaway and he will be riding his heart out to get enough KOM mountain points to stand on the podium in Madrid in the blue pox. Alongside him will almost certainly be Bauke Mollema (only 14pts behind him) and Luis Angel Mate (only 10pts behind). Tomorrow’s stage might actually be like the living embodiment of an Escher drawing – a race within a race within a race within a race … #IAMEXCITE
1 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) 3:42:05
2 Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) +0:05
3 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +0:13
4 Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) +0:52
5 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) same time
1 Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) 76:44:41
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +1:38
3 Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) +1:58
4 Enric Mas (Quick-Step Floors) +2:15
5 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +2:29
6 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +4:01
7 Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) +5:22
8 Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) +5:29
9 Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida) +6:30
10 Tony Gallopin (Ag2r La Mondiale) +7:21
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
Points jersey: Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)
Climber’s jersey: Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal)
Combined jersey: Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott)
Team classification: Movistar
Header image: ©GETTY/AFP/Ander Gillenea