Stage 15 of Vuelta 2019 was the kick-off of the peloton’s two-day romp through the Asturias and while the majority of the race was fairly innocuous, the final climb brought the fireworks. It wasn’t until, well, the final few kilometres that it became clear that the breakaway was going to take the day – but it was touch and go as to who. For awhile it looked like Sergio Samitier (Euskadi–Murias) was going to put up another win on the board for the wild card teams but with 6km to go, Jumbo-Visma’s super-domestique Sepp Kuss left his fellow breakers, caught Samitier, dropped Samitier and rode the double-digit ramps to a fabulous high-fiving win at the summit of Santuario del Acebo.
Rider of the Race
I was ready to give Rider of the Race to Sergio Samitier if he won or, in fact, if he’d been overtaken by the GC battle, but that was before Sepp Kuss went for the stage win while his leader (and red jersey wearer) Primoz Roglic was putting more time into many of his rivals. That Kuss was given the okay to go for the stage win on such a hard final climb meant that Roglic must have been in no doubt that he wouldn’t crack on the run-in to the finish. Kuss didn’t hesitate to take his chance for his maiden grand tour stage victory and although Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) and Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha-Alpecin) made a spirited attempt at catching the young American, they just didn’t have the power to bridge.Embed from Getty Images
As Kuss went under the flamme rouge and onto the narrow track to the finish, the crowd went wild. With well over 30sec in hand, Kuss had the opportunity to drink in and savour the moment, giving the crowd high-fives as he rode from one side of the road to the other with a look of absolute joy on his face.
And Sergio Samitier took the prize for most combative.Embed from Getty Images
What else happened?Embed from Getty Images
With three more mountain stages left, the fact that Primoz Roglic looks as close to unbeatable as you can look at the start of the third week of the Vuelta makes the GC competition just an exercise in solidifying the second and third steps. And although he didn’t put in any explosive attacks, he knew the wheel to follow when Alejandro Valverde decided to go on the offensive. Sticking with the world champion – even doing a bit of the work – as they pulled out more and more time on their rivals, Roglic only had to hold his pace. In a ‘don’t be fooled’ move, he went in front of Valverde as they hit the final track and made sure he controlled the final kilometre.Embed from Getty Images
Movistar’s leader must now be Valverde and only Valverde. Nairo Quintana couldn’t take the pace and fell back on the last climb, losing yet more time to both Roglic and Valverde, as well as nearly a minute to Tadej Pogacar (UAE) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana). There is still the question of just how long Valverde can hang on if Pogacar or Lopez put the hammer down in the remaining mountain stages.Embed from Getty Images
In fact, it’s Pogacar and Lopez who are closest in the ranking, with just 17sec between the two and the chance to stand on the final podium. It still looks like Pogacar is the stronger of the two, but Lopez’s Astana team stay with him longer than any UAE presence once the road gets steep. That should be a plus but often Astana ride so hard, Lopez can’t capitalise on it, as it takes so much energy just to stay with his team.
1 Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) 4:19:04
2 Ruben Guerreiro (Katusha Alpecin) +0:39
3 Tao Geoghegan Hart (Ineos) +0:40
4 Oscar Rodriguez (Euskadi-Murias) +0:53
5 Mark Padun (Bahrain-Merida) +1:49
1 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 58:10:32
2 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:25
3 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +3:42
4 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +3:59
5 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +5:09
6 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +7:14
7 Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) +9:08
8 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +9:15
9 Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) +9:44
10 Hermann Pernsteiner (Bahrain-Merida) +11:39
All the jerseys
Leader’s jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Points jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)
Climber’s jersey: Angel Madrazo (Burgos-BH)
Young Rider’s jersey: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)
The official Vuelta website is here; for full race review, go to cyclingnews.
Header image: GETTY/Velo/Justin Setterfield