Vuelta 2019: Stage 17 – Crosswind chaos gives Gilbert his double and the GC’s blown apart

HOLY MOLY WHAT A STAGE!!! The wind howled for 220km. The average speed was a record-beating 50.6kph. Philippe Gilbert took his second victory after Deceuninck QuickStep destroyed the peloton at the start and gave everyone a masterclass on crosswind tactics and echelon riding. Unlike the top five riders above him on GC, Nairo Quintana found himself on the right side of the split and zoomed from sixth to second, knocking Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde down to third. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is still in the red jersey, a fact he should thank Astana for.

HAH! Just another flat sprint stage at La Vuelta.

When the conditions at the start of the stage are like this…

… and Deceuninck QuickStep are warming up on the rollers with this gearing

You know it’s going to be fast, furious chaos. The golden rule for GC riders on such stages is to STAY ALERT, BE ATTENTIVE and GET TO THE FRONT.

When the inevitable ensued, the Quicksteppers had put seven of their eight man squad into the lead group, including their young GC hopeful James Knox.

Bahrain-Merida’s Dylan Teuns and Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) made the split along with a very alert Quintana who, along with his three teammates, looked as adept at echelon stages as he had with sprint stages. But who was missing from the list? Race leader Roglic, Valverde, UAE’s Tadej Pogacar and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana).

The gap between the two groups waxed and waned as the murderous pace took its toll and tactics came into play. However, by the end of play, Teuns had moved to tenth on GC, Knox had gained three places to sit at eighth, and Kelderman was rewarded with sixth. However, the gold star pupil today was Quintana who jumped straight back onto the podium.

Truth….

There are no easy days on the Vuelta. Whatever group on the road a rider found himself in, it was full gas, gutter action effort all day long. One thing is certain, there are going to be tired legs on tomorrows four Cat One mountain stage – and someone will be found wanting.

Rider of the Race

It’s always a pleasure to see the Quicksteppers demonstrate their skill and panache in these conditions and I was minded to call the whole team up to VeloVoices Towers to receive a team of the stage award. However, despite the claims of Philippe Gilbert for his double  and  Zdenek Stybar for balls-to-the-wall attacking all day long, I have gone with the young British cub of the Wolfpack James Knox.

First for making and staying with the split in the first place. Second for his part in the lead-out for Gilbert and his whoop of joy as he came over the line, arm aloft. But mostly for this joyous post stage interview.

Stage finish

I can’t imagine having to sprint at the end of stage like this. BORA-hansgrohe’s ace speedster Sam Bennett had made the split but with a Quickstepper army in the finale he was always going to have his work cut out. The Irishman chased down a stinging attack from Stybar and then launched his sprint early with 600m to go – but it was all in slow motion and he couldn’t sustain it. Philippe Gilbert timed his final run to the line to perfection, but it was all the other efforts into and out of roundabouts and corners that made the difference today. Another contender for the rainbow jersey I’d say.

Movistar Tactics

Honestly, can we have a stage without discussing what the heck goes on in the Movistar bus? Eyebrows were raised when sixth-placed Quintana and his three teammates were driving the front group away from second-placed Valverde in the second group. They were practically hidden in the hairline as the gap between the two groups on the road grew to 6.15mins with 85km – a fact which put Nairo into virtual red and certainly deposed his less hirsute teammate from second step of the podium.

At this point the Movistarlets in the second group started to chase the front group – which set Twitter alight.

The gap did come down, but not enough to stop Valverde from losing best-placed Movistar at the Vuelta status. Post-race interviews revealed that Movistar were trying to shake a by-now isolated Roglic and Pogacar out of the Valverde group on the last climb of the day. A cunning plan that may well have worked if Astana hadn’t been set on chasing to keep Lopez in contention.

Given the fact the Spanish team end the day with two riders in the top three, Roglic is still sitting pretty in red and Lopez was docked 10 seconds for a handsling, I’d say Movistar come out of this day better that the men in turquoise.

Last word to

We can always rely on George

Stage results

1 Philippe Gilbert (Deceuninck QuickStep) 4:20:15

2 Sam Bennett (BORA – hansgrohe) +0:02

3 Remi Cavagna (Deceuninck QuickStep) same time

4 Dylan Teuns (Bahrain – Merida) s/t

5 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) s/t

GC standings

1 Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) 66:43:36

2 Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +2:34

3 Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +2:48

4 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) +3:42

5 Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) +4:09

6 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +5:05

7 Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) +7:40

8 James Knox (Deceuninck QuickStep) +8:03

9 Carl Fredrik Hagen (Lotto Soudal) +10:40

8 Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) +10:34

10 Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) +12:21

All the jerseys

Leader’s jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)

Points jersey: Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma)

Climber’s jersey: Geoffrey Bouchard (Ag2r)

Young Rider’s jersey: Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates)

The official Vuelta website is here; for full race review, go to cyclingnews.

Header image: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

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